Brisbane’s best tacos?
Vinyl – 125 Boundary street, West End
I am so excited about all the cool new bars and restaurants cropping up in Brisbane – the opening of places like The Brunswick Social, Bitter Suite, Shabu House and Harajuku Gyoza promises many nights of culinary indulgence. My eyes roll back in my head a little when I concentrate on these delicious prospects.
With these front-of-mind topics so dominant, Vinyl really blindsided me. I must’ve walked past it hundreds of times on my adventures through West End, yet something about the frontage has always kept it off my ‘food-radar’ – possibly because I associate it with the upstairs music venue, the Hi-Fi Bar. After all, you don’t go to places like the Zoo or the Tivoli to find good food.
Thus, I found myself pretty amazed when I pushed through a throng of teenage metalheads to sit down for my first meal at Vinyl. The clever retro decor and very good music kept our table happy as we perused the menu. It seemed wildly ambitious; the meals were cheap, yet very creative. Ingredients like salsa verde or truffle mayonnaise aren’t what I’d expected to find under a venue that hosts everything from The Misfits to The Venga Boys.
The drinking options were pretty impressive too. Sure, there was a giant punk dude at the bar asking ‘what’s your cheapest beer?’, but the selection of brews was almost a page long and included some pleasing rarities like Cascade Stout. The cocktail selection was creative and affordable too, though The Mistress didn’t seem too amazed by her gin ‘n juice thing. Perhaps her mind was on her money.
The real ‘wow’ started when the food came out, and had me grinning from ear to ear for the rest of the night. The food at Vinyl borders on spectacular, and when paired with the venue’s other charms (like the pile of ancient retro plates which our food was served on), it makes for a truly awesome meal-sharing experience.
First up was a salvo of the house tacos. In the spirit of adventure I ordered one of each kind – and wished I’d ordered two. Here are the options:
grilled chorizo taco, coriander salsa verde $3.50
crispy pork belly taco, charred corn salsa, hot sauce $3.50
fried fish taco, chipotle sour cream, coriander salsa verde $3.50
grilled haloumi taco, fresh tomato salsa v $3.50
seven spice chicken taco, kim chi coleslaw $3.50
Each of these is brilliant – the pork belly was a highpoint for me but each offering was very intensely flavoured but well-balanced. The salsa verde worked beautifully on the chorizo as well as the fish, and had even my most staunchly coriander-hating mate licking his lips. Spicing was just right – the kim chi and chilli options had quite a bit of zing but not not enough to leave anyone suffering. I liked that they were all softshell tacos, too. The harder ones seem to have a penchant for shattering as I bite them, spilling their tasty innards onto nearby clothing and pets.
Round two (and three, and four) was from the remaining menu of delicious snack-sized meals.
guacamole, house made queso fresco, cornchips v | gf $5.50
miso tofu v+ | gf $7.50
twice cooked chicken wings, hoi sin sauce $5.50
salad of baby cos, ranch dressing, celery, walnuts v | gf $7.50
chip butty, house made tomato sauce, aioli v $6
steamed greens, preserved lemon, sumac yoghurt v | gf $10
mexican panzanella, mixed tomatoes, queso fresco, fried tortilla, chipotle, coriander salsa verde v $11
pulled pork roll, kim chi apple sauce $10.50
middle eastern lamb brik pie, harissa yoghurt, preserved lemon gremolata $13
wagyu cheeseburger, aged cheddar, truffle dijonaise, house made tomato sauce, cornichons $14
+ bacon $16
half baby roast chicken, minted peas, white bean puree gf $17
thrice cooked smashed chat potatoes with…
chipotle sour cream/ house made tomato sauce/ aioli/ malt vinegar/ hot sauce OR sumac spiced yoghurt v | gf $6
Most of our party went for the ‘middle eastern lamb brik pie’, which I think may have been the pastry highpoint of my year. My inner fat man jiggled with delight as this dish came out – turns out that these pies are deep fried, not baked. The combination of crunchy, fried pastry and spicy harissa yoghurt wrapped around rich, hot, spicy lamb still makes me groan a little when I think about it.
This was a moment of (slightly greasy) ecstasy more than made up for the other dishes I tried: the mexican panzanella (a salady thing) was a bit bland, and the wagyu cheeseburger was too rich even for the fat guy that lives so happily in my skinny frame.
There is a certain funkiness in the combination of aged cheddar, home made tomato sauce and truffle dijonnaise that just was too much for me – much like the offerings at Burger Urge, the flavours were fundamentally nice but the utter excess of sauce made for tricky eating and minor sensory overload. Still, I cannot emphasise how impressed I was by the range of meals we experienced. The chef (Nicholas Stapleton) even threw us a few free tacos to resolve a slight mix-up in our order. If this seems like nice service, that’s because it was – all the staff were warm and friendly and seemed pretty excited about the food and drinks they were serving.
The one thing that will probably trick you about Vinyl is portion size. Each offering on the menu seems pretty affordable, but really you need to have about 3-5 tacos and another menu item to fill yourself up properly if you’re hungry. This adds up. The tacos may have blown my mind, but they went down all too rapidly because each was hardly bigger than the palm of my hand – two to three bites and I was left ruefully licking sauce off my fingertips. The pie I describe with such loving affection was a bit more generous, but would still fit neatly on top of a postcard. I’d suggest you budget at least $25 for your meal and then that much again to enable you to sample some of the beers on offer.
I am confident that Vinyl’s tacos are the best I’ve had in Brissie – they may be small, but they are vastly more imaginative, fun and lovingly made than the offerings available at popular mexican takeaways like Tuckeria, Guzman y Gomez and Mad Mex. There are some pretty exciting acts hitting the Hi-Fi in coming months, and I highly recommend feasting on tacos downstairs as the perfect start to a big night out.