Pulling at a steaming, spicy pork birria on an unusually chilly evening is not a privilege that Chennai is used to. But the past week was different as the quaint Mexican cafe in Alwarpet revamped their menu recently, introducing jackfruit tamales, carne asadas and chilli con carnes, followed by crisp churros and decadent tres leches.
Conceptualised by the same team behind Mezze (that serves Middle Eastern cuisine) in RA Puram, Mexe as an idea had been brewing in the minds of chef Shweta Rengasamy, Anush Rajasekaran and restaurateur Sandesh Reddy even before Mezze came into being. Their shared love for Mexican food is what naturally brought them together. “We were just waiting for the right space to bring it to life,” says Anush. They were also keen to introduce the spicy flavours of Mexico to a city that has had little exposure to the cuisine, besides the decades-old Don Pepe.
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The space which officially launched in August 2021, was under renovation during the country-wide lockdown in 2020. Shweta and Sandesh are the brains behind the menu. “A lot of research has gone into the menu,” says Anush, adding, “Every city in Mexico makes their tacos differently. And a few from our team have had the privilege to travel to Mexico as well.”
With a limited seating capacity of 30, Mexe hopes to expand over the next couple of months. “We want to opening out the outdoor dining. We are also doing up a space upstairs where private parties and small gatherings can be held,” says Anush.
Though the food is unfamiliar, customers seem to be returning for specific dishes like the birria tacos. Made with slow cooked pork or chicken, the toasted tacos lend a burst of flavour. Wash it down with a refreshing pineapple jalapeno mole, served here as a mocktail with a ginger ale base. The jackfruit tamales are bland but comforting. Try the rice bowls (chili con carnes), which are filling whole meals paired with generous servings of baked beans, salsa and guacamole.
Mexe is located at Cooperative Colony, Sri Ram Nagar, Alwarpet. Call 8825435460.
Comfort is the word that comes to mind when one thinks of Southside Tacos.
From a range of soft-shelled tacos to a painstakingly-researched chocolate mole sauce, the Alwarpet-based kitchen has a menu tailored only for delivery: which also means that they knowingly stay away from hard-shell tacos and dishes that don’t travel well.
“My work partner Ashwin Tanikasheryl and I started planning this before the pandemic. We actually wanted to start off with a tequila bar along the ECR. Once the pandemic hit, we needed to adapt with a cloud kitchen, and it was a good gateway to experiment with a new cuisine,” says Swapna Muralidhar who comes from a corporate background, co-founder of Southside Tacos. Southside is the umbrella brand, under which this cloud kitchen that officially launched on August 19 exists as a sub-brand. The idea was to start slow and grow organically, through word of mouth. The menu has been undergoing trials for almost a year before it was rolled out, adds Swapna.
“I have always thought there were not many options for Mexican food in India. There is also a sense of similarity in the flavours that Mexican and Indian cuisines have. We didn’t want to Indianise this cuisine; we wanted to keep it authentic but also use local produce to keep it sustainable. The spice, the tang... Indians are all for this flavour profile,” says Swapna.
The menu is meant to exude a sense of balance. Take for instance, the chicken tacos al pastor, that serves chicken marinated in a spicy pineapple blend and then grilled, and served on a soft shell tortilla. The stuffed peppers in a chocolate mole served with coriander rice, is delightful: a clear deviation from the flavours we are used to. Stuffed with refried beans and grilled chicken, they are the result of many trial and errors (hint: dark chocolate and roasted chillies). The sunny tacos remind one of home, probably because of the familiarity that roasted cauliflower and butternut squash lend. The tangy flavour comes as a surprise.
For dessert, the grilled pineapple cake with dulce de leche is a go-to choice, thanks to the decadent sour cream sponge cake, soaked in dulce de leche. Fair warning: might be a little too sweet for some.
Southside Tacos deliver through Swiggy, Zomato, DotPe and Dunzo. Call 7338805636.
Mex It Up:
When chef Kavya Varghese started her cloud kitchen in the lockdowns of 2020, her idea was to “introduce a twist” to traditional Mexican cuisine. And so, it is not surprising that her menu boasts of pani puri tacos (a crowd favourite), an elaneer horchata or a thattai toastada topped with kovakkai (ivy gourd).
In 2020, when Mex It Up was still operating out of her home, Kavya sought active feedback and kept evolving the cuisine based on what her patrons wished for. And what they wished for was more flavours. “Mexican food for Indians has always been a ‘one time thing’. So I wanted to think of a way to make it more fun,” says Kavya, who used to work with the Hilton Dubai Jumeirah. She is particular about not losing out on the authentic Mexican flavours, which is why she calls her menu “Mexican with a hint of Indian.”
Mex It Up now has a home of its own. Kavya has big plans for this quaint, bright 32-seater in Mahalingapuram. The space, which opened yesterday, also hopes to host cooking workshops and live bands soon.
The walls are loud, sporting murals (Frieda Kahlo welcomes one in) and the menu is inventive: from an authentic guac and a burrito that oozes butter chicken and refried beans to a sweet chimichanga with a banana-chocolate filling that screams comfort. Her take on tacquitos, the pani puri tacos, is fun, featuring puris precariously placed on shot glasses that hold spicy vegetable broth with chicken chunks, salsa, refried beans and sour cream. The charred chili con carne served with gluten-free chips is a delightful surprise. While the mild and refreshing elaneer horchata pairs well with flavourful food, her thattai toastadas might not be for everyone, thanks to the aftertaste of fried ivy gourd. The burritos are filling and familiar; try the butter chicken one if you are very hungry.
“We also focus on vegan- and gluten-free options, and we have specific menus for each: from jackfruit to smoked tofu burritos, and guac and nachos to overload fries. Right now, the vegan crowd in Chennai is humongous,” says Kavya adding that she is happy to customise orders according to customers’ preferences. Vegan Mexican food, she believes, is especially difficult to find as the cuisine is usually very cheesy.
Mex It Up is located on Mahalingapuram Main Road, Nungambakkam. Call 7338706553.