Beijing, China – China’s capital has seen several attempts at Mexican food rise and fail. Growing up in California, Mexican food rolled in trucks, posted up in weekend markets, defined neighborhoods, was served on white table cloths or in fast food chains. As a kid in Stockton, Cancun restaurant was my family’s go-to spot at least every other weekend. Living in San Francisco, there isn’t a neighborhood devoid of a taco. One of my favourite unique vendors is the taco window, wherefrom tacos are lowered to hungry eaters waiting on the sidewalk for their order. I love tacos so much, on my 30th birthday, I fulfilled a dream and had an El Grullense taco truck pull up to my party in San Francisco! Upon arriving in Beijing, I was met by several major challenges – pollution, the great firewall, ever-increasing traffic, and the absence of a true taco.

One fine day, around this time last year, the universe heard the longings of a few thousand taco lovers in Beijing and delivered to Beijing our finger-food saviour, Kin Hong. I had my rice cooker filled with sand ginger chicken and he had one filled with braised beef lengua (tongue). Together we served up snacks in a popup cafe sheltered within a condemned courtyard structure at Beijing Design Week.

Kin’s tacos woke up taste buds and many popup customers gave praise while suggesting he open shop. The idea never left his mind. He disappeared to Mexico where he mastered many Mexican favourites, but returned amidst a new wave of Mexican restaurants. In just about a year, Kin launched his dream and our answered prayers – The Taco Bar.

Reconfiguring tables to accomodate the flood of customers already privy to The Taco Bar’s existence.

The menu

One of the best things about The Taco Bar are the prices. In California, a delicious taqueria taco can cost as little as $0.75 (5RMB) and an average price at $2.25 (15RMB). Kin’s tacos are three for 38RMB!

Pescado – fried fish tacos

Carnitas – fried pork tacos topped with pickled onion

My favourite tacos are always carnitas, but as sumptuous as these are here, I also love the pescado (batter-fried fish) and the hongos (tempura fried mushrooms) tacos. Vegetarians aren’t left out of the fiesta with options like the vegetarian taco and hongos taco.

Left to right: vegetarian taco, chorizo taco, and fried mushroom taco

Everything at The Taco Bar is made from scratch. He makes his own tortillas, salsas, beans (oh the beans!), pickles, sangria, desserts… you name it, he makes it all in a clean tightly spaced kitchen that opens into a dining room whereupon a black wall diners are welcome to chalk the walls with praise and drawings inspired by their meal. Back to the beans; frijoles negros (black beans) are stewed with a touch of cinnamon and richly flavoured. You can dip chips in the beans, corn, guacamole, or salsa, but get a hold of a spork and savour the dips by the sporkful. I hadn’t seen a spork since high school until I visited The Taco bar!

I’m a sangria lush and I hereby give an imaginary sangria trophy cup to the white wine sangria (30RMB / glass; 129RMB / bottle). Apples, peaches, and grapes marinated in rum are served on the side with a chilled bottle of his secret sangria mix and a small glass bottle of Sprite, so you can build your own and top it off with bubbles.

Satiated, stuffed and inspired, I scratched a declaration of my love upon the black chalkboard-painted wall.

MeiLi, Kin, and me with a cup of white wine sangria

Kin’s taco bar is a true speakeasy. For good reasons, he prefers knowledge of his restaurant to be passed via word of mouth and not within any publication – hence why I am not reviewing it for Time Out Beijing. There’s no need to book ahead unless you have a party of eight or more. The Taco Bar accepts cash only. In order to enter the door, you must call the secret number. Contact me directly for the number that will change your Mexican food dining experience in Beijing. Mmm… make that China.

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The Taco Bar is by reservation only. Do not go without booking first.

Directions: You’re finding the Andingmen Nei entrance of Fangjia Hutong. In the alleyway across from Hot Cat club and Aimo Town. When in front of Aimo Town, call the number and do not knock on any door. 132-6406-7593. Open Wed-Sun 7:30pm-Close. (Afternoons, Mondays, and Tuesdays are available by reservation. Minimum 15 people for these hours.)

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