Food type: Mexican
Contact details: El Burro Newlands
Best for: Date nights and dinner clubs
Stars out of 5: food 4, service 1, ambience 2
The cost: mains between R100 and R145
I know I am privileged to live in one of CT’s leafy southern suburbs, and I don’t take it for granted, but when you have lived in the city, crossing to the other side has its challenges. The sun is gone by 5pm, for one, and if the traffic doesn’t drive you to road rage the over-sized SUVs will. But by far the hardest thing to swallow is the bloodcurdling horror of the suburban restaurant scene. Finding a menu that doesn’t feature a chicken schnitzel and or sushi with sweet chilli sauce in the southern suburbs, is like finding a VW Golf in the Woolies parking lot. So when El Burro announced they were opening on Dean Street in Newlands, I caught myself in an involuntary Mexican wave. As one of my colleagues said, “Even hipsters grow up. And then they move to the suburbs.” And thank all the gods of Chichen Itza, I say.
I was already a fan of El Burro in Green Point (to be referred to as GP from here on in), so my expectations were high. Currently, the Newlands menu is very similar, aside from the grilled tuna tacos, rather than simply linefish, pork belly tacos instead of carnitas and ceviche de carne, a kind of Mexican steak tartare starter, as well as linefish ceviche (this is the land of the oversized SUV after all).
Most of the donkey favourites are here too, including the slow-braised goat, and authentic chicken mole. There are not as many veg options, but there is an aubergine mole quesadilla that sounds promising.
We try the mouth-searingly good pan-seared squid with chilli, lime and coriander and the chilli rellenos to start – the benchmark of a good Mexican joint. They are arguably better than the GP version. Fatter, smokier and stuffed with more queso fresco than I remember. Score 10 points for the ‘Burbs! I order the lightly-battered linefish tacos as a main and when we manage to wrestle them out of the evidently over-subscribed kitchen, they are happily excellent. Light and crunchy inside the classic corn tortillas with all the trimmings. More points.
I love that El Burro serves seasonal Las Paletas popsicles (the watermelon and mint would have been a knockout ending here), but a Mexican restaurant must be judged by its churros. These were piping hot – so freshly-made – if a little doughy. Not bad; not exceptional. But my only major criticism of the food would be that at over R100 for a main course, they could be a little less frugal with the tacos and guacamole. I’m greedy that way.
Eventually, there’ll be enough tequila cocktails to lubricate the post-rugby crowds, but they don’t have a liquor license just yet. For now you can BYO.
This was quite poor. Not unusual for a very busy, restaurant only in its 2nd week perhaps, but they will need to up their game or risk the ire of the SUV set. We had to queue even though we’d booked (no one cared), our waitron left mysteriously halfway through her shift, the wait for the main course was overly long and the maitre’ d was strangely bemused by all of it.
The interior is in keeping with the GP branch, with the same booths and quirky, decorative details, and the happy addition of some courtyard seating (more points for the ‘burbs!) There are space constraints however, and it can get loud. In other words, book a table for a night out with friends if you’re feeling festive, not for awkward Tinder dates or anniversaries, okay?
Eat Out critics dine unannounced and pay their own way. Read our full editorial policy here.