Whilst there were many contenders for my most memorable meal of 2012 (such as my birthday dinner courtesy of Mat Follas at The Wild Garlic, and licking chicken off a brick thanks to Ben Spalding at John Salt) it was understandably impossible to beat Michelin-starred supremo Tom Kerridge serving up a storm inside a glass Cube overlooking London's legendary landmarks.
But Chris Pople of Cheese and Biscuits has highlighted an interesting distinction between a great meal and a great restaurant:
"A great restaurant, then, isn't just where you happen to have a great meal, it's a place you look forward to going to more than anywhere else because you always enjoy the time you spend there"
This got me thinking...obviously as a gastronome I am always keen to try new culinary experiences, and even when I return to a favourite haunt like Brockley Market or Brixton Village it's usually with the hope of testing out what different vendors have on offer each time.
Wahaca had already become one of my preferred places to dine out by the end of 2011, but since then I've come to know and love the menu even more. It's the first place I suggest to family and friends from outside the big smoke because the street food is perfect for sharing whilst catching up, and the speedy service makes it ideal for a midweek meal with my man before our date night at the movies. What's more, it's incredibly cheap for the quality and quantity of the food served up to you.
Admittedly there's no pre-booking so you're sometimes forced to loiter at the bar (which is all the excuse I need for ordering one of their Margaritas!), but the fast turnaround time means you're never waiting long. They've also launched a takeaway service from their Mexican Street Kitchen Vans, and my own secret trick for an instant seat is the knowledge that Canary Wharf is very quiet at the weekend...*wink*
Reflecting on #Project366 and all the thousands of food photographs I instagrammed last year, I realised that I had captured snapshots of practically every part of Wahaca's menu! So I figured that I might as well show you why I still look forward to eating here after so many visits, and hopefully tempt you to test it out for yourself!
After my boyfriend's graduation on Day #91 of #Project366, we chose to kickstart the celebrations with their crunchy homemade tortilla chips and fresh guacamole packed with zingy chilli and lime. If you're steering clear of their significant tequila collection, then I'd recommend a refreshing glass of Citrus Fizz.
I am totally addicted to these creamy black bean frijoles sprinkled with sharp crema and crumbled cheese, and have no shame in dunking my spoon straight into the terracotta pot if I run out of tortilla chips. When I first visited Wahaca they served these topped with chorizo...I'm hoping they might repeat this one day as a special treat (please!)...
Their street food can be ordered with meaty, fishy and vegetarian fillings, plus a selection of seasonal specials. I'm always torn on which tender meat to add to my soft corn tortillas, but I really enjoy the contrast between their juicy simply grilled steak and smoky chipotle salsa.
I confess that I normally avoid ordering the tostadas, just because I find it harder to keep hold of the toppings when biting into the crispy tortillas. But I have no trouble devouring these deep fried tacquitos! This is their sweet potato and feta version, served up on Day # 328 with a chipotle mayonnaise so spicy that it blew away any chance of a winter cold developing.
Who needs a pizza when you can have a slice of Wahaca's quesadilla, loaded with gooey cheese, minced chorizo and sautéed potato?!
Sweet potato wedges with a soft centre and crispy deep-fried exterior are a fantastic extra to nibble on alongside your street food, especially drizzled with Wahaca's spicy sauces (which can now be purchased from various national supermarket chains). And if you needed proof of my aforementioned frijole addiction, they've now appeared in 3 photos within this post, all from separate dates...!
When I'm feeling in need of extra warmth (such as last weekend and on Day #337 of #Project366) I opt for Wahaca's seriously spicy tomato soup, which has a delightful silken consistency and is so much more than your average bowl of broth thanks to toppings of diced avocado, totopos and sour cream.
I *never* order salads in restaurants, but I'd always been intrigued by the giant tortilla bowls that I'd seen skinny girls tucking into on previous trips to Wahaca. So I plumped for this on Day #295 when I wanted to feel particularly virtuous, and oh-my-god I was immediately hooked! Delving through this edible salad basket I found chewy spelt grains, creamy avocado, sweet tomato, nutty pumpkin seeds, crunchy beans and lettuce plus a vibrant light dressing and delicious charred meat. I was stunned at how much I loved this salad, and have found it equally enjoyable topped with spicy chicken or with sweetcorn and black bean salsa. Tasty healthy eating FTW!
The only area where I'm lacking in photos is from Wahaca's selection of platos fuertes (bigger dishes). My boyfriend has (unsurprisingly) given his thumbs up to the steak and the marinated chicken, and we both like their larger portion of slow-cooked shredded pork pibil and green rice.
When I'm feeling ravenous I'll go for an immense burrito, a flour tortilla fully stuffed with spicy meat, delicate rice, Baja cheese and yet more of those frijoles. This image might not look so appealing as it was taken mid-bite, but my original post on Wahaca showcases their burritos in a more attractive light. I cook enchiladas a lot in our little London flat so I'm keen to try Tommi's chicken mole parcels this year, as well as their MSC-certified plaice goujons.
Currently Wahaca is offering a #spoonamnesty, because 25,000 of these quirky plastic dessert utensils have been stolen from them in the past 5 years! I can honesty say my kitchen drawers are guilt-free, though I almost wish I had nabbed a spoon if it meant I could get a free plate of tacos for its safe return...!
The combination of salt, caramel and flecks of bitter chocolate in this cooling icecream is the perfect antidote to soothe your senses after all that spicy food. I'm also a fan of their vanilla icecream topped with sugary roasted pumpkin seeds and caramel sauce, and my sweet tooth is aching to try their chocolate tres leches cake (keep an eye on my Twitter feed for that one!)
If you fancy a more traditionally Spanish end to your fiesta, then why not settle back for a siesta with these sweetly scented cinnamon sugar churros? These crispy doughnuts are crying out to be torn up and dunked into this luxuriously thick dark chocolate sauce...
Unfortunately there are times when I've gobbled up one too many tacos and I can't quite squeeze in a pudding. On those rare occasions, I end my meal with a warming Mexican hot chocolate, made dairy-free by mixing chocolate with water, caster sugar and ground almonds.
All of Wahaca's hot drinks are served with a square of chilli chocolate to remind you of the spicy notes running through their extensive menu, and you're even given a packet of seeds with your bill so that you can grow your own chillies at home and rekindle the memory of your visit!
When I'm craving fresh and flavourful food that's served up fast and won't break the bank, Wahaca is the restaurant I always rely on, and know I'll return to again and again.