Every suburb has a secret food spot that is only known to a select few – until now, as Suburban Secrets uncovers some of the foodie delights hiding in the ‘burbs.
Amid the citywide explosion of restaurants, food trucks and vendors selling Mexican food, the humble Taco Quetzalcoatl’s in Salisbury is carving out an authentic space in a crowded market.
The restaurant is small. Homely. The division between the kitchen and the seating area is somewhat blurred. A drinks fridge and shelf of traditional Mexican ingredients such as dried hibiscus flowers and corn maize draws the line between business and pleasure. It’s intimate and completely unpretentious.
The food is of the likes you will not find anywhere else in Adelaide. There are the common staples of tacos, burritos and enchiladas, but they’re different. The tacos are basic but bursting with flavour and the enchiladas are covered in a deliciously perplexing Aztec sauce composed of chocolate, onion and chilli.
Then there are the true rarities: the tamales, savoury and sweet corn flour dumplings baked in corn husks or fresh banana leaves; pozole, a traditional Mexican stew of corn, pork and beans; huaraches, a sort of open, fried taco.
“I have no competition,” says the tiny restaurant’s proprietor, Margarita Galindo Gallardo. “There is no one else who makes food like this in the city.” Gallardo’s words might look arrogant on paper, but in person she utters them with a humbly determined dignity. For her, there is simply no other restaurant in Adelaide serving authentic Mexican food.
“I have respect for those businesses,” says Gallardo, referencing the huge range of contemporary Latino restaurants, “They raise interest in Mexican cuisine, and people enjoy their food. It helps us too. They give us extra publicity.”
Gallardo hails from Mexico, having moved to Australia in 2007. She was raised working in her mother’s seafood restaurant in Veracruz, at first cleaning, then learning to cook. A growing passion for food drove her to culinary school.
“I worked in a restaurant for 20 years in Mexico,” she says. “I spent four years in Yucatan studying specialist Mexican gastronomy. I know this.”
Arriving in Australia, Gallardo worked in hospitality and squirrelled money away for years to be able to chase her dream here. She ran informal Mexican dinners from her garage for years, a business she has transitioned into event catering as well as the restaurant.
“When I came to Australia, I knew I wanted to open a restaurant to show people real Mexican culture, and gastronomy.”
Working in La Trattoria two years ago, she met Tony Daidone, a passionate young chef who has since joined her as a dedicated apprentice. Daidone shared Gallardo’s drive to share such a delicious cuisine and culture with the people of Adelaide. “Food is a universal language,” says Daidone, grinning ear to ear.
The young Daidone is enthusiastically learning the trade from Gallardo. He’s even cultivating his own tomatillos, a husky green tomato found in Mexico crucial to the making of salsa verde, at home in his backyard.
But what makes Taco Quetzalcoatl’s food so authentic?
“It’s about balance and simplicity,” says Gallardo. She explains that once you have an understanding of the key flavours of food – the proteins, the acids and sugars – you can construct anything you want, but that Mexican food relies on simplicity, and some creativity from the customer as well.
“Here, the sauces are on the table. You have a choice,” says Daidone. As in Mexico, the sauces come as sides to the dish that can be added as sparingly or plentifully as the consumer desires.
“There’s no add-ons either,” Daidone goes on, referring to the ‘up-size’ purchases of guacamole and other ingredients in some chain restaurants. “We just try to fill you up with quality ingredients like meat and cheese.”
With a dedicated customer base in the surrounding suburbs, and expatriate Mexicans making the pilgrimage from all over Adelaide to its door finding their “cure for homesickness” as Gallardo calls it, Taco Quetzalcoatl’s has a bright future. Daidone has loose plans for growth.
“Being up north can make it difficult to bring people up from the city,” Daidone says. “Maybe we’ll be able to open another place down south, or one in the cit-“ Gallardo chimes in, “First I need to take Tony to Mexico! He’s learning here now, but he needs to learn about Mexico!” she laughs and Tony nods, humbled but appreciative of her investment in his skills.
“When I’m working, I never complain,” says Gallardo. “I say, ‘Tony, if you’re working, you’re working. You never complain.”
As a chef, Gallardo holds sacred her position and ability to feed and teach people above anything else. To serve is a privilege. “In school I learned you need to help people. It’s not about money for me. I help people, and they help me too.”
One can tell the passion to cook and to provide is strong in Gallardo and a key part of her upbringing and character.
“All the cooking in Mexico comes through the mother, you know, it comes from love and care. The food is like your feeling. You make it with your hands – it’s energy. You need the passion for it. If you feel bad one day, that food might be bad. The passion is key.”
Corner of Amanda and Ronald Street, Salisbury
Photos: Jonathan VDK