I fell in love with Mexican food only recently after a visit to Cozumel to race in an Ironman event. New friends who I had met at Gatwick (I flew on Virgin) had elected to stay in 4 or 5 star resort hotels that were fully catered. This seems to be the norm but not really my scene so had booked an apartment through airbnb at about 1/5th of the price. Being self catering it offered me the opportunity to venture out and discover what the locals ate. My ploy was to walk or ride my bike aimlessly making notes about anything that caught my attention. I ended up with 2 favourite places, one a street vendor where I had noticed the local police stopping for quick bites at all times of day. The vendors did not speak English and as I do not speak Spanish I got by just by pointing. On offer were a variety of tacos which kept me returning time and time again. I cannot recall what was in them now but they were delicious and love the various sauces!
The second was more of a tourist joint but you would not have thought so. I spotted it by the red plastic chairs and tables outside which were an instant attraction. It was small, with just 3 tables inside and called Burittos Gorditos. On the left hand side as you walked in was a black board with the burrito menu. The restaurant was simple just making one dish and doing it well. On the last of my 4 visits the owner showed me how to make burritos his was using two wraps (these were big portions!) which have I have since tried at home proving to be a instant hit with everyone devouring them. Of course on a domestic level you rarely have the time to prepare re-fried beans properly or make pulled pork. This is where Mexican restaurants come into there own.
I am careful to avoid restaurants that serve up pre-packed, pre produced foods which is so often the case with less expensive establishments. It was therefore reassuring to see pots of meat cooking on the stove at Benitos Hat despite the excellent value the menu offers. I visited the Farringdon branch just a stones throw from Spitalfields walking into the sound of Mexican music playing instantly bringing happiness to me on a wet day. The decor is not tacky but fit for the type of establishment this is – fun yet serious, inexpensive yet delicious. Warm colours combined with white painted bricks and coloured neon lighting. It was welcoming and attractive and I can see how it is packed at lunchtime. To cope with the demand and the menu using an abundance of fresh ingredients the first chefs have arrive at 06:00 to start the food prep. The evening crowds popping in after work no doubt take advantage of the happy hour to grab a well made cocktail along with their favourite burrito.
I met with Felipe, one of the co-founders who I found delightful. He was so enthusiastic and passionate. He told me in our interview about his brother who has developed a way to dry and grind avocado leaves which Felipe uses with black beans. This serves as a USP separating Benitos Hat from the plethora of other Mexican eateries in London. After our interview Felipe made me a Burrito with the Beef Barbacoa which is prime pulled brisket. I have to say it was delicious and oozing flavour and did not disappoint. I particularly liked the guacamole which Felipe did not skimp on and is also made in house.
It is only a few £’s to eat here so within virtually everyones reach and a fine alternative to large chain food. Next time I am in London with friends I will certainly be visiting for a quick 30 minute burrito and margarita. They will love it!