UPDATE (OCTOBER 2017): Alas, Café Mexicho has closed down. It had a good run though. Fortunately there are several good alternatives around town, which are included below. Also, I’m pleased to report that Perron (whose Illovo location is reviewed below) now also has locations in Melville and Bryanston.
There were only two Mexican restaurants in Johannesburg when I moved here in 2010. This didn’t surprise me — in fact I was surprised that there were any Mexican restaurants at all. There are very few Mexican people in South Africa and one can’t expect authentic Mexican food in a country without Mexicans.
Times have changed, however, and today there are Mexican restaurants popping up all over town. There still aren’t many Mexicans — just non-Mexicans trying to cook Mexican food, some more successfully than others.
I’ve blogged about Mexican food many times and while I like to consider myself a Joburg Mexican food connoisseur, I admit that I haven’t been able to keep up with all of the new places that have opened. There is a Mexican place in Pineslopes that I haven’t been to yet, another one in Rosebank, and probably more that I don’t even know about.
It might be a while until I get to all these places, so let me give you the information I have now before I fall even further behind.
1) Baha Taco
I discovered Baha Taco when it was a stall at the Sheds @1Fox. Dave, who co-owns Baha with his wife Kat, is South African but he lived in California for many years. Dave knows his tacos, especially fish tacos. Dave and Kat make their own tortillas and their ingredients are incredibly fresh. In my opinion Baha serves the best Mexican food in Joburg, hands down, and I’m thrilled that they have their own restaurant now. I just wish the restaurant was closer to me.
I could be wrong, but as far as I know Baha Taco is the only Mexican place in Joburg that serves churros. These churros were incredibly delicious and I’m embarrassed to admit that I actually drank the leftover chocolate dipping sauce after devouring the churros.
Two important sidebars about Baha Taco: 1) The restaurant is not yet licensed for alcohol, but if you want to drink with your meal you can pop into the liquor store next door. 2) Baha Taco’s stuffed jalapeños are the hottest I have ever tasted. Seriously. I almost killed myself eating one.
2) Café Mexicho
Café Mexicho, which is right here in Melville, has been around forever and I think it was the very first Joburg restaurant I blogged about. (Read that first post here, and a follow-up post I wrote a year or two later.)
I’ve never liked Café Mexicho very much. But recently, there has been a change. Long-time readers may remember a post I wrote about the only Mexican chef in Joburg. That chef, Lucio Arias, worked at Café Mexicho many years ago and then left to work for a local restaurant chain called Mexican Fresh (which I blogged about in the post above).
I am pleased to announce that the Mexican chef is back at Café Mexicho, and the food has greatly improved there. I’ve eaten at Café Mexicho three times over the last few weeks and really enjoyed it every time.
I wholeheartedly recommend the food at Café Mexicho. (I am so glad that you’re back, Lucio. Please don’t leave.) Café Mexicho’s service still leaves something to be desired though — it’s always a bit slow. Also, note that Café Mexicho is a drinking hole above all else, so if you’re looking for a quiet dinner then this is not your place. The tequila is always flowing and the music is loud.
[August 2016 update: Lucio has left Café Mexico again — I can barely keep up! — and is now the chef at a new Mexican restaurant in Linden called El Jalapeño. I’ve been to El Jalapeño once but haven’t formulated a firm opinion yet. Stay tuned. I have visited Café Mexicho since Lucio’s departure and the food is still good, but the service is spotty. Nonetheless it is still my go-to Mexican spot due to simple proximity to my house.]
3) La Santa Muerte
A few months ago, Melville’s number of Mexican restaurants grew from one to two. Two Mexican restaurants in the same suburb — extraordinary!
La Santa Muerte is owned by Hell’s Kitchen, the insanely popular bar next door, and both places are super hip with nice atmosphere. But my first lunch at La Santa Muerte left me disappointed. The beef ragout tacos I ordered were lacking in flavor, the tortilla chips that came with my guacamole had a chewy consistency, and my friend wasn’t wowed by her steak tacos. A few of the menu items were out of stock and the food took a really long time to come out, but I chalked that up to the newness of the restaurant.
I need to go back to La Santa Muerte again to formulate a stronger opinion. But for now I’m on the fence.
Perron, an upscale Mexican restaurant in Illovo, opened about two years ago but I’ve only been once for lunch. I held off on blogging about it because I wanted to go back one more time. But I haven’t managed to do so yet so here’s a quick review.
I ordered the chicken mole, and as far as I know Perron is the only restaurant in Joburg that serves this authentic Mexican dish. The mole was delicious. I was, however, annoyed that the restaurant ran out of tortilla chips and served us taco shells (instead of chips) with our guacamole. This could have been a one-time error though.
Our margaritas from Perron were amazing.
The main reason that I haven’t made it back to Perron is because it’s extremely difficult to get a dinner booking. I recently tried making a reservation three or four days ahead, but was denied, and I’m usually not organized enough to plan a meal more than a week in advance. So I just haven’t gone. But, now that I look at this mole picture again, I realize that I really do need to get off my ass and make this Perron dinner happen.
Although I haven’t reviewed it again in this post, I am still a great fan of Mama Mexicana in Maboneng and think it’s one of the best Mexican options in town. Also, Mama Mexicana is open for breakfast and serves great eggs ranchero.
That’s the end of my Mexican food round-up for now. More coming soon, I’m sure.