Travel changes a person: it sparks the imagination; it motivates. This is exactly what happened to Kristian Walker, founder and owner of pop-up food business Hey! Ho! Taco!
A trip to Los Angeles in 2019 inspired the idea of starting a taco and booze business in Leeds. After learning the basics when back in the UK, a couple of trial runs were held involving giving out free tacos in the City Centre’s Wax bar.
Of course, 2020 then hit us, which forced a halt to the pop-up food industry, but the initial lockdown enabled Kristian to have more time to research the traditional way tacos are made. Many books were read, endless documentaries watched, practice endured to make perfect the homemade corn tortilla, meats were smoked and sauce and salsa recipes developed.
August and September 2022, saw Hey! Ho! Taco!’s first pop-ups of the post-Covid era at Grindhouse on Upper Briggate. These were followed by a collaboration with Mexican street food guys Birria Bandits in December. At the start of 2023, Kristian visited Mexico City, to widen his knowledge and expertise even more. I do think it’s important for a food business owner to have visited the country of origin of the food you are selling. You get more authentic food, are able to tell stories about the people you met, the food you ate, and may even discover a secret cooking tip or two from the locals.
So, let’s get down to business and talk Tacos! I was dining with two vegetarians on this late March evening. For me, there were three meat options available – pork, beef (carne asada), and chicken. There was one vegan/vegetarian option, which made it much easier for them to decide what to eat! The vegan chorizo and sweet potato had been smoked with applewood and served with pickled carrot and cabbage, topped with salsa roja, onion and coriander. Feedback on the vegan tacos was good – the crumbled chorizo was complemented by sweet potato that kept just a hint of firmness, with further crunch from the cabbage. Both my companions felt there could have been a bit more chilli kick, but the smokey spicing was spot on.
I finally decided on the classic Al Pastor taco: marinated pork shoulder grilled over charcoal and thinly sliced. The pork was topped with salsa verde, pineapple, onion and coriander. There’s a reason why Hawaiian pizza works just like this combo did! A perfect combo of sweet and salty, freshness and earthiness, plus some citrusy lime to squeeze on top to make everything sing.
The three of us shared some warm fried corn tortillas served with salsa roja and avocado salsa (£3.50). These were fresh and flavoursome. The tomatoes in the salsa roja had been charcoal roasted, which brought out the delicious natural flavours of the tomatoes. I could eat a bowl of salsa roja just by itself on a daily basis.
My plan was always to order more tacos if still hungry, and thankfully I had some room, so I then ordered the chicken ones. It was the Mexican crema and mango margarita hot sauce that stood out for me on the menu description. It did not disappoint, the flavours were incredible, the outside of the chicken super crispy with the inside still moist. The tanginess of the Mexican crema worked well with the sweet mango, pickled veg and moderately spiced hot sauce.
Everything on the menu was gluten-free, and having homemade corn tortillas added to the authenticity. The tortillas were a great texture, nice and light, and they held together well without breaking. (I can vouch for just how difficult they are to make, so I am always impressed when they turn out well!) All tacos were £7.50 per portion of three.
It’s hard to gauge spiciness as everyone is different, so it is impossible to please everyone. As above, the vegetarians wanted extra heat. One option would be to have chilli sauce available for those who prefer more of a kick. I can vary in my desire for spiciness; sometimes I’m in the mood for piling on the heat, or sometimes for just a warm tingle. On Thursday it was the latter, and all I wanted was delicious fresh flavours and being able to feel my tongue afterwards! And that’s exactly what I got.
The Grindhouse was serving some of your classic Mexican cocktails ready for pairing up with your tacos. Margaritas are always welcome, and in the name of thorough reviewing, we also tried the Michelada (spiced beer cocktail) and a watermelon-based creation which worked equally well.
Follow Hey! Ho! Taco!’s Instagram page for updates on further pop ups in Leeds this year. I’ll see you there!