A cozy oasis that just falls short of satiating the thirst for Mexican food in Dublin.
On the walk back home from my first visit to an Irish art gallery, (The Hugh Lane Gallery) I was at a crossroads on which way to go as the wind blasted my face. It was a literal fork in the road- right on Bolton St, or make a left onto Capel St. I took the easy way out and walked straight into the doors of Taco Libre, a Mexican restaurant on King St North in Dublin 7. It is one of a whopping fifteen bars & restaurants owned and operated by Galway Bay Brewery .
- The Ambiance here was great. Unlike a few bars and restaurants I’ve been to in Ireland, I was able to find respite from the cold weather outside. Bright colors mimicked the style of Mexican restaurants back in The States and well, Mexico, while the décor, filled with prints and flyers felt like a mini modern art gallery. The music was a range of 70s disco to 90s Pop. I was feeling it. So if you want to have that alluring atmosphere for your own commercial property, you can seek the expertise of professionals like the Newton Interior Designer.
2. The Bathrooms , at least those labeled for ‘mujeres’, were very spacious and clean. As a germaphobe, I appreciated this. This was also quite unlike most pub restrooms I’ve been to in Ireland where I’ve had to squeeze my 6 foot frame into a stall. I also appreciated the thoughtfulness of sanitary products. While I do understand there are a lot of politics that come with it, the direct labeling of ‘mujeres’ and ‘hombres’ and no ‘family’ option bathroom is something I think could be looked at. As a masculine presenting woman, I’ve been in uncomfortable situations and with all that space, maybe another bathroom option is something they could incorporate.
3. The Drinks were delicious. I ended up having the Old-Fashioned while my friend had the Raspberry Negroni. *Chef’s Kiss* The Old-Fashioned was so fragrant and citrusy as I drank, that it balanced out the 23% ABV they had it labeled as. The perfect trifecta of bitters, sugar, and whiskey which too often , one overpowers the others. The Negroni was also well done with obviously fresh ingredient and subtle hints of gin, but still tasty at 19% ABV. As my accomplice for the night was a few years younger and had no idea what these drinks were, perhaps you don’t. Here’s a brief rundown if you’re a history buff or just curious: The Negroni History , The Old Fashioned .
3. The Service was really good. We entered without a reservation and while the initial person we came in contact with wasn’t particularly helpful, a young Irish lad, the rest of the staff made up for it. I am a stickler for service and it’s too bad tipping isn’t really a thing here. If it is, they get an IOU because I’m broke but will likely be back for a drink 🙂
The Not So Bad
The Food was not awful, but it certainly fell short. This is not merely an opinion of personal preference, but from years of experience with Mexican food being amongst my favorite cuisines. I understand that the Irish palate may not be known to love spice, but the dishes felt inauthentic in their layering (or lack thereof) of flavor.
- The tacos didn’t give were they were supposed to have gave.
- The beef taco with it’s “toasted sweet corn, sweet pickled red cabbage, avocado puree, diced onion, homemade salsa roja & coriander” lacked flavor. Now that I look at the picture- it didn’t even have all of those ingredients! Don’t get me wrong, a classic taco doesn’t need all of this, but maybe that would’ve added more dimensions to its flavor. The beef was tender.
- “Chicken thighs smothered in homemade mole sauce, lemon marinated red onion, homemade crema, refried beans.” Ok now I’m thinking this menu is just wrong. On the chicken taco there were no beans, no crema, but there was red cabbage. It wasn’t awful but thighs are supposed to separate easily, this had no pull factor.
- Surprisingly enough, the tempura ‘prawn’ (c’mon guys it’s shrimp) taco surpassed the other two. Seems like less is more as it boasted “homemade crema, nori seaweed vinaigrette, and white radish pickled”. There was layers of flavor brought in with the fishiness of the seaweed and the pickled radish added much needed zing to freshen up the fried shrimp.
The Kinda Bad
- The Price of the tacos were a bit surprising and overpriced. I’m a NYer and I am HAPPY to pay three bucks for a taco (prawn was 3.25) if it’s flavorful and worth it. If that’s the case, call these small tacos ‘tapas’ and don’t parade them as traditional. Two should’ve been fine for me, but we ended up ordering the “papas fritas” to add some heft to the meal. These tacos were so tiny I just couldn’t justify it. However, it was a momentary college-student date-night splurge and I don’t regret it. I found a place I could probably grab a beer and chill and, if I want to have a 12 euro cocktail instead of the Orchard Thieves I get handed in the dorms.
- Authenticity of dishes. Hey, I know Tex-Mex, I know Japanese-Mexican fusion, there’s all kinds of variations and interpretations on Mexican food and that’s okay. If you’re going to call dishes by their proper name however, make sure it’s the actual dish or let your patrons know it’s a spin on a classic. I can’t tell you how sad I was when I received my “elote”. I mean, it’s something so simple to make and doesn’t need much tweaking.
If you’ve been to Taco Libre and agree or disagree with anything here, be sure to leave a comment. Restaurant recommendations are always welcomed!