Tacos Muchachos review

Tacos Muchachos started life as a pop-up and has found a new home in the newly refurbished boutique hotel Hacienda Hotel.
Tacos Muchachos started life as a pop-up and has found a new home in the newly refurbished boutique hotel Hacienda Hotel. Photo: Flavio Brancaleone

179 Cleveland St Redfern, NSW 2016

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Opening hours Thurs to Sat, 5pm-late
Features Cheap and cheerful, Family friendly, Outdoor seating
Prices Moderate (mains $20-$40)

Tacos Muchachos, housed in the newly refurbished boutique hotel Hacienda Hotel, is very different from the restaurant's first incarnation as a pop-up taqueria in Surry Hills. Not in terms of its sterling menu, ranging from Tex-Mex-inspired dishes to authentic Mexican street food. Nor in the enthusiasm of its owner and chef Daniel Hanssen, who quit his corporate job to start the venture.

The difference is the lockdown period beginning July 2021, when Tacos Muchachos appeared in Surry Hills cafe Paddock inspiring passionate, socially distanced queues for its tacos, burritos, tortillas and spicy, tenderly marinated chicken, beef or cauliflower fillings.

Eight months later, everyone is inside the new digs, sitting at bright white tables in bubbling conversation barely aware of the wild transport nexus of Cleveland Street crossing Regent Street above 12 train-lines outside. It may be tricky to get to, but it's sure in the thick of things.

Tacos Muchachos inspires queues for its tacos, nachos and burritos.
Tacos Muchachos inspires queues for its tacos, nachos and burritos. Photo: Flavio Brancaleone

Entry to Tacos Muchachos, which translates as young man or woman, is via the hotel's unassuming front door, framed by a street mural of enormous sapphire and turquoise cacti and a humungous hovering hummingbird eyeing the mural of footballer Greg Inglis on the wall outside. 

Once inside, the bright, buzzy rooms of Tacos Muchachos, decorated with Mexican-influenced rugs, embroidered cushions, cane chairs, pressed tin art work and photographs of Mexican landscapes and people, are upbeat and calming. Plans are afoot to open a rooftop area as well.

Hanssen is behind the counter passionately discussing menu and drink choices with customers. Having spent periods living in the US, his obsession with Mexican food, at first Tex-Mex then, during a stint in Tucson-Arizona, authentic Mexican street food, inspired him to start Tacos Muchachos with best friend, and Mexico City native, Diego Garcia Luna. 

Taco fillings include 24-hour marinated, four-hour slow-cooked beef.
Taco fillings include 24-hour marinated, four-hour slow-cooked beef. Photo: Flavio Brancaleone

They assembled a strong kitchen team, including food technologist Jazmin Castaneda, who creates the handmade tortillas, and have continued and expanded their pop-up menu. 

This features tacos, nachos, quesadillas and burritos, with fillings ranging from 24-hour marinated, four-hour slow-cooked beef, chipotle and adobo-rubbed chicken and adobo and achiote-spiced cauliflower. The chilli level is not fearsome, but requests to increase it are surely possible.

First to arrive are the tacos, soft and lushly filled with chipotle-marinated chicken, a lengthy hillock of fresh guacamole across onion, coriander and lime and a side of green salsa. We consult the how-to-eat-tacos cartoon guide ("Pinch taco by the waist. Tilt head 45 degrees …") and wolf them in three luscious mouthfuls. 

Beef burritos are layered with refried beans, sauteed onions, jalapenos and cheese.
Beef burritos are layered with refried beans, sauteed onions, jalapenos and cheese.  Photo: Flavio Brancaleone

Beef burritos, layered with refried beans, sauteed onions, jalapenos and cheese, speak to me like lusty spicy envelopes of meaty love.

Equally memorable is the nachos, an alluring crema-ribboned knoll of tortilla chips, cheese, pico de gallo and guacamole, and tonight's special, costra, meaning crust (or, ahem, scab). This golden disc of handmade tortilla and fried cheese sandwiching el pastor (slow-cooked pork shoulder), is snaffled before my table associates even clock it.

Nachos might not ring true for Mexican food purists, but Hanssen wants to welcome all food fans. 

Nachos might not ring true for Mexican food purists, but the menu welcomes all food fans.
Nachos might not ring true for Mexican food purists, but the menu welcomes all food fans.  Photo: Flavio Brancaleone

"I fell in love with Tex-Mex, that was what introduced me to Mexican," he says. "So let's offer a few of those very familiar dishes to people and, once they're in the door, wow them with traditional Mexican like the el pastor or the costra."

It's also worth dropping in for a drink, particularly the spicy Michelada beer cocktail, made with Clamato juice, celery, lime and Worcestershire sauce, the tangy hibiscus-infused agua fresca, on-tap, and the margaritas, served with a rust-hued tajin rim of lime, chilli and salt. Come another night and Hanssen will hopefully offer Horchata, a sweet rice milk and cinnamon drink perfect for after-meal sipping.

We finish in a splattered mess of taco drips, burrito smears and far-flung flecks of pan-fried cheese. Groups of Mexican food-lovers have filled the room, some pulling a huge couch closer to so they jam fingers into nachos, sup tequila and lime cocktails and cheer each other as sun goes down. In their words, "Arriba, abajo, al centro, pa dentro!"

Chipotle and adobo-rubbed chicken tacos.
Chipotle and adobo-rubbed chicken tacos. Photo: Flavio Brancaleone

The low-down

Tacos Muchachos

Vibe Mexican street food in buzzy, bright city hang-out.

Go-to dish El Muchacho's burrito with flour tortilla, refried beans, sautéed onions, jalapenos, cheese and slow-cooked beef.

Insta-worthy dish Chipotle marinated chicken tacos with fresh taqueria guacamole, onion, cilantro, lime and salsa.

https://www.instagram.com/tacos_muchachos_syd/