While this Mexican eatery has only recently taken up residency at this site, La Lupita isn’t entirely a newcomer to the Sydney dining scene; it has existed previously – in short bursts, anyway – as a pop-up restaurant in Canterbury; its Al Carbon food truck, has made a more permanent impression, all over town, with its taco-selling presence.
There’s a street-stall vibrancy to the set-up at The Basement. Once you’ve ticked your choices on a menu, you give your battle plans to the “vendors”. They’ll crank out fresh-made tortillas, which toast and puff along a conveyor belt, before being loaded with spit-roasted meats (spiced chicken, Wagyu beef or, Will’s recommendation – spiced pork with charred chunks of pineapple). Vego options include Cowboy Beans with tortilla chips, salsa and a heat-cooling Mexicana crema ($10) or Roasted Corn jumbled in with toasted pepitas and seeds, sassy red and green salsa, parmesan shreds and lime. Armed with your order, you then walk over to the salsa station where you learn the limits of your chilli bravado – get too overconfident with the heat levels of the condiments, and you end up experiencing five types of mouthburn. There’s a traffic-stop warning system with the salsas – cards denote the habanero as very hot, salsa verde as less dangerous on the firepower scale, while a creamy guacamole innocently proclaims “I’m not hot!” on its accompanying sign (the smiley face scrawled next to this declaration acts as further tastebud reassurance).
Once you’ve settled your condiment quota; there’s also an assortment of vegies you can freely pile onto your tacos or beans, too. The not-so-fiery radishes, cucumber, carrots and other picks need less of a warning system, though.
On your menu, you can “unlock” the special dessert, which was a coconut panna cotta with chilli chocolate mousse when we there on Saturday. Also present was Victor Valdes, the stage-dominating musician who was furiously mining songs from his Mexican harp as we sat there. Hearing ‘Flame Trees’ covered this way is a real surprise.
I’ve heard a few people credit La Lupita/Al Carbon for the best Mexican food they’ve encountered in Sydney; for me, this joint doesn’t quite steal the title from my favourite (Mexicano in Narrabeen), but it’s still a fun place to be. And given how most meals in this touristy segment of town come with a depressingly overpriced bill, it’s nice to know there’s an eatery where you can score $6 tacos or $10 alternatives – with a busker-beating soundtrack, as a bonus, too.
La Lupita, The Basement, 7 Macquarie Place, Sydney NSW (02) 9251 2797. Follow La Lupita on Facebook.