A traditional taquería with a twist, newcomer Mexicano serves up authentic cuisine from the heart. Writing by Joanna Mayhew. Photography by Lucas Veuve.

As the capital’s latest eatery specialising in Mexican or Tex-Mex fare, Mexicano still manages to stand out from the crowd. Founded on the simple tenants of fresh ingredients, made-from-scratch dishes, and traditional recipes, the restaurant offers a wide range of tasty tacos, along with fajitas, chimichangas and enchiladas.

“We [aren’t doing] anything new,” says co-owner and executive chef Mario Galán, who started Mexicano in May with three others. “We keep it authentic.” While they may be traditional, the homemade corn tortillas – cut small and thin – help set Mexicano apart, as does the house pastor sauce, made with tomatoes, garlic, onion and dry chillies for a nice mix of smoke and spice, and served generously with tacos.

The Tacos CheChe ($6) combine a healthy portion of pulled pork, layered with melted cheese and refried beans and topped with pineapple, along with coriander, onion and fresh lime. The pork is cooked for four hours in a vertical spit (or trompo) after being flavoured with achiote and other spices. “It’s not only delicious but nutritious,” says co-owner Itzel Guadarrama Mayo, who partnered up with Galán after they worked together in Singapore. “It’s very balanced.”

The Tacos de Pescado ($7.50) are presented instead on flour tortillas, per custom, with homemade chipotle-mayo, red cabbage and pico de gallo. While usually served in coastal Mexico with Pacific Sol, the Cambodian version offers buttery red snapper, nicely crisped and drizzled with sauce. Translating as “molten cheese”, the Queso Fundido ($6) sees mozzarella breaded and deep fried, before being combined with tomatillo green salsa and served sizzling in a stone bowl.

When asked about the secret to doing his food well, the Mexican chef says it is obvious. “Love, of course,” says Galán, who goes to local markets each morning to gather fish, chicken and pork. “If you don’t do it with love, you don’t do anything.”

The eatery’s spartan space is light, airy and inviting – with outdoor rattan chairs framed in weathered wood, bright yellow and aqua walls, and simple decorations encompassing a large Mexican flag and sombrero above the small bar. Behind it, drinks, too, are made from scratch. The house margarita ($3) – served frozen or on the rocks – stays true to the original, with tequila, Cointreau and lime, as well as a secret ingredient the owners are keeping quiet.  Margaritas also come in fresh passion fruit or strawberry. The eatery will soon introduce a line of drinks featuring Mezcal, a Mexican spirit made from agave, and served in clay pots.

To sweeten the deal, the restaurant offers caramel flans ($5) and chocolate tamals. Fresh made corn tortilla chips and salsa are also provided for free (first order), and every Wednesday all chicas get large margaritas at regular price. Viva la Mexicano!

29AEo Street 288, Phnom Penh.
Tel: 096 861 2353.
Open daily, from noon to 3pm and 6pm to 11pm.