With bright yellows and greens warming visitors upon entry, Diego’s Taco Shop gives more than a slight nod to the Mexican eateries you find in San Diego, California, the city from which Diego’s draws its name.
“Having been here for five years, I’ve tried every Mexican joint but none clicked to remind me of home,” says San Diego native Peter Pham, who runs Diego’s with his wife Thao. “I was raised on Mexican food — burritos, tacos, rolled tacos. I talked about [starting Diego’s] with my wife for about a year and a half.”
He adds that most of the Mexican options in Saigon are geared towards a more Tex-Mex flavour, with Diego’s offering the light and fresh flavours of the cuisine of the country’s west coast, the Pacific side. Certainly the number of Mexican restaurants that have popped up in Ho Chi Minh City over the last couple of years offer an opportunity for a more localised treatment of the country’s cuisine.
“We don’t stuff our burritos with rice and beans, we use different herbs,” says Peter. He is presently developing a vegetarian menu, with all items having the option of meat substituted for beans or, surprisingly, jackfruit. Fish tacos and burritos are also in the works.
Poppers, Ostrich and Horchata
Peter’s interest in authentic, Baja-style Mexican cuisine includes producing homemade tortillas and hot sauces while also introducing some wrinkles to a traditional menu, such as the Eastside fries with ostrich meat (VND130,000). Smothered in grated cheese and vegetables, they are a fresher take on a favourite, paired with the tender ostrich meat.
I come away a big fan of Diego’s poppers (VND59,000). With homemade cream cheese stuffed in a chilli pepper, which is then battered and deep fried, the creamy dip that accompanies the poppers offers a hint of kick with a slight mustard accent.
The rolled beef tacos (VND75,000) also provide a colourful distraction, with vivid yellows and greens. Depending on the day, Peter says the tortillas can be red as well, just amping up the brightness on the plate. For refreshment, I have my first horchata (VND35,000) which comes served in a handled mason jar. While in some Latin American countries the drink is more milky, some recipes do not call for milk. The version at Diego’s comes chilled, sweet and milky with a hint of cinnamon.
Peter says some other plans are in the works, including a two-for-one taco night, a book exchange programme and happy hour promotions. But for fans of Mexican food, it’s good to know that there is more variety than ever before in Saigon. — Harry Hodge
For more info about Diego’s Taco Shop, visit their Facebook page. Diego’s Taco Shop is located at 41/9 Co Giang, Q1, HCMC