HOLA TACO $$
It’s hard to imagine any place on Phanh Chau Trinh, bang in the center of town and with a million motorbikes whizzing by a second, being peaceful. That Hoi An restaurant, Hola Taco, situated on a busy corner could be somewhere you’d come to unwind, to shake off the bustle of the streets and to enjoy a relaxing meal is equally perplexing.
And yet Hola Taco, perched right in front of all the action, manages to achieve just this. We visited for a mid-week lunch and even though there was chaos on the streets outside, the restaurant provided a cool ‘n’ calm refuge from the heat.
Stepping into the impressive, high-ceilinged interior is like stepping into a saloon from the Wild West. (Well, a saloon complete with a cartoon bean playing the Spanish guitar, his sombrero tipped at a jaunty angle. A fun touch.)
Yellow and turquoise walls and vibrant murals add a splash of colour amidst dark wooden paneling and crisscrossing beams… it’s a laidback setting – verging on lazy – but one to which I’d happily bring a group of friends. (Although with tequila starting at just 50K, you might want to clear the following day’s schedule…)
Despite the attractiveness of the inside area, we opted for a table on the ‘porch’ instead, looking out over Phan Chau Trinh. The high stools gave us a prime vantage point for people-watching and as we sipped on our delicious margaritas (watermelon for Andy, tamarind for me), listening to the gentle clacking of the wooden windchimes just beyond our table, we agreed that there were worse ways to spend a Wednesday afternoon!
And what of the food?
I like Mexican food. But I’ve never really craved it… until our lunch at Hola Taco, that is. Now I’ll be dreaming of their homemade nacho chips, their chunky, creamy guacamole topped with black sesame seeds and whatever was in the fiery concoction placed in a jar on our table, for weeks to come.
The menu consisted of the usual suspects: quesadillas, tacos, nachos and enchiladas – with a gluten-free option of rice bowls, too. (We appreciated the description of the difference between these dishes because we can never remember which is which!) And it incorporated the tastiest vocabulary, too – like “pulled pork”, “braised lamb”, “chipotle chicken” and “cajun shrimp”. (Vegetarians can go for “roasted pumpkin”.)
In a word: Yum.
I ordered the tacos. You get 2 tacos per portion and our lovely waiter let me pick a different flavor for each one. One taco was stuffed with cajun shrimp, avocado, pineapple and cabbage slaw; the other with melt-in-your-mouth lamb, mint and cucumber yoghurt. Needless to say, I was happy with my choice!
Andy, a fan of all things cheesy, chose the quesadillas. They looked small on the plate but, packed with all that cheesy goodness, were satisfying little parcels of happiness. Half of these tasty triangles were stuffed with the cajun shrimp combo; the other half with chorizo and kimchi. A very fine choice – the moorish combination of spicy chorizo with the crunchy goodness of the pan-fried taco is something I’d advise you don’t miss. Even the combination of shrimp and melted cheese – which I couldn’t imagine would work – somehow did.
It was a pleasantly surprising meal. I’ve always considered that kind of food to “fill a gap” and little else. Hola Taco, though, proved me wrong. And although we definitely didn’t need the giant portion of nachos that Chef An kindly brought to our table afterwards, we managed to plough through those, too.
After all, we simply couldn’t resist those amazing baked chips (which, frankly, Hola Taco should start packaging up and selling in all the supermarkets in town).
I’d highly recommend this place. You won’t leave disappointed.