Where is it: A short walk from Shepherd’s Bush station in West London
Opened: August 2014
Why go now? It was voted ‘Mexican Restaurant of the Year’ at the Air Europa Latin UK Awards 2015
The concept: Authentic and fresh Mexican tacos and cocktails in a casual, fun locale
What makes it different? Simply put, the kitchen is actually headed by Mexican chefs Josue and Ernesto, whose own family recipes dot the menu – something that’s not as common in the London Mexican food scene as you might expect… And everything is made in-house from scratch with the exception of the tortillas, which are sourced from Borough Market stronghold Cool Chile Co.
What’s the vibe? Laidback and fun but serious about the food, Habanera is the closest thing to an American-style Mexican restaurant (a very good thing) we’ve seen in the capital. Mexican food fans should travel for this one, but it’s also ideal if you’re catching a gig at the O2 Shepherd’s Bush.
We tried: Starting with Habanera’s immense Salsa Bar, we chose salsas Fresca (the classic tomato, onion and coriander combination), Ranchera (smokey hot chipotle and adobo) and Verde (green tomatillos, which are like a slightly sour cousin of the tomato – perfect paired with salty chips) alongside guacamole with a side of house-fried, hot and salty tortilla chips (they literally plop their corn tortillas in the fryer just before serving) which we couldn’t resist having already sunk a couple of cocktails… If your visit is followed by a night out, the Salsa Bar makes for an ideal, substantial snack.
For the real deal though, head for the tacos. Authentic, small corn tortillas filled with a mix of the chefs’ family recipes, with a twist – like slow-cooked goat topped with mescal-soaked cherries – and South-of-the-Border classics like Carne Asada (steak with avocado and spiced aioli), Carnitas (pork with mango and lime salsa) and one of their most popular (for good reason): Blackened Salmon tacos with avocado, coriander, sweet corn and lime. If you’re ordering sans starter, opt for two-to-three portions of tacos per person; the two of us struggled through four portions after our Salsa Bar affair…
Save room for: Churros. Forget sickly fairground fare – the chocolate dipping sauce is served cool, dark and lightly spiced, as it should be, and complements the sugar-dusted Mexican doughnuts.
What to drink: It’s all about the cocktails and margaritas at Habanera. We went for the Acupulco Sour (melon and pineapple pisco sour), Get Out of Jalisco Free (a spicy concoction of honey, chilli, peach, ginger and Kraken spiced rum) and Habanera’s perfect classic margarita… Although we hear their other versions – including frozen Hibiscus, Watermelon & Peppercorn, and Kumquat & Coriander – are worth sampling your way through.
The best thing about it was: The joy at finding not just one, but an entire array of authentic, non-tomato-ketchup-like salsas. THIS is what Mexican street food is meant to taste like.
Anything else? Habanera serves up a classic weekend brunch with Mexican touches like chipotle sauce and a chorizo scramble, and also offers takeaway and delivery to most of W12.
The small print: Don’t be put off by its location among chicken shops and the like – Habanera is a gem we’ll be frequenting again and again.