As the old saying goes, the more tacos, the merrier. But is there room among all the old taco standbys for innovations like hibiscus tacos, let alone jackfruit and shredded mushrooms?
There just might be in a two-story shophouse on Soi Sukhumvit 34 recently turned into a taco joint called El Hefe and backed by a full-blooded Mexican in the kitchen, himself a veteran of restaurants in Southern California, China and Bangkok.
Declaring itself a true taqueria dedicated to tacos – 25 types of them – El Hefe (a less tongue-Thai’d spelling of El Jefe or “The Boss”) recently opened with not only hard-to-find Mexican dishes (think lengua or cow tongue tacos, stew-soaked Quesabirria) but also a variety of vegan and vegetarian options packed with hibiscus flowers, jackfruit, shredded shrooms or eggplant.
The veggie spins on Mexican dishes come from owner Shiva Pinrenu, who was inspired by his upbringing in a family of vegetarians.
“I grew up eating jackfruit all the time, and as a kid I hated it,” Shiva said. “But when I was opening this place, I thought of my family and some tacos that they could enjoy too.”
The kitchen is led by chef 49-year-old Luis Villa. Villa, originally from Colima, Mexico, a violent crossroads on the cartel narcotraffic highway, worked in restaurants in Los Angeles, Beijing, Guangzhou and Italy before coming to work 10 years for Sunrise Tacos, the O.G. vatos of Bangkok tex-mex.
Highlights of the veggie options include the Jackfruit Tacos (THB280 for three) that sees the tropical fruit cut and grilled over charcoal, while the Hibiscus Tacos (THB240 for three) consist of boiled-until-soft hibiscus flowers served with refreshing hibiscus salsa among others.
Those unburdened by consciences are not lacking either. Apart from the Chicken Tinga, Carne Asada and Pastor Pork tacos, El Hefe not-to-miss dishes include the Tacos de Lengua (THB290 for three), a common menu item hard to find in Bangkok of beef tongue slices slow-braised over 10 hours for the tender and flavorful tonguey bites.
Don’t wanna bite your tongue? Opt for the Quesabirria Beef Tacos (THB310 for three) – which look like a cross between tacos and quesadillas for their gooey melted cheese and stew-cooked shredded beef. The tacos are served alongside a bowl of beef broth for sippin’ or dippin’.
Another must-try is a dish named after an ancient sandal, Huarache (THB140), which comes as a large, flat, oval of masa topped with pinto beans, onions, tomatoes, avocados, cheese, salsa and a choice of meat.
Diners who wanna try ‘em all can mix and match on a platter: Veggie Platter (THB270 for three veggie tacos / THB425 for five veggie tacos), Meat Platter (THB300 for three meat tacos / THB470 for five meat tacos) and Mixed Platter (THB300 for three tacos / THB470 for five tacos).
The venue serves Mexican spirits and cocktails including some strong mezcal.
El Hefe is located on Soi Sukhumvit 34 and is best reached from BTS Thong Lo. It’s open 7am to 10:30pm, Tuesday to Saturday, and 7am to 11pm on Sunday. It is closed Monday.
El Hefe Bangkok
Soi Sukhumvit 34, Khlong Toei
7am-10:30pm (Tuesday to Saturday), 7am-11pm (Sunday)
BTS: Thong Lo