Three days a week during lockdown, Surry Hills cafe Paddock transformed into Mexican street-food pop-up Tacos Muchachos. People living within a five-kilometre radius would emerge to order spirit-lifting tacos, nachos and burritos stuffed with slow-cooked beef, chipotle and adobo-rubbed chicken, or quesabirria with consomme, all washed down with tart Margaritas.
Now it’s found a permanent home at the new Hotel Hacienda in Redfern.
Owner Daniel Hanssen is aware that Tacos Muchachos’ new, sleekly designed space is a far cry from its original lively, no-frills pop-up.
“I’ve thought a lot about how to preserve the old vibe. How do we take what we created at the Paddock – this incredible back street, a bit grungy – and translate it to a clean hotel?” he tells Broadsheet. “I think the answer is to keep it classic and continue offering fresh, authentic Mexican street food.”
The menu at the new venue still revolves around house-made tortillas with slow-cooked beef, chipotle chicken, and adobo cauliflower, as well as quesabirria tacos – a quesadilla-taco hybrid fried to crispiness in meat fat, with an accompanying warm sauce of meat juices, chilli and coriander for dunking.
A welcome new addition is tacos al pastor – pork cooked on a vertical spit – a dish that Hanssen is especially excited about.
“You’ll see al pastor tacos on every corner in Mexico,” he says. “It’s inspired by Lebanese shawarma, brought to Mexico by Lebanese people fleeing the collapse of the Ottoman Empire. The juicy, crispy meat is traditionally lamb, but Mexicans put their own spin on it, using pork. I was obsessed when I lived in the US.”
Besides the great food and selection of refreshing Margaritas, the venue itself is a big draw card. Currently, Tacos Muchachos is only on the ground floor, but Hanssen has plans to take over the rooftop in July, council-willing.
“The rooftop will be our link to the old pop-up space. We have plans to turn it into a no-frills taqueria, with a cactus garden. It’s got incredible 360[-degree] views of Pyrmont Bridge, Sydney Uni, the UTS tower,” says Hanssen.
On the current level, the flecked polished-cement floor and long, tiled bar are clean and minimalist. Cacti in terracotta pots dot the room, and colourful tasselled hangings and pompom throw blankets over leather couches add colour to the warm, neutral-toned space.
Hanssen has the great enthusiasm of someone whose dream is playing out the way he’d hoped, with a loyal fan base following him from Surry Hills to Redfern. Although he’ll hold a special place for the place where Tacos Muchachos was born, nothing beats having his own space.
“The difference now is incredible. Before we were cooking eight kilos of meat a week, and now we’re cooking 60 kilos – and we’ve only been open a few weeks. Nine months ago I was working in a corporate job I hated. Now it’s just awesome. I have to pinch myself.”
179 Cleveland Street, Redfern
Thu to Sat 5pm-late