It’s weird to see Adeladians sitting in their cars on the side of the road, waiting for a restaurant to open so they can snare a seat (…this is a town where, for 11 months of the year, you don’t have to queue for anything). But Lucky Lupitas is so darn fabulous, the locals have begrudgingly embraced the art of waiting out the front.
The location is unshakably low-rent – on the highway south of town, across the road from Flinders Medical Centre amidst an eternally uncool bank of delis and takeaway joints. We’re a little late, pressing our noses against the glass, watching the punctual types inside dip into authentic entrees like tostones (chewy plantain chips) with black-bean mash and sour cream, and elotes (grilled corn cobs) with chipotle mayo, cheese and lime. And damn, those Dos Equis lagers look chilled and mighty charming.
One of the staff eventually ushers us in, directing us to a little oil-cloth-covered table (there are just 30 seats). The routine here is you order up a bunch of stuff and it arrives in unpredictable sequence, depending on what everyone else in the room is eating. Serves are small – a bit like tapas – so five or six dishes is a good target. They arrive in quick succession, so there’s no chance of anyone wasting away between courses.
The room itself is ‘garage quirky’: a nifty noodle-scape of copper pipes dangles from the ceiling, with industrial light globes emerging from their ends; the walls display kooky Mex ‘Day of the Dead’ religious icons and a blackboard scrawled with a culinary glossary (know your achitote from your epazote?).
Scan the menu for a few familiars: lumpy guacamole sluiced with lime, cilantro and spicy, thick-hewn corn chips; a show-stopping soft corn taco de carne with insanely rich braised beef, loads of red onion and a venomous chilli salsa; and even ribs and hamburguesas…
But if you’re feeling more Acapulco than Adelaide, shoot for the tostadas, empanadas and quesadillas with south-of-the-border accompaniments. Boost your authenticity ratings with the peppy smoked chicken empanada with roasted corn, green onion, cilantro and sour cream. There’s an impressive rack of chilli sauces at your disposal: embalm everything in the house-made hot habanero, or the downright volcanic red ‘El Yucatero’, which makes Tabasco seem like tomato sauce.
A bit tongue-stunned? Cool off boots with imported Mex beers (Negra Modelo, Baja Blonde) or a a carafe of zingy, rustic house sangria adrift with thick lemon wedges. The mildly less successful margarita de la casa is potent but feels a tad rudimentary, unchilled in a chunky, tall glass with a messy smear of salt crystals on the rim.
But hey, this is street food, not haute Mexican…and what’s an ugly glass between amigos? Arriba!