It seems like only yesterday that eating Mexican food in Bali meant settling for a stale tortilla filled with peppered chicken and a sorry excuse for salsa (sambal with a few lumps of tomato thrown in).
But these days South of the Border nosh is the go-to grub for Bali’s hungry gringos with quality Mexican joints popping up on every jalan. And just like the diversity of Mexico’s colorful cuisine, the island’s eateries are equally as off the wall, and luckily for us, they come sans the sambal salsa.
From Taco Casa — the restaurant that arguably set the Mexican ball rolling in Bali — to the uber cool and quirky Motel Mexicola that might just be more famous for its Margaritas and pumping party scene than its taquitos, here’s our list of Bali’s best Mexican restaurants. Arriba!
A big “wet burrito”/Photo: Facebook
Taco Casa is the Jose Cuervo of Bali’s Mexican joints – that is, when you consider its popularity. It’s not exactly the most authentic Mexican on the island (more Tex-Mex, less jalapenos), but it’s fair to say that the flagship Ubud location kickstarted the trend of Mexican food in Bali before anyone else. Both the Ubud and Seminyak restaurants are now permanently teeming with diners chowing down on super fresh tacos, burritos, and quesadillas made from scratch, including the tortillas and taco shells. And since Taco Casa favors the lighter flavors of sour cream, guac and pico in most of its dishes with the added option of super spicy sauces and salsas on the side, it’s probably the best place for Mexican novices and aficionados alike to dine in harmony. We’ll take it.
Best descibed as: The Mexican trailblazer.
Must-try: The 8-Layer Burrito – the cilantro-lime rice is awesome! www.tacocasabali.com
Taco Beach Grill
This small little warung-style restaurant on Jalan Kunti (also recently opened on Batu Belig too) is often dubbed the best Mexican on the island, but we have to admit, if you’re looking for 100% authenticity, this isn’t necessarily the place to go either. Instead, Taco Beach Grill gives its Mexican food a Balinese twist, calling it “BaliMex” (who doesn’t love a good fusion?). The famous Babi Guling Tacos are the clear standout from Taco Beach’s BaliMex creations, loaded with juicy suckling pig braised in those signature Balinese spices. The Fiery Balinese Chicken Burrito comes up as a close second; a Mexicano take on Ayam Betutu. And the best bit about this place? Extra salsa is always free and made fresh, even if, like us, you order it by the bucketload.
Best descibed as: The “Bali meets Mexico” take.
Must-try: Babi Guling Tacos — and ask for the extra crispy bits. www.tacobeachgrill.com
Come and get your tequila!/Photo: TripAdvisor
Motel Mexicola is one of the few places in Seminyak that the hipster crowds leave their Canggu bubble for. But don’t worry, overgrown beards are not a prerequisite here. Instead, Mexicola’s technicolor décor seems to have come straight from downtown Mexico City circa 1960, and with its legendary Margaritas for under IDR100,000 and a list of over 13 quality tequilas (almost all of which are available by the shot) this place is packed out every night. Unsurprisingly then, Motel Mexicola is known as more of a pre-drinking hotspot with great nibbles (chips with guac and bullet-sized taquitos) as opposed to a dinner date. But actually, the non-finger food here is worth your pesos too. The ceviches are as zesty as the killer cocktails and the pork ribs are drool-worthy, and in each dish there is a nice, traditional Mexican touch, whether it’s a spiced up homemade salsa, a sprig of freshly plucked coriander or a barbecued cob of corn. ¡Viva Mexicola!
Best descibed as: The tequila fiesta.
Must-try: Duh, the Margaritas of course… www.motelmexicolabali.com
Taco Local might just serve the closest thing to authentic Mexican cuisine on the island. And since the name was brought to Bali following multiple thumbs up from Jakarta’s impossible-to-please foodies, it’s clearly doing something right. The tacos, burritos, tostadas and quesadillas all come stuffed with traditional Mexican flavors abound, like the Pollo Burrito with cumin chicken, “dirty” rice, frijoles negro and salsa fresco. Even the veggie options top our list as favorites, which is quite rare when it comes to our Mexican standards. How do they make chipotle corn taste so goddamn good? Taco Local even nails its drinks list. The Cilantro Margarita is probably our favorite cocktail in Bali (I’d even go as far to say, EVER). It’s served frozen, glistening a bright green icy goodness thanks to bush-upon-bush of fresh cilantro mushed throughout, with a healthy muddle of tequila added in. All this enjoyed amidst the totally awesome décor, which lands somewhere in between a hipster’s paradise and a groovy Mexican beach shack.
Best described as: The all-round awesome place.
Must-try: The El Local Nachos, washed down with a Cilantro Margarita. www.tacolocal.com
The Petitenget address has (unfortunately) just closed, but word on the street is, a new location will be opening up just down the road in the coming months. Watch this space.
We’ll get straight to the point. We friggin’ love Lacalaca. It’s got great food, great booze, and a great ambiance that doesn’t scream Mexican overdose but still makes you want to go loco with some tequila shots and an attempt to salsa on the table. But we’ll take a step back first: the food. It’s teetering on gourmet with top notch ingredients (most of which come direct from Mexico), scrumptious presentation and, what it all really comes down to, Mexican flavors that call for a foodgasm. Try the Mochomos Sinaloenses (quesadillas with Sinaloan shredded beef and pico) and douse them in the Habanero sauce perched on each table. Wash them down with one—or all—of Lacalaca’s five Margarita variations and you and your compadres will probably still be there come closing.
Best described as: The “grab your sombrero and down a jug of sangria” place.
Must-try: Lacalaca’s Carne Asada – there’s that foodgasm again…www.lacalacabali.com
Pass us some of those chicken quesadillas/Photo: Facebook
La Libre Taqueria
What started out as a small street-side warung has turned into a bit of a cult hangout for Canggu’s taco fanatics. La Libre Taqueria might not look like anything to write home about (especially going by the weathered tables on the dusty pavement outside) but step inside and the colorful pop art interiors really get your Mexican juices flowing. Thoughtful spins on bog-standard tacos are the name of the game here. La Libre throws in crispy bacon for the hangover crowds, sambal matah and Balinese chicken for the in-the-know expats, and spiced tofu for the veggies out there. But just because La Libre specializes as a taqueria, don’t limit yourself to just the tacos. The burritos barely hold together they’re stuffed so generously, and we never knew chilli con carne could get so juicy. Oh and the coolest bit? Everything is made in-house, even the sour cream, tortillas and guacamole. Cheap and cheerful, you can’t go wrong.
Best described as: The cheap and cheerful place.
Must-try: The Ring of Fire Tacos – if you think you’re man enough. www.facebook.com/lalibrebali
This restaurant claims to be the oldest Mexican joint on the island, opened a whopping 28 years ago in the deepest, darkest core of Kuta’s Poppies 1. With such a location, we can’t help but feel that TJ’s caters to the Bintang singlet masses with their glorious red-white tan lines. But hey, TJ’s has made it onto our list for a reason: their taquitos. Deep fried and stuffed with shredded beef and chilli, there’s something about these scrummy, sinful bites that keep us coming back for more. Impossibly crispy, uber juicy—simple, but oh so satisfying. And yes, they go great with a nice cold Bintang.
Best described as: The bogan’s favorite.
Must-try: The taquitos, two or three portions of them. www.tjsbali.com
Photo at the top: Lacalaca
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