When living abroad, you quickly identify your comfort foods. Something that you crave, that makes you think of home or your home country. Being an omnivore who delights in an apple with just the right crispness to the bite, I actually don’t suffer from any particular cravings until I smell or see the food in question. Going back to my home country of the UK, I go wild for toast. With thick butter. And sometimes with Marmite. The only thing that stops me from rolling in it every morning is that I might waste a precious crumb (no, you don’t find ‘normal’ bread in Japan…)
When it comes to Americans, they inevitably want their Mexican fix. The discussion of where to find the best burrito is a heated discussion in the US community in Tokyo. Or it would be, if there were actually much choice.
Back in the UK, we aren’t so Mexican-crazy and I’ve been told that our offerings pale in comparison to US fare. Nor have I been to Mexico. So I’m not going to make a judgement on how ‘Mexican’ it is.
All I can say is that of all the ‘Mexican’ food I’ve tried, I’ve rarely been crazy about the flavours. Recently, I had a very servicable brunch at a great price with views from a rooftop at Hacienda del Cielo… but it was atmosphere and value that won me over more than the cooking.
This is how now changed. I’ve found a place I would go back to – several times over. And I would even apply the acid test: I’ve found a place I’d take my parents. Yes, really. Although I may be taking too much credit when I say “found”. I was introduced by a friend… and no, she is not American.
Las Dos Caras is in a surprisingly large restaurant block tucked down a tiny side street in the Harajuku area. It seems to be a halfway between the very upmarket Omotesando Street and the teenage fashion haven of Takeshita Street: it has the elegance of the former and the price point of the latter.
The upstairs is a beautiful open plan kitchen where you can watch the chefs do their thing and the downstairs is a sleek, modern room with Mexican wrestling masks hidden in a surprising number of places in the decor.
We arrived in a somewhat desperate state and ready to fight any number of Mexican wrestlers if it meant we got fed. We were ready to gnaw our serviettes so we decided to order thinking food…to allow a more considered approach to our subsequent choices. My friend, having been before, made a safe bet on the menu.
“We need the GUAC,” she said with emphasis.
A trolley was whisked out in front of us, and a basket of avocado presented to me. I got to feel for my favourite and picked out a beautifully ripe specimen. The waitress sliced it up before our eyes and added chilli, coriander and… I’m not sure. I said yes to all. And next time I will say MORE PLEASE. The guacamole (900 yen) was satisfying – possibly the best I’ve tried in Tokyo – but still lacked oomph and required some salt and pepper.
A tribute to health before an intended meat onslaught, we ordered a nopal and avocado salad (poquito 650 yen). Nopal is Mexican Spanish for Opuntia cacti…or prickly pear, so Wikipedia tells me. The cactus was pickled but made for a distinctive yet mellow flavour, and was very refreshing.
Bellies slightly fuller, we could maybe order without rabid growls or desperate hallucinations. Although our choice had been pretty much determined as soon as we arrived in the restaurant. The table next to us was brought sizzling meat and veg, then doused in some kind of alcohol and set alight. Flames whooshed upwards and the little kid in me itched to get hold of some matches. Or maybe I’d even settle for a sparkler.
This happened repeatedly at tables around the room…and so we ordered ourselves some too: pork fajitas (1800 yen) which came with chipotle, salsa verde (green tomato) and salsa Mexicana (tomato chunks & spices).
Here it is:
Oh, no it isn’t! The waiter brought us chicken when we ordered pork so we got to watch the other one in flames too! GIMME MORE FIRE.
What impressed me was the taste and quality of the meat and vegetables. I often find that dishes like this are fairly bland and supported only by copious quantities of sauce. Not so… the flavour of the vegetables in particular was fantastic. Lesson learned: we should sear everything in booze.
The tortillas themselves were soft and flavoursome, and the sauces add some variation but weren’t hot enough. Fortunately, there was a bottle of hot sauce on the table that provided me with another fiery hit.
By the point, the waitress was trying to calm us down a little. We had spied the All Star Tacos with little Mexican fighter characters as their names.
“Are you sure you want four tacos as well as the fajitas?” she asked. “Are you very hungry?”
I looked at her. YES! I wanted to scream. I ate six bowls of ramen the weekend before. My bottomless pit needs at least a fair attempt to fill it!
Instead, I smiled uncertainly, and told myself that greed is not attractive.
“Maybe just two then…”
So next we tucked into the Santo (pork and pineapple, 350 yen) who fought with Canek (prawn and vegetable, 350 yen). Santo went in for a salty and sweet flavour punch but couldn’t quite coordinate his moves… so the spicy Canek pulled a sneaky taste hit behind a screen of smokiness. Damn, I’d hit Canek any day.
But we couldn’t stop there. Beautifully made-up girls – the ones who like to look like dolls – were tearing meat off sticks.
Our fate was sealed. Beef heart on skewers (500 yen) were before us with an intense chilli garlic sauce that made me lick it off the plate. (Warning: only do this if you can handle quite a lot of chilli).
My friend took a cocktail for 500 yen and our bill only totalled 6000 yen. If we weren’t about to rush to drink bubble tea before the shop closed (yes, we were that greedy) I would have happily chewed some more hearts. Or tried to break Canek’s. Damn, he was hot.
Las Dos Caras 4.5/5 – Flavours, service, atmosphere at a fantastic price. This place has given me faith in – or even desire for – Mexican food.
Food 4.5/5 | Service 4/5 | Atmosphere 4/5 | Value 4.5/5
Where: CASCADE HARAJUKU 1F/B1 1-10-37, Jingumae, Shibuya-ku, Tokyo 150-0001
When: Mon – Sat 11:30 – 28:00 (4 am); Sun & hols 11:30 – 23:00