In a nutshell
Delicious fresh Mexican food, alongside amazing tequilas, frozen margaritas and mezcals. This is a Thistle Street gem that has just re-opened following a fire at the beginning of 2015. Walk-ins only.
Chef Nico Ewart previously of The Raeburn.
The menu is short and sweet, but intense on flavour. The anti-chilli brigade should perhaps cross the road now. Tacos are the order of the day, but first up try some of the ‘antojitos (‘little cravings’)… don’t be fooled into thinking these might be starter size portions; they pack a punch and soak up your margaritas nicely.
Antojitos including Mexican Slaw – chile, lime and crema, raisins, pomegranate and peanuts, £4 – and Guacamole National – sheep’s milk cheese, pomegranate, spring onion, £4.50 – are the highlights. The guacamole comes with plantain chips or pork crackling… it’s mountainous, but you’ll manage it. The addition of pomegranate is genius.
The tacos are light, zingy and fresh; forget Tex Mex, this is the new wave of Mexican food that Edinburgh has been crying out for. Highlights include Cochinita Pibil (yucatan style pork shoulder in achiote and orange, escabeche onions, £6.50) and Carne Asada – flat iron steak, arbol salsa, avocado, spring onion, dried cherry tomatoes (£6.50). Various taco specials are available and vegetarians can try a sweet potato and red onion, sheep’s milk cheese, chipotle crema, pomegranate and pumpkin seeds option, or mushroom and chipotle salsa.
What we’re going back for
Everything! The food, the service, the mezcals.
What’s the room like?
Buzzing. This is a no reservation, walk-in only joint and with that comes the inevitable buzz of people coming and going. Traditional Mexican tiles feature alongside some more rock ‘n’ roll/hip-hop fittings including skulls on shelves, cast metal signs and a vintage drinks cabinet.
Need to know
With the no reservation policy comes an inevitable wait at busy periods. But fear not; El Cartel is run by Bon Vivant, a wine bar situated almost opposite the restaurant. Head there for a pre-dinner drink and you’ll be given a shout when a table is ready. You can also BYOB with a £5 corkage fee.
What we loved
The fact that every table has a couple of hot chilli sauces to choose from… like you’re going to need them. The chef has got ‘chilli’ well and truly covered – even the chocolate ice cream grabs a bit of the chilli action. Well worth a scoop if you’ve any room left. Staff are super friendly and have an in depth knowledge of the drinks menu.
A dizzying selection of mezcal – if you’ve never tried one this is your big chance. If you like a peat-smoked whisky mezcal will be your new favourite drink.
The Cochinita Pibil taco. Enough pulled pork in one taco to fill your boots and then some.
Total bill: £52 for two, including tip
64 Thistle Street, Edinburgh, EH2 1EN
By Hilary Sturzaker
All images Hilary Sturzaker