The classic El burro ceviche is a perennial favourite and made with whatever sustainable white fish they can source. Spiked with lime, coriander, ginger and chilli, this popular dish is served with crunchy corn chips for scooping. Or opt for the citrus ceviche – made with grapefruit instead of lime – or the vegetarian oyster mushroom cerviche. All are the perfect way to start your meal.
The build-your-own tacos are highly recommended and are offered with either corn or flour tortillas. Fillings like fried fish, Chilorio pork (twice-cooked pork shoulder in a garlic-and-chilli paste with oreganum and paprika) and grilled chicken are served with a tray of traditional Mexican accompaniments of sour cream, lightly pickled red onions and guacamole.
Chicken mole poblano – a national dish of Mexico – is on the menu too. Deboned chicken is roasted in tomato and dark couverture chocolate with roasted almonds and toasted spices. Served with green rice, refried beans, pickled red onions and sesame, this is as authentic as it gets.
Vegetarians are well catered for, with exotic mushroom and white bean quesadillas and the broccoli and falafel tacos, which are vegan too.
For dessert, the fried churros with chocolate sauce is an absolute must.
This is the place to drink tequila – they have a wide range of specially imported brands. The same goes for their tequila-based cocktails, which pair perfectly with the food. Beer is the other obvious pairing and they have a well-curated list of craft beers. The wine list is excellent, with a good selection offered by the glass.
Service is efficient and friendly from well-trained staff adorned in colourful Mexican dresses.
The décor is vibrant and warm. At night the restaurant is cozy, with candle-lit tables.
In summer, the balcony is highly sought after so be sure to request this when you make your booking – which is essential on weekends and advisable at all other times.
People still talk about it, and it’s no wonder: the ceviche at El Burro never gets old. A generous serving of chopped line fish, zippy with lime, ginger, chilli and coriander, plus the punch of red-onion slivers, comes with a few stacked nacho chips for ease of scooping. Another winning starter, the chilli rellenos, are smoky, flavoursome and filled with queso fresco, which is the perfect balance between melty and chewy. A fresh little side salad is a nice touch. You could also opt for pan-seared squid or fried taquitos to kick things off.
For mains, the build-your-own tacos with cholorio pork (twice-cooked pork shoulder with roasted garlic and chilli paste, origanum, paprika and chilli) is as delicious as it sounds: rich and tasty, leaving behind a tingling warmth on the tongue. You can choose from flour or corn tacos, which come in their own container to prevent them from drying out while you pick. (Swap out the pork for line fish or grilled chicken if that’s how you roll). It’s all part of the fun to dip into the bowls of guacamole, roasted and fresh tomato-and-onion salsa, pickled red onion and sour cream, allowing you to paint a different flavour picture with each mouthful.
The chicken mole with its spicy dark chocolate sauce is also popular here, and banters can opt for the line fish of the day served on courgette ribbons with a lemon butter sauce.
Vegetarians are looked after with options that show a lot of care, such as the field mushroom and black bean quesadilla with spinach, chipotle and goat’s cheese; the tenderstem broccoli and walnut taco with baby spinach and goat’s cheese served on corn tortillas; and the corn tacos with spiced cauliflower, chickpeas, red cabbage, roasted peanut, chilli and avocado.
For dessert, forget the chocolate fondant and rather stick to the theme with golden churros dipped in dark chocolate sauce or the les paletas ice lollies.
The festive atmosphere almost demands that you start with a cocktail. The offering of tequila cocktails is very appealing, peppered with the likes of mint, lime, berries, basil and chilli. There are a few wines available by the glass (very reasonably priced from R25 to R42), but with this fare you’re probably better off with a cocktail, beer or one of the 20 tequilas. The Mexican hot chocolate is rich, spicy and nutty, and the milky horchata made with rice, cinnamon, almonds and lime offers a cool alternative to the juice of the day if you’re forgoing the alcohol.
Once you’ve walked up the steep stairway from Main Road and step through the doors, you feel like you’ve entered another world – one where women have flowers in their hair and flickering candlelight creates a vibrant yet cosy warmth. Little cactus pots line the walls to add some Mexican-themed greenery. A little paper donkey with your name on it keeps your place at the table if you’ve made a booking – which you absolutely should do. (You will even get a phone call before the day to confirm your booking.)
Attentive and polite. Our waitress seemed genuinely interested in how we were enjoying the meal, and was concerned she’d brought the mains too soon after the starters. We ended up rearranging plates to keep some of the starter titbits while we tucked into our mains – it all worked out into a veritable feast.
Parking can be pretty tricky in this part of town, so rather get a taxi. Then you can really apply yourself to the tequila menu.
This Cape Town darling has proven to be the choice of the people, and the restaurant recognises the support by faithfully thanking its regulars. They aim to serve authentic Mexican cuisine; no Tex-Mex or Mexican junk comfort food here, just wholesome, well-executed dishes and tequila. The mainstay on the starter menu has been the white fish ceviche. A little gaudier than traditional ceviche, it does deliver on flavour. A changing, seasonal menu keeps things exciting, especially seeing as most custom comes from the regulars. Some items are a bit hit and miss, but the most popular ones tend to forge a permanent place on the roster. If you’re not too hungry, the chorizo or vegetarian (aubergine, artichoke, spinach) quesadillas are great picks. But no proper dinner at El Burro should exclude the legendary build-your-own tortillas. The chilorio pork – slow-cooked pork shoulder with Mexican Arbol chilli – is a spicy number that’s been on the menu from day one. Choose flour or corn tortillas or both, and a tray of accompaniments arrives with it. The braised lamb tacos, fish tacos and pork carnitas are other very popular choices, and the cabrito (slow-cooked goat), when it is on the menu, is not to be missed. Vegetarians are well taken care of. If you have no room for a pud, at least have a signature ice-lolly, of which the flavours change regularly.
Start innocently enough with a fruity agua fresca in pineapple, or whatever flavour’s hot that day, then proceed to the well-curated range of tequilas or craft beers. And if you’re going to end the night with shots, you know what to pick. When in Mexico!
The wonderful wait staff are consistently excellent, and, curiously, all female. There’s some pretty detail on the uniforms they wear.
El Burro or “the donkey” attracts a young crowd and can get festive, but a weekday lunch tends to be a quieter affair. Because of the staggering noise levels, it’s hard to hold a conversation, so leave the long discussions for a coffee shop and bring your besties in for an evening of bold flavours, toasting your good taste in food.
The churros with a dark chocolate dipping sauce deserve special mention.
This landmark for authentic Mexican cuisine occupies the warm wooden upper floor of an old Victorian building overlooking the vibrant Green Point strip. You might have to wait at the bar for a table over a shot of aged 100% agave tequila.
Named after the mule, the logo of El Burro is ubiquitous – down to the cute big-eared cut-out mule with your name reserving your table. (Nice touch.) Signature starters entice with smoked jalapenos stuffed with creamed feta and a trio of ceviche (linefish, octopus or salmon) marinated in a piquant lime, chilli, ginger and coriander juice.
Some like it hot – and a variety of homemade chilli sauces at the table range from cholita (mild) to el nino and cabron (hot). The most authentic dishes are layered with the same earthy, roasted and smoky flavours offset by zesty, refreshing citrus dressings and subtle chili, coriander, ginger and garlic seasoning.
Creative salads come in unusual combinations (say roasted aubergine, cauliflower, tomato, goat’s cheese and walnut). Vegetarians are spoiled for choice with aubergine and butternut quesadillas, spinach and feta tortillas, or black bean, leek and chard tacos. The best way to make your way around the menu is to decide whether you want your tortilla to come to the table already assembled – or whether you want to stuff your own tortilla from the little pots of zingy salsa, red onion, chilli, guacamole, refried beans and sour cream brought to table. Next, decide on your main filling – chicken, fish, meat or vegetables. Portions are large and easily shared among two or more.
The hero mains are soft corn and wheat tortilla wraps served with free-range goat, pulled pork (not free-range) or beef brisket – or chicken mole poblano made with 32 herbs and spices, almonds, walnuts and couverture chocolate. Make sure you leave space for churros (warm donuts) dipped in a delicious chocolate sauce. A dinner at El Burro will take you all the way to Mexico and back at a fraction of the fare.
On offer are twenty kinds of tequila and mescal, a margarita menu (try the new rhubarb, mango and lime), a good selection of craft beer and cider, and a short list of wines by the glass and bottle. What more could a hombre ask for? If you’re driving, try the organic hot chocolate with spicy cinnamon and almonds, or a refreshing Mexican cold drink of horchata (rice, cinnamon, almonds, lime and sugar).
As quick on the draw as a Mexican gunfight, with attentive, friendly service from cowgirls attired in bright embroidered Mexican tunics. Mavericks who don’t know the difference between an enchilada, quesadilla, taco and tortilla should simply ask.
Loud and vibrant, buzzing with the after-work conversation of the younger, twenty- and thirty-something crowd and catchy Latino music. Mexican religious icons, gilded mirrors with angel wings and spiky cacti in rows of terracotta pots set the scene.
Make sure you book well ahead. It’s always packed to the rafters. If you want a quieter table, have a seat on the balcony or at the back of the two-tier restaurant.
Touting itself as genuine Mexican, the food definitely delivers in authenticity and flavour. Starters of butternut quesadillas have cheesy, creamy fillings with a touch of chilli, a pleasing counterpoint to the accompanying avo-yoghurt dip and sprigs of fresh coriander but, at R50 for two little pockets, work out to be rather pricey beginnings. El Burro’s justifiably popular ceviches come in three versions – line fish (R68), octopus (R89) and farmed Franschhoek salmon trout (R85) – and all are excellent. Delicious chilli popper starters (chilli rellenos) are smoked, not deep-fried, which offsets their cheesy interior beautifully. The three (R50 for the portion) were merely thumb-sized, however, leaving a bit of bitter taste. (Especially since two years ago the same portion was selling for R33, equating to a 51% increase in price.)
The care taken to prepare the variety of main meals is impressive, with options of fresh line fish as well as notable fillings of aged sirloin, Frankie Fenner chorizo, slow-cooked pork shoulder and even free-range goat for the variations on corn and wheat tortillas, plus the usual suspects – through they’re unusually tasty, zingy and fresh – of salsa and guacamole. Most of the dishes are slow-cooked and finished off by baking or frying and served with crunchy side salads, dips and salsas. The pork carnitas (R98) – three corn tortillas topped with spicy tomato sauce, twice-roasted pulled pork and three different salsas – are a tasty, textural delight. Also tempting is the chicken mole (R103), featuring a complex sauce of 32 herbs and spices, almonds and a hint of chocolate.
Three dessert options include dark chocolate fondant, las paletas (Mexican ice pops) and churros with very sugary crusts and a rich, dark chocolate dipping sauce.
*El Burro runs a lunchtime special from 12pm-4pm Monday to Friday with options like salads, enchiladas, quesadillas, and build-your-own tacos for up to 35% off.
An array of 20 tequila varieties and almost as many inventive tequila cocktails – try the wild berry and basil margarita – give options beyond the usual frozen jugs, and there are plenty craft beers and a few wines from which to choose. Order the Mexican-inspired hot chocolate for a superbly spicy treat flavoured with cinnamon and almonds, or you could try the horchata, a creamy cold drink made with rice, cinnamon, almonds, lime and sugar.
El Burro’s lively atmosphere and quirky décor are definite drawcards. One red wall is adorned with elaborate gilt mirrors with angel wings and curved embellishments; opposite, a wall of wooden shelves supports rows of terra cotta pots and spiky cacti.
However, if you’re unlucky enough to be seated along the built-in booth, you’ll be closer to your neighbours on either side – an elbow-knocking 30cms away – than your dinner companion across the table. Communal eating is all fine and well, but you don’t want to have to smell your neighbours – though we didn’t mind the pleasing aromas of their food.
They’re really quick on the uptake with email reservations and confirming them on the day via telephone. Waitresses, charmingly dressed in Mexican-style garb, are professional and efficient. Little buckets on each table contain plenty of cutlery and serviettes, so you won’t be found wanting once you tuck in.
Exciting and beautifully prepared food, warm ambience and great service have kept the El Burro reservations book full every night. While it does feel like you’re paying for the cool factor, there are still so many reasons to keep going back.
*This review was updated on 23 June 2014 to add this information about El Burro's lunch special.
The restaurant interiors are off the charts cool, flavours are bold and the staff know their stuff. They pride themselves on authentic Mexican: mole, ceviche, tacos, churros and a wide selection of tequilas and cocktails. Booking is essential as it’s always pumping. The specials are a winner, or go for braised beef short rib tacos; pulled pork with sour cream and creamy guacamole; crayfish tacos; taquitos; chiles relleños (unbattered, smoked-cheese chilli poppers) and salmon ceviche.
You’ll find a rare array of authentic Mexican fare on this adventurous menu inspired by fresh ingredients, traditional dishes, home-style slow cooking and robust flavour combinations. The tastes and textures are light and delicate, with subtle use of exotic chilli, paprika, cloves, cumin, cinnamon and coriander. Build your own homemade tacos and tortillas (filled with pulled pork, prawns, artisan chorizo, beef short rib or baby goat) served with guacamole, chilli, sour cream and salsa. Braised in 32 spices, chicken mole poblano, their signature dish, tempts in a chilli and dark chocolate couverture sauce.
Quaff an artisan beer or try one of forty margaritas, Mexican cocktails and tequilas on a special tasting menu. A small wine selection.
Attired in funky Mexican outfits, the friendly waiters are quick on the draw. Olé!
Lively and loud in a cantina which recreates the magic of Mexico from the candle sticks, cacti and Catholic icons to the quirky mirrors, skeletons and bright pink walls.
Book a table on the balcony on a sultry summer’s night. (GH, October 2012)