COCONUTS HOT SPOT — Adding to the hustle and bustle of Seah Street, new Mexican joint Papi’s Tacos easily draws attention with its quirky, colorful space. The 16-seater space is cozy — just bar seats, where you can feel the heat of the grill on your cheeks and catch the action in the kitchen, plus a couple of alfresco tables. It’s the kind of place in a boisterous back-alley that makes you feel smug about being in-the-know that it’s there.
The tiny taqueria is small enough that you may just miss it if you’re walking past in a hurry. But, there it is — a slice of Mexico’s street dining scene right here on our shores. One wall is plastered with vintage-looking Mexican film posters, fairy lights intersect with hanging lamps adorned with the colors of the Mexican flag, and the kitchen bar is decorated with rows of Aztec patterned tiles. Yup, it’s a Mexican spot, alright.
Overhead, they play Spanish folk, alt rock, hip hop, and ’50s rock tunes.
Launched by the same people behind Employees Only in Singapore, Papi’s Tacos is meant to provide authentic Mexican grub in a casual, fuss-free environment. The idea is that guests can rock up to the bar, plop down on a seat, and chat with executive chef Mauricio “Papi” Espinoza as they chow down on his tacos. Espinoza used to head the kitchen at Employees Only, though apparently, his taco know-how comes from his roots — the chef hails from Tlaxcala in central Mexico.
Alternatively, you can chill at the tables outside. They’ve also got some potent margaritas on offer here, in case you’re on that liquid diet.
Once you’re settled in, order a round of chips and guac ($8) or chips and pico de gallo ($4) to get started, followed by Espinoza’s signature of tostadas de pollo ($12) of crispy house-made corn tortillas with refried beans, pulled slow-cooked chicken, queso fresco, and pico de gallo.
If you’re a quesadilla kind of person, the chicken ($14) option is fine, but it was the mushroom ($12) that got rave reviews all around the bar for its bursts of fresh flavor, oozes of melted cheese, and all-around lip-smacking satisfaction.
As for the burritos, which come stuffed with Mexican rice, black beans, shredded cheese, pico de gallo, and sour cream, customers can choose among steak ($16), slow-braised pork ($15) or chicken ($15). Alternatively, these can be made into a burrito bowl (extra $2), without the tortilla wrap.
But since the joint is named Papi’s Tacos, we are, of course, here for the namesake dish. Served on house-made corn tortillas (unless stated otherwise) in sets of two or three, these bite-sized babies make for an addictive snack — you may find yourself re-ordering a couple and chalking up quite the bill if you’re not careful.
The tacos de pollo ($11-$16) with marinated chicken and house-made guajillo salsa, tacos de asada ($13-$19) with steak and tomatillo salsa, and tacos al pastor ($11-$16) with spit-roasted pork and pineapple are great to pad your stomach with before pouring in the booze.
If you love seafood like we do, then you’ll especially appreciate the tacos de pescado ($13-$19) and tacos de cameron ($13-$19). The former encases crispy grilled white dory with creamy drizzles of smoked chipotle aioli on a flour tortilla, while the latter packs in pan-seared shrimp with Mexican spices, jalapeno, cabbage, and sour cream on a flour tortilla. Both get a boost thanks to their flavorful spices and sauces, which you can add on to with a squirt of spicy salsa from a selection of bottles (be warned though, the level five heat is no joke).
To end off with something sweet, try the tres leches cake ($8). Hankering for something else? Too bad. It’s the only dessert on the menu. If you’re not feeling it, then hey, just go for another margarita — they serve them shaken ($15) or frozen ($18) here, in rotating flavors like original (lime), strawberry, spicy mango, and pineapple.
Papi’s Tacos is at 39 Seah St.
Open for dinner only; Mon-Sat 5pm-midnight
MRT: City Hall