I’m sometimes a little wary of Mexican food. While I’m all for Mexican drinks – Patron, Kahlúa and margaritas being my go-to thirst-quenchers on a night out – there’s something about the cuisine that, from my experience, tends to fall on either end of the am-I-going-to-suffer-for-this-later spectrum (take it from me – there’s truly nothing worse than a bad burrito).
Thankfully, La Choza is one of those places I know I’m safe. I’ve been here a few times, and to its sister kitchen at the Hare and Hounds on London Road, and never been caught out – despite being more than a little adventurous with my options. No, La Choza does Mexican and it does it well. Its cosy-yet-vibrant Gloucester Road location is every bit what I imagine a burrito place in Mexico to be. Today, we’re seated at a table in the back, and I’m grateful for the space; when La Choza is at its busiest, as it is today, you risk bashing elbows with other eaters. While I’ve found it’s a great way to make new friends, the introvert in me appreciates the occasional bit of solitude – and these are the best seats in the house.
Despite both my companion and I having both been here before, we still struggle a little with the menu. Not because it’s difficult to read, or because everything is in Spanish (it’s not, by the way), but because we already know everything is so damn delicious. The deal is, you choose your base (burrito, quesadilla, tostada, soft corn taco or burrito bowl being your options), choose your filling, and then decide on your salsa. Honestly, you really can’t go wrong with any of these combinations, but we’ve had them before and we feel like something different. La Choza co-owner Aoife suggests something from the specials board, “where the chefs get to come together on something really great,” she assures us. And after the 15 minutes spent staring blankly at our menus, we’re easily convinced and make our orders.
First to arrive are the chips and dip – crunchy tortilla chips served with a selection of five homemade salsas (£6.25) – accompanied by our beers. You’ll recognize Dos Equis XX (£4.50) from the adverts (the Most Interesting Man in the World has since become a meme that’s relevant for every occasion), which Aoife recommends as the best they have in-house. Mine is a Cerveza de Los Muertos Amber Ale (£4), a light and zesty beer that not only seems to go well with everything, but is described as a ‘liquid embodiment of living life to the fullest’ (which, when I think about it, is the kind of hedonism that university life is all about, isn’t it?). We soon come to the realisation that the dips seem akin to the kind of ranks you’re offered when selecting the difficulty of a computer game: novice, easy, medium, difficult, and hardcore modes (pico de gallo, guacamole, green tomatillo, habanero and hot naga, respectively), and we’d forgotten which one was which until it was too late. While all five are genuinely really tasty, we quickly identify the former three as our safe options, the habanero as the risk, and the naga as the dangerous one. Labelled ‘XXX HOT’ on the menu, I’m initially overcome with a false sense of security in the first few seconds, as I taste its delightfully tangy, mango flavours. For those few moments, I feel invincible (if I can cope with this, what else can I achieve?) but then it hits me, burning from my oesophagus, up my through my throat before landing on my tongue. If, like me, you’re a bit of a wuss when it comes to heat, naga will have you wanting to scream bloody mercy as you clutch at anything – and anyone – to stop the pain. If I had the beginnings of a sore throat this morning, I definitely don’t anymore (while I did silently question whether I had a throat left at all, I would still wholly recommend this as a tried-and-tested cold remedy).
Luckily, the mains are quick to arrive, and I dive for the slaw – a cool, welcome antidote to the naga still burning up my mouth. Perhaps it’s the need for some relief that sways my opinion, however this is really great coleslaw. It comes as a side to my dish – the burrito of the week – which comprises of smoked pulled pork and adobo salsa (£9.50). It’s hotter than expected, but in a far more pleasant way than from which I’d just recovered. My cohort’s meal of stuffed peppers with pork loin, black beans, corn and red onions (£10), he tells me, is delicious, its petite pork loin cubes literally melting in the mouth. And yet we both struggle to empty our plates, beaten by the generous serving sizes (a shame we couldn’t control ourselves a little better, as we would really have liked to have tried the churros with dulce de leche – £5).
Conceding defeat, we instead finish with two Mexican mochas (served in sugar skull styled mugs that perfectly match the restaurant’s colourful interior), contented by yet another scrumptious meal from the fantastic people at La Choza. While a meal like ours will set you back around £42 altogether including tips – which we know stretches slightly outside a student budget – it’s well worth it; when it comes to authentic food from Central America, you really Mexican’t get any better than this.
La Choza is at 36 Gloucester Road, Brighton, BN1 4AQ