Almost exactly three years since it shut down, Sancho's is back, more graceful, grown up. The soaring two-level room forces us to look up at the bar, an altar of well-crafted tequila cocktails with nary a Tequila Sunrise or a LIIT to be found. Worn Mexican rugs coat the top of the walls and ceiling, around the room arched mirrors have gilded crevasses, and Frida Kahlo is everywhere. The Gauri Khan-designed space can seem overtly dramatic at first, with a trellised trompe l'oeil mirror that you might walk into after one too many zippy made-for-brunch Palomas (tequila, lime, hibiscus cordial, homemade grapefruit soda, saline). But settle in with a taco and a book and you'll find that – with its large outdoors, potted plants, solid wooden furniture in muted upholstery – the new Sancho's is equal parts comforting.
One look at Sancho's menu will tell you how the Mexican restaurant has changed as it has been resurrected in buzzier Union Park. What was a multi-section line up of nachos, tacos, burritos, and enchiladas is now a tall two-sided paperboard featuring a tightly edited selection of bar snacks, appetisers, ceviches and mains.
Reventón translates to explosion or blowout, and at Sancho's, the Northern Mexican dish of nachos is suffixed thus for good reason. Shards of blue corn chips radiate from a large platter piled with refrito beans, melted queso, pico de gallo, sour cream (worth having by the spoonful), guacamole, and grenades of jalapeno escabeche. The guac works here, the avocados are lovely, but a standard bowlful of it with chips needs a jolt of acid and heat – ask for lime juice and chillies with your portion.
Nostalgia gets a nod with Sancho's legendary habanero – old regulars would be happy to know that the ketchup-y bright sauce studded with peppers is spot on, and has all the fruity brightness of the chilli. Alas, the chicken it glazes is chewier than it should be.
When Sancho's gets tacos right, they're delightful; when they don't, they're disheartening. Shroom Shroom has wild fungi braised in butter and white wine, with pepper aioli, parsley and parmesan on a soft tortilla. These mushrooms are magic. In the carnitas, the belly is encouraged to shine, its crunch and melt lightly laced with cilantro, salsa verde an onions. East L.A. tacos are crisp, stuffed with prawns, Mexican mirepoix, and potatoes, and blanketed in tomato sauce and avocado. The whole is lesser than the sum of its parts. In our Not Hipster enough, crisp Brussels sprouts are muffled by a one note tart-sweet sauce.
Sancho's Blue Lagoon ceviche isn't really. Ours offers citrusy poached shrimp studded with tomatoes on a bed of spiced fat. Still, the decapods are sweet and delicious – think of this as a salad and it will do its job. Hawaii meets Mexico in ahi poke tostada – ruby chunks of sashimi tuna laced with guac, jalapeños sit on a blue corn disc slicked with ancho chilli oil. We'll have three.
Is too much stuffing in a quesadilla a problem? Indeed, as we find with our shrimp- and cheese- stuffed flat tortilla. It's so off balance, the seafood falls away.
Chef Esdras Ochoa, of Mexicali Taco in L.A., helms the kitchen at Sancho's. He's also known for serving arguably the best churros in Hong Kong, at his taqueria 11Westside. The ones at Sancho's come close – they're crumbly and fluffy exactly where they should be. A strawberry-rosemary compote outshines dipping sauces of tequila dulce de leche and salted caramel. Even sweeter is budin con nieve (“pudding with snow”) where broken down ciabatta is coupled with vanilla rum custard and served under a cloud of vanilla bean ice cream. It's bread and butter pudding made better via Mexico.
Spike your guac, and flan ahead. Sancho’s is back to taco'ver our appetites.
Getting there: 21 Pali Hill Rd, Union Park, Khar (West). Call 98333 73888. Open daily noon to 1:30am. A meal for two with a drink each is approximately Rs 2,000. Full bar available.
bpb reviews anonymously and pays for its own meals.
Roshni Bajaj Sanghvi, a graduate of the French Culinary Institute in NYC, lives in Mumbai and writes mostly about food and travel for many a publication. She’s a contributing editor at Vogue magazine, and her words have also been found in Conde Nast Traveller, Mint Lounge, Scroll.in, The Hindu, Saveur, The Guardian, and Travel + Leisure, among others. She's crazy about obscure ingredients, and she always knows where to go back for seconds. You can find her on Instagram and Twitter at @roshnibajaj.
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