Every time I travel to the US (which, admittedly, has not been much lately) I find myself gorging on Mexican food. And that’s probably because, in the 15 years that I’ve lived in Amsterdam, Mexico has been sorely underrepresented in the city’s food scene. Long-term readers of this blog will know that I first started my search for tacos in Amsterdam back in 2013. My quest led me to plenty of disappointments as well as a few gems. But many of the best taquerias were either pop-ups to begin with or have since closed down. It’s taken me eight years just to come up with a list of half a dozen decent places to eat Mexican food (and one of those technically doesn’t even serve tacos). In fact, I was almost ready to publish this in summer 2020, but then the second wave of the pandemic hit and restaurants closed down again. And we all know that takeaway tacos just turn into a soggy mess.
So before anything else goes wrong, here it is: the definitive list.
The search for tacos in Amsterdam is finally over…. (For now!)
5 of the Best Places to Eat Tacos in Amsterdam (+1 Bonus!)
Hipster, industrial Amsterdam Noord has become the unofficial capital of Mexican food in the city, housing not one but two great taquerias. At Coba, you’ll find a fiercely strong margarita as well as a range of off-the-beaten-path tacos, tostadas and more. The veal tongue tacos were my favourite, while Mr Foodie’s favourites were the black pudding on blue corn tortillas. But the carnitas tacos were fantastic too, with melt-in-the-mouth tender pork belly. While all the dishes were perfectly seasoned and sauced, we also received three salsas in little jars on the table, all of which were also excellent and deliciously different – plus, Coba’s chefs were blissfully unafraid of chilli heat! For some reason, no one would bring us any cutlery, which made it rather difficult to eat the tostadas and tetelas (corn masa stuffed pockets), both of which fell apart almost as soon as I touched them. But messy hands were a small price to pay for what was undoubtedly some of the city’s best Mexican food.
At Bacalar, the sunny, expansive terrace is a draw – especially during pandemic times. Despite our visit falling on a hungover Sunday lunchtime, it seemed rude not to try a couple of cocktails, so we started with the fruity pink rhubarb Paloma and the smoky Bucha Maracuja. The menu looked suspiciously similar to Coba’s, and there’s apparently some history there that I won’t go into, but luckily for us the food was just as good. Bacalar’s tostada with crawfish, avocado, pickled cucumber and leche de tigre was fresh and zingy with a big citrus hit. But the tacos de moronga with black pudding, pickled red onion and mango habanero salsa got my final vote: spicy and meaty in equal measure. A firm favourite.
Located along the Albert Cuypmarkt in De Pijp, Cabrón is better for sultry nights inside than al fresco dining. And what better way to start any such night than with a margarita? Cabrón’s used top-quality tequila, came shaken (not frozen or anything silly like that) and sported a salt rim that only went halfway around the glass. Just the way I like it. As for the tacos, they were pretty good as well. I tried three varieties: the carnitas (because who can resist pork on anything?) with sweet potato purée and queso fresco, which came in a delicious blue-corn tortilla; the softshell crab with sweet mango salsa and shredded cabbage; and a vegan number with battered cauliflower instead of fish. All of them were Lekker with a capital L.
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Local Dealer Food Inc.
Local Dealer has a helpfully large and sunny terrace on the Dapperplein, which makes it a great spot for the summer. The interior is funky, as are the drinks, and the tacos are pretty top notch too. My favourites were the Cordero de Oaxaca: freshly pressed, blue corn tortillas filled with pulled barbacoa lamb and pickled vegetables – yield meets bite, sweet meets sour, undercut with a satisfying umami base. I also loved the special: chicken hearts with rich molé sauce. Everything had a healthy hit of chilli, which I adored (as always).
A student haunt in the Plantage, Cantina Caliente is a gezellig little place for tasty tacos, quesadillas, nachos, ceviche and more. We tried the barbacoa tacos, in which the beef pulled apart well and the sauce was nicely spicy, and the berenjena (aubergine) tacos with feta and chillies – both were delicious, as was the seabass ceviche with sweet potato and crispy corn. The cocktasils were good too, though the house wine left a little to be desired. Service was slightly sloppy the night we visited, but mistakes were fixed quickly and with a smile so all was forgiven.
Close to the Foodhallen, Parakeet is Amsterdam’s answer to the eternal question: “Where can I go to eat nachos and drink margaritas?” I’m pleased to announce that Parakeet’s margarita (or rather, Lucy’s Margarita, as it’s called on the menu) is fresh, citrusy, strong and salty – plus slightly spicy from the ancho liqueur and chilli-salt rim. Meanwhile, the Tex-Mex food menu offers nachos in all ways, shapes and forms: with dips, in salad or as “nacho dinners” in four versions. I tried the Vondel nacho dinner (a half is enough for one person) with pulled pork, feta, jalapeno, pomegranate, sliced radishes, salsa, avocado puree, sour cream, coriander and Parakeet’s signature queso. The chips were excellent and the toppings plentiful, which made the plate great value. Plus, Parakeet’s bar staff play fabulously cheesy music – perfect for a night out. The eagle-eyed among you will have noticed that I’ve not, in fact, mentioned tacos… but with nachos this good, who needs tacos anyway?