I both love party season and hate it. Of course, going out and seeing my friends, eating good food and drinking good wine are all wins in my book, but it all comes with the hassles of trying to find a way home when the designated driver has had one too many, and it leaves a big dent in my bank account after a while.
So when yet another birthday rolled around, I suggested a bar a little less expensive than usual, yet still vibrant and interesting - and with awesome food: El Loco, in Surry Hills.
El Loco is a Merivale restaurant, but it doesn't have the posh, unapproachable air of the other restaurants and bars, so when the three of us turned up one Saturday, we felt right at home. We snagged a table right away and set about ordering.
We started off with drinks. Elain ordered a Classic Margarita, which included a good dash of Herradura Blanco tequila and zesty Cointreau. It was fresh and zingy and probably the best margarita I've ever sampled.
My Pink Cuco slushy was a tad more complex: El Jimador tequila was mixed with pink grapefruit and lime juice, and finished off with a ginger and coriander syrup. I was so enamoured of this drink that I ordered two more before the end of the night.
The thing I love about El Loco is that a lot of items on the menu are five dollars. With that five dollars you can order a healthy serving of thick corn chips with a creamy guacamole and salsa with a bit of a kick. It's a great bar snack, and we munched on these as we waited for the rest of our order.
The tacos here are all soft-shelled and jam-packed with fillings. We chose one of the specials, a crispy barramundi taco topped with salsa verde and smooth queso - it was chock full of different textures and the flavours were perfectly balanced. The Carne Asada taco included lemongrass beef that was slightly tough but redolent with the fresh, zesty lemongrass, and pico de gallo, a zingy salsa.
The fish of the day happened to be some sort of snapper, which was grilled to perfection. The flesh was tender, which really showed against the crispy skin, and the freshness was accentuated with a beautiful salsa verde. Served with a shaved fennel, cabbage and coriander salad on an oddly floral plate, it was a great meal.
Now this quesadilla was SPICY! Stuffed with chorizo, jalapenos and a smoky chipotle mayonnaise then toasted, there was no way I was able to finish it (I'm a light weight when it comes to spice though).
The server wouldn't tell me what was in my secret taco, even after I'd eaten it, so I'm not really sure what it was. It's normally offal and changes daily. My mystery meat rested atop a pile of cabbage and was smothered in a tart pico de gallo salsa, and it was quite tender and slightly gamey.
I thought that each serving of churros would be just enough for one person, so I ordered three serves. What came out were nine massive columns of dough, accompanied by a sweeter-than-sweet dulce de leche spiked with orange syrup. It was delicious, but we had to take half of it home.
If you're looking for a place to chill, with great food and even better drinks at a reasonable price, then I'd definitely recommend El Loco.
64 Foveaux Street
Phone: 02 9211 4945