Manchester has never been well served by Mexican food. The few outlets that did exist consisted of the cliched Tex-Mex fodder that Joe Public seemed to crave like a bad El Paso advert. But a quick Google and I find a small revolution of Mexican eateries popping up all over the city. One such site is Wahaca which opened in Manchester’s Corn Exchange in 2015. It is named after the state of Oaxaca in Mexico and pronounced Wah-HAH-Kah. I had some trouble as I kept using a soft C rather than the hard K, though that could have been the pre-prandial wine at Hanging Ditch.
It was a cold and damp evening at the end of a bleak February as Storm Jorge breezed into town when I caught up with Helen, our esteemed editor. It was Friday and a busy and, at times, frustrating week where I put paid to a proposed visit to Hong Kong as the Coronavirus took hold. I needed sustenance and a good margarita. We agreed that we were weary but settled down to a fine meal and lively chat, all washed down with wine and as much good cheer as we could muster.
Our friendly host Esthera brought us our restorative margaritas as we perused the extensive menu of Mexican street food. I am happy to report the total absence of chilli con carne which has always reminded me of the lobster red tourist returning from Spain with a sombrero and stuffed burro (cultural misappropriation of the kind that the English are famous for). Instead, there’s an abundance of tacos, quesadillas, tostadas, burritos, enchiladas and even taquitos. It’s an impressive array of spicy hand food.
The restaurant covers two floors of Manchester’s historic Corn Exchange, now home (after an ill-advised retail makeover in the noughties) to a wide variety of chains offering an equally wide range of culinary experiences. It is a light and airy interior which gives off a festive atmosphere – all that was missing was the mariachi band or Los Lobos on the sound system – and clearly aimed at a young audience as the demographic proved when the restaurant began to fill up. Helen and I tucked ourselves into the sidelines, though we were never ignored by the ever attentive Esthera.
Guacamole and roast tomato salsa soon appeared with an exuberance of nachos both fresh and tangy with a hint of cilantro. Our mains consisted of mushroom enchiladas for Helen, sticking to her vegetarian diet and choosing well. I went for a new addition to the menu of burritos filled with slow-cooked beef brisket replete with smoked spices, black beans and green rice. My toasted flour tortilla could have been toasted for a bit longer as the edges appeared to be under-cooked, but it was a minor infringement in an otherwise agreeable meal.
Full, warmed and with our spirits refreshed, we eschewed the kind offer of desserts as we made our way out to a windy night. I will certainly return to sample more of Wahaca’s street treats, but without the sombrero or stuffed burro.
Main image and image of restaurant interior courtesy of Wahaca. All other images by Robert Hamilton.