Leslie Williams visits Masa Taqueria in Dublin
The much loved LA Times food writer Jonathan Gold died from cancer in July this year, a huge loss to the food world and the great food city of Los Angeles. One of his last appearances on camera was in the Netflix series Ugly Delicious where he says the following: “The (Mexican Taco) has more deliciousness per square inch, more deliciousness per second than anything else in the world!”
Ugly Delicious suffers from a lot of testosterone laden mansplaining from its two badly dressed hosts but the Taco episode is worth a watch if you are unfamiliar with this most glorious of gifts that Mexico gave the world.
First a bit about Mexico, it is two million square km with 123 million people and 68 native languages besides Spanish. ‘Mexican Cuisine’ is a whole bunch of regional cuisines that would take several books to explain. Tacos from Jalisco taste different from the ones in Oxaca to the ones in Baja but the basic Masa tortilla is much the same. Dried corn is soaked and boiled in an alkaline ash or lime which removes toxins and makes the corn more digestible and nutritious, a process called Nixtamalisation. Mexicans call themselves ‘Hombres de Maiz’, ‘people of the corn’ and expect to eat maize every day. One Mexican quoted by Charles C. Mann in his essential book Ancient Americans is asked what would happen if he didn’t have maize daily and he answered: “Why should I want to be somebody else?’
Masa Taqueria opened in July in the old Super Miss Sue building and has a Bunsen Burger connection (a good thing). It took four goes for me to make my first visit in mid-August as they kept closing to fix problems - on that quick visit the flavours were good but the tacos were far too thick so I decided to wait a little longer before reviewing.
I returned recently on a busy mid-week evening – Masa is always busy. Staff were disarmingly friendly however and were honest and apologetic about delays and early in the meal promised a 10% discount as compensation – if only all restaurants acted like this.
After a 20 minute wait nursing our Sierra Nevada IPAs we began with some tortilla chips and proper guacamole (€3.95) and extra salsas for dipping, plus a bowl of Mexican Patatas Bravas (€3.95) drizzled with fine smoky Chipotle Mayonnaise. The patatas were nicely crisp and more-ish and I was happy to forgive the burnt edges on a small percentage. Flour Tortilla Quesadilla with mushrooms (€3.95) had been properly firmed in the pan and the melting cheese dripped onto our hands as we ate.
Tacos at Masa cost from €4.45 to €6.45 for two and are not from any particular region but a kind of taco greatest hits. The tacos are now the correct thickness and texture and have that classic earthy sweet corn flavour. Al Pastor (shepherd style) tacos were invented by Lebanese immigrants to Mexico in the 19th century and Masa’s version had a good balance of pork, chilli and achiote paste and was topped with pineapple chunks.
Carne Asada Taco (€6.45) was tender beef with a cream sauce that had a distinct cinnamon kick. My Mexican consultant Lily Ramirez-Foran of Picado Mexican shop tells me the cinnamon is definitely not traditional but she doesn’t deny that this is indeed a tasty taco. Chicken was buttermilk fried with salsa macha (chilli and nuts) and suffered from rather over-cooked dry chicken but once extra salsa was added it slipped down easily enough. Note that salsa is not added to Masa’s tacos so make sure to order extra so you can do it yourself. The sole dessert of Churros y Cajeta (€3.95) was wonderfully good - sweet sugary dough with a creamy rich goat milk caramel sauce dip – bizarrely there was no charge for this as the kitchen is “still perfecting” the dish – personally I think they should charge double it is so good.
Masa is serving some of the best value and tastiest food in the country and while purists will find some small flaws, the kitchen seems to be on a constant learning curve so it will only get better. ¡Yo también soy un hombre de maíz!
A filling meal for two including four cans of beer, tortilla chips and dips, tacos, quesadilla, patatas bravas and dessert cost €51.25 (including a 10% discount due to delays).
Open noon – 10pm daily (note: booking is not possible)
An excellent addition to Dublin’s dining scene, fun tasty and reasonably authentic Tacos and sauces for a tiny price – just be patient as service is a little slow.
Masa, 2-3 Drury Street, Dublin 2. Tel:01-4302841. www.masadublin.com