With three branches in prime locations in the City and Angel, and plans for further expansion, Chilango has been doing rather well since it first opened on Fleet Street back in 2008. Offering fast, fresh Mexican food, it’s a fantastically flavourful option for lunch on the fly in central London. While the menu covers salads, tacos and nachos, Chilango’s reputation is largely built on its burritos – on weekday lunchtimes, the queue of hungry city slickers sometimes stretches as far as 30 metres down the street. But even when the queue is at its longest, you’ll probably still be in and out with your burrito to go in under 15 minutes thanks to the hyper-efficient burrito assembly line: one person preps the tortilla, and adds rice and your choice of black or pinto beans; another does the meat (or veg) and salsa (mild, medium or hot); a third sorts out the extra toppings (sour cream, cheese, guacamole and lettuce); and a final burrito-builder rolls it all up in a foil wrapper. You then pay at the till – so all in all you interact with at least 5 members of staff, all of whom are brisk but friendly – the aim is to get you in and out as quickly as possible with your food prepared just the way you like it. All very impressive, but for the purpose of this restaurant review, my dining partner and I visited the Fleet Street branch for a quick pre-theatre pit stop at the rather quieter time of 6pm on a Friday.
At that time of day, there was just one person on the assembly line, but with no queue to speak of, he had plenty of time to greet, prep the orders, and take payment. Since burritos are what made Chilango’s name, my dining partner decided he just had to try one. Into the large, flour tortilla went a spoonful of rice peppered with finely chopped coriander and brought to life with zesty lime juice, a scoop of tangy pinto beans, a generous helping of meltingly tender roasted pork belly, a ladle of Chilango’s own hot salsa, a handful of grated cheese, dollops of sour cream and fresh guacamole and some shredded iceberg lettuce to top it all off. When rolled, the burrito was enormous – far too big to fit your mouth around – and certainly not the most elegant thing to eat. But it was delicious, with so many flavours all vying for attention – spicy salsa, creamy guacamole, meaty pork – and it was an incredibly satisfying meal, filling up even my notoriously hungry dining partner.
I’m a big fan of the burrito, but on this occasion I decided to sample the veggie nachos: a massive pile of brilliantly crisp home-made corn chips heaped with soft fried red and green peppers and red onions, pinto beans, grated cheese, sour cream, guacamole, salsa and lettuce – so much, in fact, that the box it was served in wouldn’t quite close. The dish was built well, with the cheese put straight onto the chips and melted by the hot ingredients that were lavished on top. The peppers and onions were cooked until almost fondantly sweet and the rich guacamole was given a subtle kick by the diced raw red onions that were shot through the creamed avocado. As for salsa, I opted for a combination of medium and mild. The medium is a thin, runny sauce which packs a real spicy kick, while the mild is a chunky pico de gallo mix with sharp diced red onions and blisteringly fresh shredded coriander which really brings out the sweetness of the sweetness of the chopped tomatoes. As with the burrito, this was a messy meal, but it was extremely tasty and by the time I got to the bottom of the box I was thoroughly sated.
Drinks wise, Chilango offers the usual soft drinks, a couple of Mexican beers and, for something a little bit different, a variety of flavours of the Mexican fizzy pop – Jarrito. While my dining partner enjoyed a Corona, curiosity got the better of me and I went for a mandarin flavour Jarrito. Lurid orange in colour, it was lightly sparkling and incredibly sweet – reminiscent of orange flavour fruit jellies – and with around 60g of sugar in a 330ml bottle, definitely not the healthiest option. Still, as a one off it was actually quite enjoyable. While the majority of Chilango’s customers take their food out, there is a seating area, and the graffiti art on the walls makes for a funky backdrop. With high bar stools and ledge-like tables that are just deep enough to balance your box of nachos, it’s not the most comfortable place to perch, but it does the job. With a main and a drink coming in at around £10 per head, Chilango isn’t bad value for a quick eat-in meal, but at just under £7 for a burrito it can feel a little steep if you’re taking your lunch to go. Nevertheless, you’d be hard pressed to find a better quick Mexican meal in the City, so overall Chilango scores a mextacular four and a half Forks-Up.Chilango Fleet Street 142 Fleet Street London EC4A 2BP T: 020 7353 6761