Kelly Bishop goes big and go-boxes home at this little Mexican joint on Wilmslow Road
The curry mile seems an outdated title for that stretch of Rusholme that starts around The Whitworth and stretches to Platt Fields Park - and I don’t mean because we're all metric these days.
You’ll find Turkish kebabs, Persian rice, Delhi-style sweets, Yemeni kabsah, burgers, pizzas and chips - as well as food from all over India that it’s more than a bit reductive to lump under the umbrella of “curry”.
Nevertheless, the name has stuck.
Dishes can be ordered medium, hot or extra hot so we dutifully try all three levels
You’ll also find Mexican food - which is what brings me to Rusholme to scope out a little cafe called Don Tacos.
Don Tacos uses that word "authentic" to describe its food - although it is not owned or run by Mexican people (to my knowledge) - but then very few purveyors of tacos, burritos and "margz" in the region are.
Does it pass the taste test?
I bring my taco expert pal Rob to verify it ticks the appropriate boxes. Rob’s a gringo too but his job has taken him all over the world and he's eaten more than his fair share of the little blighters in actual Mexico as well as all over the USA where you’ll also find the Tex-Mex variety that also dominates the food scene here in Manchester.
Rob has eaten more tacos than I’ve had free dinners and he’s a grumpy fucker when they’re not done right.
If you’re looking for the neon lights, cocktails and graffiti of the NQ taco joints, you won’t find it here. True to the broader curry mile cafe lookbook, there is a relaxed style with wooden chairs and tables and a no-frills kitchen at the back.
The decor is all Mexican trope tackiness: sombreros, check, cacti, check, signs about tacos being part of a balanced diet, check. I imagine the menus in normal times are probably of the wipe-clean variety but today we are ordering via an app. Essentially, we’re Deliverooing it to our table.
Our server is all Kevin and Perry insouciance. When I pop to the counter to pay for an extra drink, he animates, telling me one day he’d like to have his own place doing food from his home country of Syria, “like falafels, you know”.
But he’s not here to show me around the menu in that cringeworthy, Americanised style we get from the more well-known junk food peddlers of the city - and that’s a refreshing change. Multiple check backs can be super annoying and Rob and I have a lot of catching up to do anyway.
Don Tacos gets points for doubling up the corn tortillas. I can’t think of anywhere else in Manchester that does this but it’s the legit way they do it in Mexico, not least because it stops the messy buggers from falling apart.
It also makes them doubly filling and I have embarrassingly over-ordered yet again. If I’m not going to learn from my own greedy mistakes, at least maybe you can. No matter how hungry you are, don’t order as much as I did. A couple of gannets could easily cut the price on my receipt in half. We roll out of there with a stuffed “go-box” of leftovers each.
Dishes can be ordered medium, hot or extra hot so we dutifully try all three levels. Our soft corn tacos with tinga de pollo (£11.50 for four) are extra hot and the liquid pouring from our various orifices confirms this is an accurate descriptor. Hot sauce, pickled jalapeños and fresh green chilli (with seeds) bring Dantean layers of fire to the party with the chicken itself already nicely spiced. Sour cream and fresh tomato temper the flames.
Birria tacos (£12.50 for four) are a heart attack on a plate. This type of taco was made Manchester Instagram-famous by an NQ breakfast joint earlier this year but Don Tacos reckons it was actually first to do it here - if that kind of thing matters to you. They are stuffed with slow-cooked, authentically spiced meat (just “hot” this time) and cheese, deep-fried and served with a "gravy" dip made from the rich cooking juices left over when the meat is removed and shredded. They are the artery-thickeners of our meaty dreams and a surefire hangover dissolver. This is the dish that will lure me back to Don Tacos.
A medium-hot chicken and beef quesadilla (£8) the size of Mexico itself is hacked into four pockets of shredded, spiced meat and cheese and fried in butter or oil in case you need any extra fuel in the tank to get to the cardiology unit.
This is not the best time for Rob to tell me he’s on statins.
He considers gobbling up a load of the pills straight from the bottle like a sweating gangster in an 80s movie.
A side dish of red rice (£3) is ample for two people and (unlike somewhere else we went recently) not of the microwave kind. It’s fluffy, packed with flavour from the tomato and spices that also provide its hue and topped with black beans and spring onions. Like the doinks we are, we order two portions of tortilla chips (£3 with guac, £2 with salsa) because we want both salsa and guac (you can of course order dips separately).
They are the overly seasoned packet ones - a bit disappointing. Disappointing too are the dips which have a whisper of mass-production about them. A shame when Worldwide Foods over the road has such amazing fresh produce. Drinks are the super authentic Jarritos fizzy (£3 a) pop - there's no booze on the premises.
Don Tacos ticks plenty of boxes: it tastes pretty authentic, it does big portions that are great value for money and it will cure a hangover - just bring your pills if you've got a dicky ticker.
Don Tacos 61-63 Wilmslow Rd, Rusholme, Manchester M14 5TB
All scored reviews are unannounced, impartial, paid for by Confidential and completely independent of any commercial relationship. Venues are rated against the best examples of their type: 1-5: saw your leg off and eat it, 6-9: Netflix and chill, 10-11: if you’re passing, 12-13: good, 14-15: very good, 16-17: excellent, 18-19: pure class, 20: cooked by God him/herself.
Chicken tinga tacos 7.5, birria tacos 8, rice 7, chips and dips 5, quesadilla 7