Monday, September 11, 2017

mexican/colombian: i strongly recommend QUANTUM TACOS and MECATOCOLOMBIA at MAJI SQUARE

No.1 Yumen Street 玉門街1號

MRT: Yuanshan 

websites: Quantum Tacos Facebook
website: Mecato Colombia

Pricing: $ (NT$150/ person) 

Visit reviewed: 9/10/2017


I HAVE POSSIBLY FOUND THE BEST TACOS IN TAIPEI RIGHT NOW and you'll never guess where. Forget all you thought you knew about Mexican food in Taiwan and get yourself to the outdoor food court at Maji Square. 

Hidden in plain sight among the jumble of stalls of oyster vermicelli, burgers, poutine and Indian food are TWO food stalls you must try if you've been craving something better than the landscape of "It's good for Taiwan" Mexican food. 

If you are on my blog today for night market finds, beef noodles soups and dumplings, then scroll through my previous posts for a moment while we talk about this. 

But if you've lived in Taipei longer than a year and/or eaten your fair share of Mexican food fails,  I'm talking to you right now. 

I didn't even realize what the name of the shop was, my eyes just went from TACOS on the sign straight to "al pastor," "carnitas," and "chorizo." The photos of the tacos looked promising, the person manning the shop didn't look like a bored Taiwanese worker, and the price of NT$150 for 2 tacos or NT$200 for 3 tacos was reasonable. 

After peppering the guy at the stand with a flurry of questions, I decided to get a plate of 3. Regrettably the carnitas wasn't ready yet, but I could get al pastor chicken and al pastor pork. He said it would take 5-10 minutes, so I would wait in anticipation by making another circle around the food court. A small price to pay for the promise of legit street tacos. 

I made my way back to Mecato Colombia which had drawn my attention with their bright and festive sign, flanked by the yellow, blue and red stripes from the Colombian flag, and more importantly photos of their empanadas. Because I figured I would kill two birds with one stone and try them both out and empanadas with tacos sounded pretty good. 

 I asked which ones were best and settled on the Traditional Chicken and the chicken and mushroom, which the owner said also had cheese. Sounded good to me. There's also pork, salami and Hawaiian empanada on the menu at Mecato (Is Hawaiian a real thing for empanadas? Or is that just for Taiwan????), as well as arepas, drinks and obless, which looked like Colombian tortas and cookies.

I think I made the owners a little bit nervous with all my questions and by concentratedly eyeing them getting the fryer ready for the handmade empanadas, so went back to look for my tacos. 

I have seen (and eaten) A LOT of tacos in Taipei (and around the world!) and the way the tacos look  dictate a lot about how they are going to taste. And these tacos al pastor from four month old Quantum Tacos were definitely in the right direction. 

First, they had corn tortillas. Second, they were sprinkled with diced onions and cilantro, and ONLY onions and cilantro. Third, there was a proper meat to tortilla ratio, enough meat that when you rolled up the taco that you could see the meat coming out of the edges. (And the fact that the corn tortilla was thin and pliable enough to roll up, you couldn't imagine what a rarity that even is in Taiwan!) 

And the taste? HEAVENLY.

I did not realize how much I wanted to eat a taco until my mouth was chewing the tender bits of spit -roasted pork and fat mixed with the punch of the bits of onion and cilantro,  and I forgot that I was even in Taipei. That I didn't even have to think, this is good for Taipei. I thought this is good PERIOD.

The al pastor had enough flavor from the tomato (which gives it its reddish color) * and spices to not need any extra hot sauce. But if you like it with a bigger kick, they did have a bottle of Cholula and housemade hot sauce on hand. All these details because the food was being made by someone who knows what it's supposed to taste like.

Sam, who was from Mexico, said that when he started, he didn't know how to cook these recipes, which are from the owner who is Taiwanese but had lived in Mexico for over 20 years. But after learning, he could adjust to taste when he was cooking it day to day because (let's say it again) he knows what it's supposed to taste like. And that makes a difference.

Also, I noticed when I picked up my food that there were two business cards on the counter and realized the owner of Quantum Tacos was ALSO the owner of Teotihuacan Restaurant, which I had just found on the internets a few days before when I was researching to revamp my list of Mexican restaurants. I had never heard of it before then and now it all clicked IRL.

When I realized my empanadas were ready so I had to put down my taco (you can see the bite I took above) to pick them up. They were golden, fist sized puffs with braided edges and I knew that I was probably the only person in the food court filled with Taiwanese families, eating both tacos and empanadas right then. And they were MISSING OUT.

The chicken and mushroom empanada (NT$55) was deliriously cheesy, so much that they should put the word "cheese" in the description so people can know they are basically getting a fried cheese and chicken savory doughnut. The crust was flaky and the center cheesy, I didn't even mind that I didn't taste any mushroom. I seriously could not believe my luck, that the taco and empanada universe finally expanded to include Taipei. 

The chicken and potato empanada (NT$50) was also delicious, and reminded me of a croquette since it had the diced potato, but with the bonus of the fried crust around it. I am typing this up right now and thinking about if I should go back tomorrow for more. 

If you're looking for somewhere air conditioned to dine, you can also try the Argentinian Gaucho at the end of Maji Square, but while their grilled meats are good, their empanadas are no where near as good as the ones from Mecato Colombia. And their menu overall is definitely more expensive.

But seriously, who would have ever thought a food hall in Taipei would have Mexican, Colombian AND Argentinian food in one place? Is this the first you've heard about these spots? Do these photos make you excited? Where else have I been missing out on?? Leave a comment and some love, so I know you're reading! :)

PS sorry, let me also know the photos are turning up blurry? Blogger is having some issues for me, but I didn't want to wait to share.. so I will try to replace the photos later, but my eyes sometimes are also seeing blurry because i'm on my phone wayyy too much.

*per feedback in the comments, please note that traditional al pastor DOES NOT have tomatoes but chilis and spices, but the chef behind quantum tacos made that personal adjustment.


Anonymous said...

OMG the tacos look legit! Definitely gonna try this place out, thanks so much for the info, love your blog:D

kayjay said...

I was coincidentally just at Maji this past Thursday. I got a quesadilla from the Just Chili place that is blurry in the background of one of your photos and chili poutine from Poutinerie a couple stalls down. Both were incredibly satisfying and kept me stuffed for the day. I saw the empanadas too late and made a note to go back soon.

joanh said...

anonymous: awesome! thank you! hope you enjoy them as much as i did!

kayjay: ah cool! good to know you liked the food at Just Chili and Poutinerie, the taco place was just near there. Definitely try the empanadas on another day!

Julio said...

Small but significant mistake, Al Pastor marinade doesn't have any tomatoes, it's a mix of dry chilies and other spices.

rayschalch said...

Julio you're right, the original recipe for Pastor marinade doesn't include tomatoes, but I have been experimenting and creating some of the new recipes at Quantum Tacos and found that for cost and "coverage" reasons, I had to make some kind of sauce first and try to incorporate the flavour of the original marinade to be able to infuse more flavour not only to the pork but to the chicken as well.

Although I'm not a professional chef, I'm Mexican and have been cooking since I was a kid, which allowed me to adapt to the conditions of availability of ingredients in Taipei compared to Mexico.

At least I'll tell you that, in my watch, lots of people had a great experience eating my tacos and trying my hot sauces which I make with love... After all Mexican cousine is 80% love, 10% fresh great ingredients and 10% technique.

rayschalch said...

Hi there: I'm one of the chefs behind Quantum Tacos and Teotihuacan (Luis Schalch :)), my friend Jair Ballardo (head chef of Teotihuacan) and I will be holding an event at Jungle City (a bar right outside Jiantan station) commemorating the anniversary of the Mexican independence day. If you come you'll be able to try some very unique and traditional Mexican dishes which are totally rare in Taiwan and won't be available for another year most likely... So, if you'll like to join us prepare yourself for a great feast and an amazingly fun party full of Mexicans, music and delicious food!!

I'll leave the event's link here so you can make a reservation. Please contact me or the Quantum Tacos GB page for any questions.

joanh said...

julio: thanks for your comment and thanks for ray for your response. I noted the tomato ingredient because the guy at quantum told me that's what gave it its color. maybe i'll edit it to include both your comments

ray: thanks for the invitation. i don't know if i can make it, but it sounds amazing. i look forward to trying more of your food.

Anonymous said...

Just came from Quantum Tacos and I’m sorry but I don’t share your enthusiasm. I am not going back to that place. Their tacos were really bad. . The meat was dry and lacked flavor. Even the corn tortilla (which I was really excited about because you don’t find it in many taco shops) was a huge let down. It lacked that flavor from the corn masa. Over-all, it was just a 4 out of 10 for me.

joanh said...

Anonymous- thanks for your comment! It's good to hear from others, as I've only been once and don't know about their consistency. It's possible you had another person cooking that day or some other factor. My taco meat was definitely not dry, though the tortilla could be on th dry side. Sucks it's wasn't good that day. The search continues

Anonymous said...

One of the most disappointing taco places I've been to in Taipei. Terrible quality ingredients and a clumsily put together taco. Will not go back.

rayschalch said...

I understand consistency is quite an issue with a restaurant or food stand which doesn't have standardized procedures such as a chain restaurant. The way of preparation and the skill in a cook's hand also defines the flavour. I would personally recommend you to go to Teotihuacan, the flagship restaurant from this family which is under the wing of Jair Ballardo III, a Mexican chef and personal friend who brings out the best of the Mexican cousine in Taipei. I hope you can try there and give us your impressions

Anonymous said...

I went today and the tacos were very poor. Like others have said, the meat was dry. The tortillas were alright but one of them pretty much tore apart before I could even take the first bite making the rest quite difficult to eat.

The guy at the counter was pretty nice though.

Anonymous said...

These aren't legit dry and taste like shit

joanh said...

Anonymous- sounds like the food has changed since I went. Bummer.

Ray- I’ve been to teohuatican and while i enjoyed my meal, it didn’t measure up to what I was hoping for from LA

rayschalch said...

Joanh - unfortunately I left behind that place and I really don't know what happened with my recipes and the actual food quality there, but I tell you something and to all as well: if you want real traditional and amazing Mexican food in Taipei I recommend you the "Teotihuacan" restaurant. If you went there and wasn't really impressed I urge you to ask to talk to the chef and tell him you come from my part (my name is Luis), then I'm more than sure he will prepare you something "special" out of the menu and you will feel just like in Mexico city. Now remember this, perhaps your concept of Mexican food is that of the things you tried in LA (so ot won't really be traditional nor real Mexican), the food served in Teotihuacan is an adaptation trying to be as honest and true to the real Mexican food. I'm from Mexico city and I'll tell you that the chef's "special" enchiladas taste ad good as the ones back to MX.


Blog Widget by LinkWithin