WAITING FOR GOOD OH!
Diners are lining up for a taste of the fast, fun Mexican/ American treats at this pint-sized cantina in the suburbs
IHATE queuing. It’s a condition that probably goes back to a wasted day spent inching closer to the gates at Wimbledon before the rain intervened, or even longer ago to standing forlornly in line, desperate to get inside the latest cool club. Invariably, all those heightened expectations end in disappointment.
That goes a fair way to explaining why it has taken me so long to get to Lucky Lupitas, despite the excitement surrounding its exuberant take on Mexican food.
Unless you’re very early, or very lucky, a wait of half-an-hour or more is part and parcel of the experience at this pintsized cantina in an unlikely row of shops opposite the Flinders Medical Centre.
Even on a Tuesday night, when we arrive before 6pm with hungry kids in tow, it takes some goodwill among other customers (thanks girls) and shifting of tables to get four seats together.
Within 10 minutes, there is a group sitting on the bench outside the door, no doubt thankful for the heaters and bags of popcorn that are handed out.
So is it worth the wait? That all depends on what you are expecting. A rigorous treatise on Mexico’s culinary culture this is not. Rather it’s a good-natured romp through some of the country’s betterknown street foods, as well as a few bigticket items from north of the border, all pulled together with respect and verve that elevates it well above the token Tex-Mex of the sombrero and sangria crowd.
Co-owner/chef Greggory Hill has come from America with an uncommon appreciation for what this food can be, particularly through a kitbag of chilli – poblano, ancho, guajillo, pasilla – that provides a subtle hum of smoky heat that underpins many of the dishes (there’s also a bottle of hot sauce on the table for those wanting a fiercer burn).
If you want to know more about these and other chillies, they are described in detail on a blackboard near the cramped kitchen. Another board has a glossary of ingredients such as the cactus pads known as “nopales” and the “corn smut” fungus.
Otherwise the decor is rustic chic: a green feature wall with framed blackand-white portraits, copper pipes conduit with bare bulbs, a plain concrete floor (this doesn’t apply to the decrepit outdoor toilets, not managed by the restaurant).
The little room seats less than 30 and tables are tight.
Start with the tacos that are distinguished by the earthiness and chew of the corn tortillas that Greggory sources interstate. A filling of braised duck, red cabbage, orange and mayonnaise jumps with vibrant flavours and crunch but is a messy business to eat in the hands. The meat-free combination of potato, pumpkin, smoked corn and poblano is easier to manage and totally satisfying.
The “quesadilla de hongo y frijoles” is a Mexican toastie, the tortilla nicely charred on the outside and the filling of mushroom, beans and spinach mixed with just enough cheese to make it scrumptious, not overwhelming. I’d prefer my charred corn before it was slathered in chipotle mayo and cheese, but can see why I might be in the minority.
The smoked beef rib is a pin-up piece of meat-on-bone, tarry and intensely flavoured on the outside, voluptuous and pink in the middle, after cooking for more than 10 hours (or so the menu says). It comes with rice and a jalapeño slaw that demonstrates again why smoked meat and cabbage are made for one another wherever you are in the world.
The only dessert offered is a flan, Mexico’s take on crème caramel, the moulded ring of custard a little firm but still seductive, though the chill hasn’t been taken from it completely.
Lucky Lupitas is fast and great fun, more so I guess when the margaritas are flowing. Next time, I might even be prepared to wait in line. MUST TRY Smoked beef ribs with arroz a la mexicana and jalapeño pepper slaw ALSO CONSIDER Maiz and Mezcal, St Morris; United Latino Cocina, city