Peter Cornish revisits an old favourite, Gringo Tacos Y Cantina, in a new location. Photos by Romain Garrigue.
The first time we met Doug Stratton, owner and head chef of Gringo Tacos, was when we reviewed his small set-up in Ben Thanh Street Food Market where he was selling tacos and burritos to visiting tourists.
Since then, his reputation for delicious Mexican food has grown, and at the start of 2018 he opened his latest restaurant in the up-and-coming foodie area of Calmette and Dang Thi Nu streets in central District 1.
Hailing originally from southern California, Doug has strong opinions about what “traditional” Mexican food is. He now serves the genuine flavours of the food he’s enjoyed since childhood. As well as sharing some authentic Mexican tastes, his new cantina-styled venue brings a bit of Mexico to Ho Chi Minh City with the ever-ubiquitous skulls and sombreros, with traditional mariachi playing gently in the background.
With the move to a second location, Doug has taken the chance to expand his menu but still offers up an excellent choice of street tacos, burritos, tostadas and quesadillas, served with a protein choice of chicken, beef, pork or fish.
The first dish we tried was a deliciously cheesy quesadilla (VND100,000) with a light and creamy queso fresco made from fresh milk, which is delivered every morning. Doug tells me this Mexican favourite is particularly popular with Vietnamese guests who call it the Mexican pizza.
Next up was a pork carnitas from the chimichanga menu. A flour tortilla filled with Gringo’s six hour slow-cooked shredded pork with Mexican rice and refried beans, then fried to a crispy golden brown. Served with their homemade Mexican crema this substantial dish comes in at VND175,000.
If you’re hungry, opt for the “Gringo style”, adding a choice of mole rojo or green tomatillo sauce, melted cheese, more crema and some pico de gallo for a very reasonable VND225,000. Add guacamole for an additional VND25,000.
The pollo (chicken) asado also comes in a flour tortilla filled with grilled citrus marinated chicken breast and more refried beans, and again gently fried to the same crispy golden brown. Topped with more of the homemade crema this dish costs VND165,000, with “Gringo style” at VND215,000. You can also “Gringo style” any of their burritos for an additional VND50,000.
With a move to a larger venue and a traditional restaurant-bar style cantina there is now an impressive selection of drinks. Mexican cocktails (from VND140,000) with names such as the Paloma, charro negro and Tepache kid, which blend tequila, Vietnamese and Mexican ingredients to create new tastes.
Margaritas are served frozen or shaken, and Heart of Darkness and Rooster beers come draught or in bottles. With one of the largest tequila selections in town there is a choice of over a dozen different brands and tequila flights will let you try three different marks or three of the same style. Happy hour is from 5pm to 7.30pm on Coronas, margaritas, Mexican mules and Palomas. Head on down for a good feed and a fun evening!