Mexican food and vegan sensibilities might not seem like a common pairing, but at El Capo they like to do things a little differently. And so they should, they’re at the heart of the Northern Quarter, on Tariff Street next to the peerless Whisky Jar and a few steps down from Northern Monk, the home of the now-departed Kosmonaut.
The dimly-lit, exposed brick venue is laid out perfectly for both groups and one-to-one dates, and on a wet Thursday evening the place is packed out, full of young and sharply-dressed Mancunians. It’s partly to do with the bargain Thursday deal where you can get three vegan small plates, a vegan burrito, a vegan taco and a bottle of house wine for an eyebrow-raisingly low price of £16 per person, and partly because El Capo is just a smart place to hang out. Helped in no small part by the fashionable but down-to-earth staff who make everyone feel welcome – although the homeliness can go a little too far, there’s nothing more annoying than a wobbly table and here it can’t help but feel like something of an affectation.
The vegan small plates are just that: small, but undeniably delicious
As you’d expect, the vegan small plates are just that: small, but undeniably delicious. The padron peppers pack a punch, and the patatas bravas are up there with the best in the city. The soft shell tacos too are great – if anyone dares dismiss vegan food as ‘tasteless’ send them directly to El Capo, do not pass go, do not collect £200. The seasoning is hot, certainly, but never overpowering. It’s not a case of spice for the sake of spice – everything works perfectly, finetuned for flavour not for silly oneupmanship (though there are options for this if you’re up for a challenge).
Vegan or not, this understated Mexican restaurant is well worth a visit
It’s pleasing to see a restaurant where the vegan menu is as long and carefully-created as the standard menu, and El Capo do this better than most. However, if you’re craving dairy, or more specifically cheese, the mac ‘n’ cheese is arguably the best in the city, and a steal at under five pounds. This one piping hot tray contains more than enough of your daily allocation of cheese; crispy on top, soft and gloopy and delicious underneath, with a few pickle slices slung across the top for good measure. If you’re not vegan, this is a must-try dish and worth a quick (and cheap) visit in its own right.
El Capo are doing a lot of things right, and it’s no surprise they’re still a top drawer after years in the Northern Quarter. Vegan or not, this understated Mexican restaurant is well worth a visit.