The Taco & Mezcal Gods Have Spoken: La Mezcaleria Is the One

By Sophie Steiner, July 20, 2021

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The Place 

One of the most anticipated openings of the year, La Mezcaleria, just launched with the largest mezcal selection in all of China.

Partners Alyssa Cockrell, Macià Monterde Combaret and Chef Marco Chavez Jaime (previously of PoluxThe Chop Chop Club and Mr & Mrs Bund), along with GM Nico Yang (The Shanghai Edition), simultaneously opened La Barra – a club-lounge, Tacos El Paisa – a taco bar, Bonica – a Mediterranean grill and Loggia – a cafe, all in the same multi-functional space designed by Daniel Uribe and Francisco Nicolas from Ortiz Leon.

Each hip venue is distinct, happening, and downright cool on its own, but together, it is one cohesive hub making up Shanghai’s hottest hangout. 

Image courtesy of La Mezcaleria

Quick break of the fourth wall: to not make this the longest restaurant review in the history of – well – restaurant reviews, we are dividing the space into two, covering La Mezcaleria and Tacos El Paisa first, and then working our way around the rest of the venue in a second article coming.

Back to your regularly scheduled programming…

Screen-Shot-2021-07-19-at-6.17.35-PM.pngImage courtesy of La Mezcaleria

La Mezcaleria is an homage to all things Mexico, but not in the exaggerated, trite manner you’d expect – there are no paintings of Frida Kahlo, no sombreros nor imagery of mariachi bands. Instead, it is warm lighting – mostly emitted from flickering candles that illuminate exposed brick walls – wooden detailing and a live maguey plant – what liquid agave is processed from – affixed inside an actual table. 

Image courtesy of La Mezcaleria

In La Mezcaleria, most seating is lounge style, with cushioned chairs and Oaxacan-made pillow covers fitting into the terracotta color palette. Traditional folk art masks from Mexico City adorn the walls, along with cacti, succulents and other desert flora planted in earthenware pots. 

Behind the DJ booth is a print from Chris Castañeda, a well-known tattoo artist in Mexico who collaborated with the team to design this one-of-a-kind piece. As soon as borders open, she’ll be on a plane to convert the print into a painted artwork. 

Image by Sophie Steiner/That's

Sneak a peek at the VIP room behind the bar – the cave-like domed ceiling, wall-candle lighting and smoky, mezcal aroma add to its elusive air of mystery.

Image courtesy of La Mezcaleria

Tacos El Paisa, situated just outside La Mezcaleria’s wooden door, serves just one thing – tacos. They are identifiably half-moon in shape, sit snugly in one hand and are filled with a multitude of smoky, flame-licked meats – dripping with fat and stewing juices – a sprinkling of crunchy, diced onions and a few sprigs of cilantro adorn the top. Even better, they are open late. Like satisfy-your-taco-craving-at-2am late.

In the name of the salsa, the queso and the holy chili, we praise you taco gods for this offering. 

The Drinks

La Mezcaleria focuses fully on – no surprise here – mezcal. With over 70 SKUs currently available, the number will increase monthly as new varieties arrive, all imported via collaborating partner, Mestizo.

Chris Peart (Mestizo Brand Ambassador and Head Mezcaleria Bartender) will walk you through how to use your five senses to identify a high quality mezcal, and then he’ll plunge you headfirst into a menu of mezcal-forward cocktails, curated by Mark Lloyd (J. Boroski).

Or, if you’re a purist, choose from a laundry list of agaves in pours of 40ml, 250ml or 750ml. 

Image by Sophie Steiner/That's

The smoky first taste of the Hummingbird of the Left (RMB88) unfolds into a citrusy pineapple dram, a refreshingly herbaceous summer sipper that acts an ideal evening starter. 

WechatIMG663.jpegImage by Sophie Steiner/That's

A warming sweetness from crème caramel tea and hibiscus are paired with creamy corn juice and lime in the Feathered Serpent (RMB88) – like a drinkable dessert version of elotes.

DSC06072.jpg400 Rabbits (RMB88) and Fifth Sun (RMB88), Image by Sophie Steiner/That's

Image by Sophie Steiner/That's

The earthy Herodes Espadín mezcal acts as an unorthodox yet flawless backbone for the Mayahuels’ Blood (RMB88), a twist on a Bloody Mary. An amalgamation of sweet strawberry, tart tomato and Sichuan peppercorn sangrita – a citrus and tomato juice shooter customarily partnered with a shot of tequila to cleanse the palate – come together into a spicy swig. 

Image courtesy of La Mezcaleria

Denizens of worldly cocktail bars – spanning the most inventive menus from Singapore to New York to London – would feel at ease tucking into a smoky mezcal-laced sip, chatting up the knowledgeable staff for a memorable bevvie, garnished with a tidbit of agave education.

The Food

Now that you’re good and liquored up, onto the food. Like a drive-through taco joint on the street, there is no real distinction between the kitchen and seating area of Tacos El Paisa, the taco 'bar' that serves as a the middle man between La Mezcaleria, La Barra and for floaters that seep up the stairs from Bonica as the evening marches on into late-night.

Image by Sophie Steiner/That's

It’s like a humble neighborhood taqueria, a bastion of comfort and delicious bites that seems to exist exactly at the moment you need a morsel – after a few sneakily strong mezcal libations.

Image by Sophie Steiner/That's

Behind the counter, behold two of the most exciting finds of the venue – a masa corn tortilla press and a flaming gyro of marinated pork. The Pork Pastor (RMB25) sees the duo come together with a griddled-to-order shell encasing orange and dried chili-marinated meat sporting charred crispy bark, similar to what you’d find on smoked brisket.

Image by Sophie Steiner/That's

Embrace your laowai-ness – but this time as a gringa to Mexico – by ordering the Pork Pastor Gringa (RMB40), the same marinated meat as the Pork Pastor, but this time smothered in gooey, stretchy cheese and crushed pineapple, then grilled on the flat top in a flour tortilla. 

Image by Sophie Steiner/That's

Pulled lamb shoulder, massaged with Oaxacan spices, is stewed for hours, before finding its way inside a chewy tortilla as the Birria (RMB40). A robust birria broth is served on the side, enticingly aromatic, gamey and ideal for dipping, resulting in a taco ahogado, if there was such a thing. 

Image by Sophie Steiner/That's

Proving that transcendent tacos are all about simplicity, the Tongue (RMB30) sees soft-braised beef lengua, a commonly consumed protein in Mexican cuisine, simply topped with chopped onions, cilantro and a squirt or two of lime. That’s it, and it’s damn near perfect.

Image by Sophie Steiner/That's

Image by Sophie Steiner/That's

An Octopus (RMB30) taco offers sautéed ground octopus that looks like it comes from the land, but tastes like plunging into an ocean, while the shredded, braised beef brisket is swaddled in a corn tortilla robe as the Suadero (RMB25), trickling juices pouring down your chin with each bite. 

Guac & Totopo Chips (RMB45) and Beans & Totopo Chips (RMB30) are viable sharing options as the tacos are essentially a three-bite situation each – not exactly ideal for a puff-puff-pass. 

Baja Fish Taco (RMB30), Image by Sophie Steiner/That's

All tacos come with a trio of salsas – a choose-your-own-adventure in spice level of sorts. The verde tomatillo one is smooth and tangy with avocado and coriander, while the rust-red salsa roja is smoky and dynamic with grilled tomatoes and chili. 

The spice king of them all, however, is the salsa macha – Mexico’s answer to China’s laoganma chili crisp – with dry chili paste and a secret blend of grilled and fried fiery chilis. They are best enjoyed dribbled equally across everything coming out of the makeshift taco kitchen. 

The bites here are a superlative rendition of Mexican tacos – as if they are hiding a little, old Mexican grandma in the back of the kitchen, forcing her to pump out round after round of masa taco shells, spice-rubbed meats and salsas by the bucketful. We thank you, 'taco abuela,' for your services. 

The Vibe 

A small ecosystem exists throughout the entire venue, where extras from the kitchen are used in bar infusions, spices are shared between floors and dishes from one menu pop up on another in a reimagined form to fit the ambiance.

Similarly, people float back and forth between the different establishments, exchanging one vibe for another as the night progresses. Music follows the atmosphere, spanning everything from alternative light rock to synthetic trance.

Image courtesy of La Mezcaleria

Going forward, to educate people on the romanticism of mezcal, Peart will start to lead mezcal tasting classes every Monday-Wednesday, where an intimate group of no more than five will get to sample eight different mezcals – paired with tacos, of course – and discuss the history and background of this unique spirit.

Image courtesy of La Mezcaleria

The focus will be to showcase the more than 170 types of maguey plants that each result in a totally unique mezcal. From our quick visit, we learned that the number of varieties is vast, making mezcal the smokier, higher ABV uncle of wine. Ok maybe that’s too far, but after a few of these drinks, we could be convinced of anything. 

Image by Sophie Steiner/That's

Despite the exceeding trendiness of it all, La Mezcaleria remains unpretentious. Pricing is reasonably accurate, the staff are well-trained and helpful, the menu is approachable and the whole setting is just plain fun. We haven’t seen the likes of a soft opening this well organized in, perhaps... ever. 

A hint at what to expect for our next review of the rest of venue: cancel your dinner plans. They aren’t important. Instead, make a beeline for Bonica.  

Price: RMB150-250
Who’s Going: The entire Latino community (no, but seriously, how do you all already know about this place before even the foodies and bar crowd?), curious agave spirit consumers, those obsessed with all things tacos 
Good For: Dates with an aim to impress, cultured mezcal learning, late night taco consumption

See a listing for La Mezcaleria and Tacos El Paisa. Read more Shanghai Restaurant Reviews.

[Cover Image by Sophie Steiner/That’s]

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