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Salsa and Guacamole, #margaritachallengeyvr

I just discovered my new favourite Mexican spot, thanks to the latest Vancouver Foodster Margarita challenge I was asked to judge.

The goal of this is to try all the contestants and help pick out the best through scoring each on Taste 20/20, Presentation 10/10, and Originality 10/10. That journey brought me to Surrey, at the basement door of this unsuspecting heritage house today. And I was not prepared to see what was within.

First off the name does not do it justice. They are so much more than “Salsa and Guacamole” and seeing the menu you will order neither. An elevated and edgier name would be better to describe this “hidden gem”, a term I do not use lightly and dislike when others do. Although they accurately fit the bill. Not easy to find, not well known, and hidden in the basement of a long standing French banquet restaurant. Not to mention the decor is like nothing you would expect in Surrey, but that of a tequila bar that would do exceptionally well in the Kitsilano, Gastown, or the Yaletown area. Heck, they would flourish in any Vancouver neighbour, and are certainly a destination worth travelling to here.

The setting was cohesive. We sat at one of their larger table, facing the wall with a Mexican music performance broadcasted on to it, via projector. Videos of mariachi bands and traditional dressed singers.

But for music they played the Spanish equivalent of slow jams. A slower tempo with a great beat to further the ambiance. The restaurant is very specific as to the vibe that they are curating, and it works. This isn’t a rowdy bar, but an elevated dining and drinking experience. As described by the owner, this is the sort of restaurant you can find in Mexico City, not like those that feed the tourists.

The stand out of the room is their well lit bar crafted from wooden wine crates, stocked with a large assortment of artisan and premium tequila, most of which I have never seen until this day.

And the best way to get better acquainted with some of them is through one of their flights. Each flight is grouped by tasting property, with categories like “remarkable Blancos”, and “sharp Reposados”.

We took the recommendation of our server and got the “Smooth choices”, served on a speciality wood board. Each paddle is custom built with compartments for salt, citrus fruit, and your three tasters. The latter of which was also back lit, so that when you placed the board down, a light turned on and highlighted your glass. A very unique element, and fun way to start your tasting. We would take advantage of the salt to start and the fruit on rind to chase.

The following are the tequilas and our tasting notes on each.

Starting with the Revolucion Blanco, this was the smoothest with a clean, barely their flavour.

The Esperanto Blanco was much fuller in body with a more medicinal tone.

And the 1800 Cristalino starts off sweet, leading into a more herbaceous flavour to end on.

We also had to try Jo’s Margarita, available on the regular drink menu, this was based on a customer’s preference and subsequently named after him. And it is also the cocktail completing in this year’s Vancouver Foodster Margarita challenge.

Lime juice, triple sec, and tequila spiced with tajin; and includes a tajin rim. Although it was a delicious margarita and I quite enjoyed it with the use of a premium spirit, it would have been nice to see them create something new, just for the competition, to better create a limited edition buzz.

I was surprised by how much difference the use of Tajin made in this. I prefer a stiffer and more savoury cocktail and definitely got it with this. It paired wonderfully with the food to come and even keeps it potency after the ice has melted.

And I couldn’t not walk away without trying there in house, made from scratch Horchata, the traditional Mexican rice milk spiced with cinnamon and vanilla. I describe it as the last of the milk when you are eating Cinnamon Toast Crunch cereal. This served as a nice and sweet palate cleanser served in a fun cactus shaped glass.

To get a good feel of the restaurant we had to order some of their tacos. For the “Tacos Especiales” you get three tacos with your choice of meat in either pork or beef. For regular orders all 3 tacos have to be the same. Thankfully, I was able to try one of each, to be able to provide you with the notes below, highlighting the one I would recommend. Having just returned from a recent trip to Mexico, my guest declared that these were the most authentic tacos he has had in BC.

The first was cochinita pibil, pork marinated with achiote. Tender shredded pork along side the sweetness of pineapple that sets it apart.

The pastor is pork marinated with adobo sauce. The meat was clean, lean, and it ate like chicken. I found this one needed additional spice, for my taste; and relied on the side of sauces brought over with the serving. I liked the creamy cilantro aioli for a contrasting taste and texture. My guest preferred the Habanero sauce, appreciating the roasted flavour and the heat it added to any dish.

Out of the three the lengua, beef tongue was my favourite. Tender caramelized meat that you could not tell was tongue if you didn’t know. This is well seasoned and not greasy. I had a great flavour on its own, and became something new when the above mentioned salsas and dips were added.

I was more excited for the Alambre, a platter of build-it-yourself fajitas served still sizzling on a hot plate. Your choice of chicken or beef topped with cheese and cilantro on a bed of sizzling bell peppers, onions, cabbage, and mushrooms. I went for the heartier beef and it was cooked perfectly. And seeing as we already had the corn tortillas above with our tacos, I went with the option to have one large flour tortilla instead of four smaller corn tortilla or the rice bowl.

I loved how cheesy the plate was, as told by this cheese pull over the crisp sweet peppers. I am not a fan of the texture of onion, so after picking around it, left much of it on the plate. There was much more onions than meat. This was fun to assemble: ripping tortilla, topping each with enough meat and pepper for one mouthful, and topping it with a generous scoop of the aforementioned cilantro cream. Delicious.

And we couldn’t walk away without trying their desserts. The churros were stuffed and fried to order. A large tube served with a side of either chocolate or vanilla ice cream. And your choice of filling is either between dulce de leche or chocolate. We had the former for the more classic pairing of this sweet and crispy dessert.

Looking for something with a softer texture? The flan is their other dessert option. It isn’t smooth like other flans I have had, but chunkier and still puddling-like. As for the way it tasted, it was fairly sweet, but here the salted pretzel topping did well as a chase to help cut into it. And if you need more than the one for just a garnish, ask and the staff will be happy to include more on the size for a salted pretzel flan combo.

I don’t like throwing the word “hidden gem” around so believe me when I say that this place is! Salsa & Guacamole is my new favourite Mexican restaurant and I highly recommend the drive down to visit. This is elevated Mexican cuisine served with exceptional spirits, and by exemplary staff. I was not expecting something so delightful as this in Surrey.

Salsa & Guacamole
13483 72nd Ave, Surrey, BC V3W 2N7

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