Kopitiam tacos, anyone?

When all you want is a taco without the posturing hipster crowd and prices to match, check out these two new coffeeshop stalls offering the Mexican street fave

1. Legitimeat
1. Legitimeat
24 Nov 2015

1. Legitimeat

28 JLN BUKIT MERAH, S152028. Open Mon-Fri noon-8pm. Closed weekends. Last orders at closing. Facebook.

Think typical coffeeshop Western grub grill stall, except you can get slices of premium wagyu beef, tacos and a mean burger. But don't be mistaken, this isn't that Bukit Merah kopitiam with the string of ang moh stalls like the famous Immanuel French Kitchen (that's at Bukit Merah Lane a little farther down). But the idea is the same: an upscale Western grill in slightly unglam, humid surroundings.

Legitimeat is the only Western stall here, next to He Ji Teochew Porridge, and is the brainchild of self-taught cook Adleenda Radzie Wong (or Addy), 28, and her partner Julian Peh, 32, who run the stall together. The two of them used to work in the sales department of Far Ocean, a meat distribution company that’s the parent company of atas meat merchant, Swiss Butchery. Both of them had always wanted to open their own F&B joint, and decided to take their meaty connections and serve up this no-frills, low-risk Western grill at Bukit Merah. Addy mans the grill and Julian oversees the deep-fryer and serves food, and both of these first-time cooks and towkays are here cooking daily. They’re closed on weekends for now, until they sort out their brunch menu.

Apart from the four types of tacos, it’s a fairly generic line-up of Western plates like pastas, burgers, steaks and chips here, except with a slightly premium twist. Such as a homemade tomato jam in the wagyu burger or truffle fries on the side to go with your kopi.
 

1. Legitimeat: Steak Frites $12.50 for 140g
1. Legitimeat: Steak Frites $12.50 for 140g
24 Nov 2015

1. Legitimeat: Steak Frites $12.50 for 140g

Fatty Aussie wagyu rump is served sliced and unadorned except for a little mound of truffle salt and some middling fries on the side. Our steak, cooked medium rare (you get to choose your preferred doneness), is tender and sweet, and just a little touch of the salt is enough to round off its flavours nicely. It doesn't have a sufficiently seared crust, but it’s still very decent for its price.

1. Legitimeat: Fish and Chicken Tacos $5.50 each
1. Legitimeat: Fish and Chicken Tacos $5.50 each
24 Nov 2015

1. Legitimeat: Fish and Chicken Tacos $5.50 each

The tacos here can be filled with either beef, chicken, turkey or fish. An Instagrammer who alerted us to this place raved about the fish taco (above, left) here, so we had to try it. It’s a deep-fried dory fillet inexplicably served on a large, pale and slightly tepid lightly grilled six-inch flour tortilla (it looks more like a wrap), which made it very hard to pick up and eat. We ended up using our forks. So it’s not quite a taco, more like an open-faced wrap that you can’t exactly wrap. But the fish, simply battered with plain flour and drizzled with a spicy mayo, is fabulously crispy and the flesh isn’t powdery like some dory we’ve had. It's served atop a bed of arugula and a simple tomato salsa. Filling, if a bit unwieldy. Better to get the fish alone, with fries or mash, as the Fried White Fish. There's also chicken leg taco (above, right) if you don't like fish.

BOTTOM LINE: The tacos here are more like large wraps. We say zoom in on the rather “legit" steak instead. The plates here are overall yummy, if slightly unpolished, and very reasonably priced. 

2. Brickworks Tacos
2. Brickworks Tacos
24 Nov 2015

2. Brickworks Tacos

STALL 3, #01-5134, 2 JLN BUKIT MERAH, S150002. Open daily except Sun. Mon-Sat 11am-2pm; 6pm-9pm. Last orders at 2pm and 8.30pm. Facebook

Brickworks Tacos is a gritty little stall in a nondescript kopitiam right across the street from the popular ABC Brickworks Food Centre. It's filled with beer-boozing uncles and just beside popular Asma A.R. Nasi Padang stall. It’s not the most obvious place to find a taqueria, but according to co-owner and former food writer-turned-Polytechnic lecturer, Pauline Ooi, 39, the neighbourhood aunties and uncles have been quite curious and supportive. She says her goal was to create low-cost and accessible, but high-quality grub for the masses.

But why tacos? When she approached chef Kameron Kurtz, 36, with the opportunity to do whatever he wanted at this stall, the Arizonian who’s been based in Singapore for the past four years, said he wanted to recreate the hearty, no-frills Mexican food he grew up eating as a kid (Arizona borders Mexico). The 36-year-old, who devised the menu here and now slaves away daily as the only ang moh hawker uncle at this kopitiam, had previously served as a consultant and chef in various restaurants about town.

Most recently, he was the chef of Deli in the Park at Bishan Park. He was also previously the executive chef at Wings Bar in Clarke Quay, though contrary to what the folks at Brickworks Tacos told us earlier, Kurtz did not open the bar, but served as its consultant chef before leaving some years ago. In fact, Wings’ management was emphatic about making sure this point was clarified. Now, back to the food...

ON THE MENU: The nasi lemak-loving American chef has free rein at this hawker stand, where he cooks daily. He turns out a very impressive menu of Mexican favourites. There are four tacos — beef, chicken, fish and vegetarian — sold individually or in a set with a choice of a side (refried beans, rice or tortilla chips and salsa), and some non-taco items like Quesadillas ($5) and the occasional special Kameron makes on a whim, like the BBQ Jackfruit Tacos Meal ($5), which unfortunately wasn't available when we visited. These aren't your usual Mexican or Tex-Mex tacos, though: they're not loaded up with guacamole, sour cream or bright salsas, but come topped instead with crunchy, tangy homemade pickles and a creamy cabbage slaw. It's what Kameron says is the kind of Arizonian-style Mexican food that developed in his hometown. The food here is made with as many local ingredients as possible to keep costs down, with some exceptions like imported chilies, corn tortillas and beans.
 

2. Brickworks Tacos: The Food
2. Brickworks Tacos: The Food
24 Nov 2015

2. Brickworks Tacos: The Food

L - R: Beef Tacos, Fish Tacos and Street corn

Chicken Tacos $2.50 each; $5 for two with a side
These are made with chicken thigh meat slow-roasted with spices like cumin and cilantro, until it’s super tender and falling off the bone, then topped with an assertive smoky chipotle sauce and pickled onions. It’s great: slightly smoky, unabashedly spicy, super juicy. Makes rich, hearty mouthfuls with the creamy slaw, tart pickles and mildly bitter corn tortillas. Two tacos with some sides are enough for a meal, but on repeat visits, we've stuffed up to four tacos into our gut and left explosively full.

Fish Tacos $3 each; $6 for two with a side
We were told the fish used was tilapia and so were a little hesitant: it’s usually really muddy tasting. But not here. The white fish is marinated in a potent mix of tequila, garlic, cilantro salt, cumin and lime and then grilled till the skin is crispy and the flesh tender and lightly flaky. The meaty fish is piquant, and we much prefer this to the usual deep-fried numbers at most taco joints.

Beef Tacos $3 each; $6 for two with a side
A mix of sirloin and chuck is braised with chilies, onions, garlic and beer for 12 hours and the tender, shredded chunks of beef are served in a tortilla with its juices and a sharp green chili sauce. Oddly enough, we found this leaner and lighter than the chicken, but in a good way. The beef is full-bodied and succulent. Messy but yum to eat.

Street Corn $1.50 for half a cob
Don't leave without ordering one of these. It’s so good we wolfed down four in one sitting. The corn is lightly blanched in sweetened and salted water, then grilled until lightly charred and smoky and topped with a zingy chili powder, lime and mayo sauce. It's light and full of vibrant flavours despite the lack of the usual Mexican cotija cheese.

BOTTOM LINE: These are not your usual Mexican tacos or even Tex-Mex tacos. They’re like a hybrid of each style. But they are hearty, flavourful and almost as delicious as tacos you find in restaurants, yet much cheaper. We hope they open another more accessible branch soon.

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