Famously, USA Presidential hopeful, Donald Trump, is no fan of anything originating from Mexico. We in Ireland, however, feel differently about this. Mexican food, one of the biggest food trends of the last decade, shows no signs of slowing down here just yet. Just a few short years ago we got what passes for Mexican food from a yellow box in the supermarket. The finished product often appeared to have already been eaten by someone else. If you attempted to make your own, shopping for chili peppers was an adventure, avocados were an oddity and tortillas were totally out of the question. Latin-American foods such as nachos, chips and salsa, fajitas, quesadillas, burritos and beans are now an everyday sight on the dinner tables of Ireland and have become as common place as bacon and cabbage.
The annual 'Taste of Mexico' event in Dublin celebrates this bustling food scene with an abundance of workshops, competitions and the hunt for Ireland’s best enchilada. While the streets of the capital proliferate with Mexican restaurants, Cafe Azteca, Little Ass Burrito Bar, Mission Mexican Street Food, Pablo Picanté and a fleet of food trucks - Galway will not be left behind when it comes to getting our taco fix. Although La Salsa and Cactus Jacks had been serving us a Tex-Mex approximation of this spicy cuisine for years, it was the arrival of Boojum to the Spanish Arch a few years ago that really brought this trend to town. This was our first dedicated burrito bar, in the style of the popular American chain 'Chipotle'. Since then Abbeygate Street, the spiritual home of street food in Galway, has gotten in on the act with the recent opening of Tuco's Taqueria. These recent arrivals are based on the Mexican concept of a Taquería, a restaurant specialising in burritos, although tacos and other dishes can be served as well. Originally, Taquerías referred to the stands of street vendors and similarly with these types of establishments, there are few frills with no table service or bookings. Mexican food offers great convenience in a fast food situation.
Tolteca is the latest cool Mexican spot with sleek, minimalist decor and communal tables. Like a number of other new premises, Tolteca has the happy position of being located between two large and similarly culinary challenged institutions, the University and the Hospital. This area of the Newcastle Road is fast filling with new pubs, cafes and restaurants and where before there was slim pickings, you are now spoiled for choice. There is an upbeat, young vibe in the small but airy space, the room is pared back functionality, brightly lit from the modern glass frontage.
The ordering system is easy and the food is prepared fresh every morning and then assembled exceptionally quickly to order from trays at the counter. Vegetables, where possible, are organic and everything is made in-house, including the chips, salsa, and guacamole. First you choose what you would like – a burrito, fajita, or taco for the hungry, a burrito bowl or salad for the merely peckish. The second step is the filling – choosing from chicken, beef, slow roast pork or vegetarian. Then dress it up with some cheese, sour cream and one of their variety of salsas, ranging from a mild and refreshing 'pico de gallo' a fresh, uncooked salsa made from chopped tomato, onion, coriander leaves and lime juice, to the far more potent 'chipotle lightening salsa'.
A burrito was built for us, big, fat and filled to bursting. For the uninitiated, this is a tortilla wrap of unleavened flatbread filled with rice, beans and whatever else you fancy topped off with mild, or eye-wateringly hot salsa. The tortilla’s ends are tucked in and the whole lot packed to make a tubby roll and wrapped by the staff’s practiced hands, with the folding skills of a seasoned 'Brown Thomas' sales assistant at Christmas time. The word burrito means little donkey, but no donkeys had been harmed in the making of this dish. Quite the contrary - Tolteca’s beef, pork, and chicken are ethically sourced from Board Bia approved Irish farms with the highest animal treatment practices. They show a greater concern for the welfare of the animals than most. A side of salty tortilla chips with the coriander and lime rich fresh salsa were also moreish. The food is aromatic and if you need more zing the heat can be easily adjusted at the table from the array of hot-sauce bottles situated near the counter.
Tolteca is a great addition to Galway with staff that are enthusiastic and helpful. Expect more of the same at the second Tolteca which has just opened on Bridge Street, well placed to take advantage of the Summer traffic. Tolteca offers a relatively healthy alternative to other fast foods and as the most expensive item on the menu is €7.75, it's easy on your pocket. Tasty and properly prepared for a quick Mexican fix, especially if you are on a budget.
Tolteca Mexican Style Grill, Newcastle Road, Galway. Tel: 091 863 830 Email: [email protected]. Now also at 3 Bridge Street, Galway.