Intermittently for the past couple weeks, I’ve been following around this taco guy by the name of Grant Winters. Winters runs El Panzon, a taco joint residing within Hootananny‘s in Brixton. Cooking tacos since the age of 17 and claiming to have pioneered Mexican cuisine in the UK (along with Daddy Donkey, another taco restaurant), I was instantly intrigued by Winters.
As I’ve been following Winters around for an article I’m working on, I’ve been discovering a lot. Like how Mexican food is fairly new to Londoners.
“Tacos were around [in London] before us, but they never really took off,” explains Winters. “They were served primarily in Turkish-owned restaurants. Horrendous Old El Paso tacos using spices you’d never even find in fucking Mexico,” illustrates Winters, referring to the packaged El Paso dried seasoning you can buy in the grocery store. “It was wrong, never fresh, and turned people’s perceptions of Mexican food the wrong way.”
Winters started out giving away a lot of free sample to try and draw in customers, introducing and giving them a taste of real Mexican cuisine. Pretty soon Winters was making an appearance on blogs around the area and started gaining a decent following. “English don’t know what they’re eating at first, and when they try it they’re blown away. They’ll come back for plate 3, 4, 5, 6…”
Not only is Winters a super friendly character with an interesting story to share, but he truly does whip up a killer taco.
“It’s the combination and freshness that’s key. People just don’t put the ingredients together,” Winters explains.
80% of what Winters uses to create his Mexican food is fresh, with 85% of those ingredients coming from the local markets in Brixton. Here’s how his menu works: Step one, you choose your meal, picking from five different kinds of tacos or four kinds of burritos. Step two, you choose your filling from a selection of beef, chicken, pork, chorizo, fish, king prawn, refritos, mushrooms, and vegetarian. Step three is “How Hot?,” allowing you to pick from salsas ranging from Dead (pico de gallo) to “Don’t come to me crying!,” made from the Dorset Naga pepper, the hottest known chili in the world.
Last time I was at El Panzon’s, I ordered two vegetarian tacos and one fish taco. Both were delicious. The vegetarian taco consisted of pinto and red kidney beans immersed in a savory, slightly smoky mole sauce (made from chili peppers and chocolate) topped with freshly chopped cilantro, scallions, tomatoes, red onions, mixed greens, along with shredded cheese, salsa, sour cream, and guacamole in a warm corn tortilla. The fish taco was similar, although a layer of lightly battered cod replaced the beans. Both were a juicy, dripping mess that created an explosion of layered flavors perfectly melted together in my mouth.
Every Friday and Saturday night starting at 10:30, El Panzon heads outside and cooks up a stream of £1 tacos. Certainly delicious, but not quite the same experience as the daytime/evening, slightly more expensive tacos.
Cool dude. Great food. It’s going to be a fun piece to write.