Blue maize tacos & hot sauce
Like moustache wax, hipsters make very good hot sauce. It is maybe unfair to describe the team at Chorrito as hipsters. Their hipster days seem, if it doesn’t appear too rude a point, a decade or so behind them. But that brings a maturity, both in dealing with complex flavours and helping launch what is a fairly niche business, and grow it.
Like other promising food spaces, they’ve made home in The Red Sandstone building on Leith Walk. Thank goodness the ghastly development plans some years ago were stymied by a combination of Leith grit and local activism. It’s a brilliant set of shop fronts.
Chorrito is two businesses in one: Monday to Wednesday, Dan and Dawn are busy making and bottling sauces for retail and trade. Thursday into the weekend, their cantina opens for lunch and an early tea.
It’s a pinhead of a place, just a table for four and a clutch of enamel-coated high seats around the bar. Despite the smart design - think tiles and mini cacti - this isn’t somewhere to linger. We are in and out in under an hour. That is absolutely perfect for a weekday when the fridge is empty and work has run on a little late again.
The star of the menu is, of course, the hot sauce. ‘Hot sauce’ in this sentence is plural, because there are many to choose from. Four are on the table when we are there, plus a hot honey made with bourbon. You read that right - hot honey. All are very, very good.
Dan coaxes the flavour out of the chilli, rather than relying on heat alone, and judiciously matches the flavour with unusual secondary ingredients. Habanero, orange and coffee combines in a way that, cleverly, allows all three to shine on the palate, and then build to a harmonious single taste. It’s like hearing distinct musical notes before sitting back and letting the tune waft over you.
By contrast, the chipotle, pineapple and garlic sauce is more strongly flavoured, delivering a clearer kick. This one is good for heat.
A Louisiana style sauce is, as it should be, vinegar-based, with cayenne, red jalapeño and what Dan describes as “a large handful” of habanero. The vinegar is subtle but the sauce isn’t. This is one useful bottle to have around the kitchen and splash liberally into recipes.
Best, however, is the habanero, mango and turmeric. Vivid yellow, it is heady, earthy, warming and goes well with all the food.
Which is, of course, Mexican inspired but reassuringly contemporary. We start with chilaquiles, fried corn tortillas with roja sauce, crema and feta cheese. Red onions, pickled in lime juice, dance on top. We sit back happy, knowing that Leith has a new kid on the block. Chorrito can stay.
There is no license yet - no doubt our civic leaders require forms in triplicate, payments, hearings, assessments, and more forms - but you are welcome to bring a bottle. Cornelius is next door and worth a visit on any account. But being early in the week, we have excellent ginger beer from a can.
We ordered a succession of corn tacos. Like a chemistry experiment that, frankly, could go either way, we are encouraged to add hot sauce from pipettes. If you are a chilli lover, as this glutton is, there is no fear. For more restrained palates, well buckle up for goodness’ sake. You are in a hot sauce shop. Your mouth is going to be a bit burny-burny by the time you walk out of here. Deal with it.
The tacos at Chorrito are made with blue maize, and made well. This offers more depth of flavour, a sort of nuttiness. The sizing of each taco was correct. This correct size, in case you are wondering, is big enough to be filling but small enough to eat in two and half bites.
Combinations are not always obvious, which is good. For example, a portobello mushroom is marinated overnight and placed on top of smashed avocado. This had remarkable flavour complexity. Cue much turmeric sauce and oohing.
Beef brisket tacos came next. These were so good we ordered another pair immediately. The meat was cooked in a light sauce, well spiced, oozingly succulent.
Refried beans and squash had good flavour but was a little flat, texturally. Much better were the quesadillas. Crispy blue tacos were filled with mashed potato, chillis, cheese, drizzled with crema. This was a great dish with which to try all the hot sauces. Each added its own accent. I’d happily eat this regularly. A note on the ceramic plates - they are very cute.
Vegans, should they want to, could eat here comfortably. Brunches are served. But perhaps the genius of the cantina is that it is very easy for one person to come in and prop up the bar. No dining companions needed here, just you and your taco. ■
126 Leith Walk
Hot sauce 9/10
Dinner for two £50
Hot sauce from £5.99