The weekend before last, triathlete husband and I made it out of the house for a long-overdue date night without the kids. Woohoo! It had been a while, and we’d almost forgotten how to make conversation that didn’t involve scheduling, parenting or sodding kitchen extensions (more on that another time).
Taco Bandits, regulars on the Oxford street food scene and popper upper at Organic Deli Cafe, had invited us along to try out their tacos, and it seemed the perfect opportunity to get some much-needed tequila, err, I mean ‘us time’.
Ben Gibbons and Oliver Lee are the boys behind the Bandits. By day, Ben & Oliver work in the kitchens at Hertford College, by night (Friday’s and Saturday’s currently) they don their bandit-ware (is that a thing?) and sling some tasty tacos.
Taco Bandits have been popping up at Organic Deli Cafe for a year now, with earlier pop-ups at Barefoot Kitchen in Jericho. Their menu is small, but the flavours are big. Soft, homemade, flavoured tortillas filled with punchy braised meats, blackened cod, tofu or beans, plus the traditional sour cream, pico de gallo and chipotle, topped off with micro coriander leaves and delicious, crunchy fried corn (we have Oliver’s girlfriend to thank for the genius addition of these!).
Starting the night with a margarita each, we were a little concerned to find the drinks pretty undrinkable – a heavy dose of sugar in each did little to dampen the sheer power of an abundance of lime, so we quickly chugged them and moved onto beer. Thankfully, the evening greatly improved as soon as the food arrived.
Over the course of the evening, we tried all four tacos from the menu, starting with a cracking dish of beetroot and feta nachos and including a special of pulled pork taco. We loved every. single. dish. The mole chicken stood out, an instant hit and the perfect blend of sweet and sharp, soft and crunchy.
Each tortilla was just under a side-plate in size, so I’d order a good 2-3 each alongside nachos for a full meal. Two were fine for me, but hubby needed a third.
This type of food lends itself well to a vegetarian diet, with ample scope for bright, fun, flavoursome ingredients. We tried a hybrid of the tofu and bean tacos, and while I’m falling in love with crispy tofu, I’m less keen on it when it’s soft – and soft it was. The beans were an excellent meat alternative, however, and worked beautifully with the flavours and textures in the taco.
What I love about this kind of set up is that the people behind the experience actually give a damn. Ben and Oliver know their stuff, they cook in kitchens regularly and they’ve thought carefully about what goes onto their menu and into their dishes.
Would I order their margarita again? No, but I’d order everything else off the menu. It’s tricky to have more than a limited menu in this setup, but it does allow them to make the best of what they’ve got, and really focus on making the few dishes they do serve really bloody good.
We overheard another table offering ‘constructive criticism’ while we were dining, most of which involved heat levels being too high (they weren’t), or the food not being filling enough (it is, just order more nachos – they’re only £3 each), or the menu being too small. If you’re going to visit this type of place – and you should – appreciate it for what it is. It’s a small, temporary, Mexican restaurant. Don’t expect a long menu and do expect some heat. And if you can’t take the heat…. ask for less chipotle!
We dined as guests of Taco Bandits, all views remain our own.