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Mexican food wave: Not one, but two great places to eat

Expert opinion gives thumbs up to Roots Mexican pop-up at Slane Castle and Los Chicanos food truck

Roots at Slane
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Address: Slane Castle Demesne, Slane, Co. Meath
Telephone: Instagram @Roots.Slane
Cuisine: Mexican
Cost: €€

It is complicated when you're reviewing the food of another country. Is it more real if the person cooking the food comes from that country? Or could it be the case, as food writer and owner of Mexican Picado, Lily Ramirez Foran says, that maybe the person working there is just a random student? And people think, oh yeah, he's Mexican, he must know all about it.

Such is my conversation with Lily and her husband Alan, as we prop ourselves by steel barrels at Los Chicanos, a striking food truck parked outside Elliott's Cash & Carry on Camden Row in Dublin.

There’s no seating or cover here, but then again, tacos cost €6 or €7 for two. The cauliflower taco is the star. Shredded cabbage is slicked with jalapeño crema, and two chunks of cauliflower are coated in a Jalisco-style salsa macha. With heat from Arbol chillies and acidity from the vinegar, it’s a take on the classic buffalo sauce. Lily reckons it’s good enough to dip a small child in.

Mexican chorizo, I discover, is quite different from Spanish, as it is made from dried chillies, not paprika, so when paired with grilled onion and cheese on a taco, there is nuance and flavour. Other standouts are the Mexican street corn with roasted peppers and chorizo, €6, and the sweet corn soft serve ice cream, €5, which is sprinkled with pepitas crunch, like a praline made from pumpkin seeds.


This is a food truck, says Lily, that would not be out of place in Mexico.

But why stop there? Among the spate of recently opened tacos places is Roots at Slane Castle; so, a few days later, we head there. It's a completely different set-up. For a start, there's the backdrop of the castle, a dedicated bar area, a DJ hut, and options to sit outdoors or under the cover of a large striped marquee. So here, it's plates, knives and forks, and cocktails; more of a restaurant experience than a taqueria.

The people behind Roots are chef Keith Coleman and Aisling McHugh, and much like nearby Allta Summer House, the menu is driven by local produce and designed for sharing. Pickled carrots and charred jalapeños, €4, serve as snacks; there are three taco options; and the sides – which Lily tells me would not be typical of a taqueria, but she feels add to the dining experience here – include crispy fried potatoes with chipotle mayo, €5, a large salad of organic Rock Farm leaves with Cáis na Tíre sheeps' cheese, €7, and an heirloom tomato salad, €9.

Lily, who is a third-generation tortilla baker, has her own range of corn tortillas, made to her family’s traditional Mexican recipe in Europe, and it is these that are used in the tacos at Roots. There are fish, meat and vegetarian options, €12 for two. The baja fish taco, a steaming chunk of hake inside a crispy batter, has all the little swipes of flavour required to elevate this beautifully fresh piece of fish. A little spice from chipotle crema, some zingy freshness from pico de gallo and an earthiness from turnip slaw. It is a thing of beauty.

The mole madre, the vegetarian option, is a clever balance of rich and light, the lemon verbena mousse and pickled courgette adding a vibrancy to the deeper flavours of slow roasted hispi cabbage, and pumpkin seed mole, with Bán goats’ cheese adding a tick of saltiness.

Rock Farm organic pork features in the cochinita pibil taco. It has been cooked long and slow, although more in the style of pork carnitas according to Lily, as cochinita pibil is traditionally cooked in a pit in the ground, where it steams slowly. It is topped with pickled onions, bringing colour and acidity to the concentrated flavours.

We finish with strawberries with lime curd mousse €9, and chocolate and avocado mousse €7.

These are two very different, but equally good new dining options. Los Chicanos captures the buzz and the immediacy of great street food in an urban setting, whereas Roots is more driven by where it is located, featuring prime local produce centred around a tacos themed menu. Neither are owned by Mexicans, but for Lily, this is not an issue. You don't need to be brown to cook Mexican food, she says, it is all about researching it, and presenting it with respect. Both have achieved this.

Dinner for four with cocktails and a bottle of wine at Roots was €149

The verdict: 8.5/10 – Mexican flavours using top quality produce
Facilities: In the castle, clean and well stocked
Music: Different sets from guest DJs, from the Housemartins to Blank and Jones
Food provenance: Top tier, McNally Farm, Glenmar fish, organic Rock Farm
Vegetarian options: A few options, can adapt for vegans
Wheelchair access: Fully accessible, with accessible toilet

Corinna Hardgrave

Corinna Hardgrave

Corinna Hardgrave, a contributor to The Irish Times, writes a weekly restaurant column