Erstwhile pop-up taco joint gets its own premises. Life made better.
191 Rye Lane
The look of the place is closest to an old chippy. Or a takeaway-only Chinese joint. An MDF counter, stone floor, and crates of soft drinks stacked against a white tiled back wall. There are a couple of long wooden benches at the front for friendly, getting to know your neighbour communal dining, and a smattering of very small two-people tables. It’s not a set up for old people; there are no backs to the chairs, and everything is loud and crowded and messy; but that’s okay because Taco Queen is in Peckham, where there are no old people. Just young, cool, beautiful people. I can attest to this as they were all packed into Taco Queen on the Saturday night that we were there; it was busy when we arrived at just gone six, and things only got busier.
By the time we left, the place was choc-a-bloc with arty, half-cut rich kids dressed like they were poor – the de rigueur look in Peckham (some of them pulled it off, with their oversized second-hand jumpers and faded corduroy trousers, but others forgot to take off the £200 watch that daddy bought them for their eighteenth, which, you know…always a giveaway).
“It was so juicy it could have been a backup dancer in a Nicki Minaj video.”
A lot of restaurants these days, especially small places or places that aren’t too expensive (Taco Queen is both), have a habit of rushing you along a bit. Take the orders quickly, get the food out, and present the bill unasked for. I get why; rents being what they are, most places need each table to be turned over more times than an hourglass if they stand to make any decent profit, so I’m fine with it. But it is noticeably nice when you go to somewhere that does things differently, as Taco Queen does. Even on a Saturday night the wait staff were all ridiculously lovely and made a big deal of telling us to just chill and take our time. Order some tacos, eat them, have a drink, order a few more – no rush. (Obviously, we didn’t do this. We ordered all the food straight away and stuffed it down our faces as quickly as possible, because, well, gluttony [thumbs up emoji].) But it’s nice to know we could have exercised some casual restraint if we so desired.
The Baja Fish Taco was the first of the many dishes to arrive; it looked like a Jackson Pollok, splashed with different sauces and relishes and herbs and salsa – but you never lost the fish. Amidst the smoky, creamy chipotle, the coriander, the mango salsa, the crunchy coating, the fresh lime, and all the other flavours and textures, you never lost the perfectly cooked, flaking white fish wrapped up in that soft corn tortilla. It was glorious. The Al Pastor arrived next. Pulled pork that might have been mistaken for beef, such as the depth of colour it had. It was so juicy it could have been a backup dancer in a Nicki Minaj video. It travelled further into the realms of rich smokiness than anything I’ve tasted in a while, and was dripping with that reddish/golden oil, a mixture of fat and spice, which runs down your hands as you try to eat and coats your lips, giving you the look of some feasting, carnivorous, undead.
We also ordered some non-taco things: wings and beer battered chips. Chips are already crispy, and that’s why we love them. We are in it for the crunch, otherwise, we would all be eating boiled slices of potato. So to then batter a chip, giving an already crispy entity a further layer of crunch is almost madness. Almost. Because in practice it’s genius. They could have done with a huge handful of salt, or maybe a more liberal dressing of sauce because the flavour was lacking a little, but ten out of ten for texture alone. The wings were coated in a spicy blue cheese sauce.
They were nice, but didn’t tear up any trees; they needed to be cooked at a higher heat to give the skin a chance to get properly crispy and to encourage all that fat and connective tissue inside the wings to fully melt away. But that’s personal preference, I’ll always sacrifice a little bit of interior moistness for exterior crispiness. And just for the sake of balance, my missus was such a massive fan of the wings and went so deep into them, that she got sauce up her nose. Fully fucking up her nose.
The last two tacos arrived: jalapenos with goat’s cheese and stuffed courgettes. The jalapenos had been roasted to be soft and subtly spicy and went perfectly with the goat’s cheese, which was also soft, so the deep fried onions on top were a welcome texture. It tasted like a French Taco, which I think we can all agree sounds like something you’d do during sex – I gave him a French Taco. Stuffed courgettes are usually a beautiful, delicate food. Gorgeous and innocent and drizzled with honey – they are almost virginal. These were not.
These were the naughty cousins who go to raves and drop pills. Deep fried, filled with aioli, and coated in a green sauce that tasted like an amazing Thai curry – we ate them only through greed, having reached the point of satiety sometime earlier. The margarita I ordered was the perfect accompaniment to all of this. All that lime and tequila (they were not shy on the tequila) cut through the rich, fatty food perfectly.
Taco Queen is the type of restaurant where you don’t just go for dinner, but for a night out. Get some friends together and spend the evening ordering taco after taco and sinking glass after glass of margarita, all to a soundtrack of hot jazz. It’s not for people who want a bit of peace and comfort with their meal; it’s all about stuffing the last bite of your taco into your friend or partner’s face, even if they don’t want it, and making them eat it, “OMG! Try this!” straight at the face, sauce everywhere, meat all over the shirt. Perfect.
Taco Queen on Rye Lane: It’s messy, it’s fun, it’s delicious, it’s kinda naughty, and it’s just fucking great.