131 Macquarie St
Sydney, NSW 2000
The only thing better than tacos is cheap tacos, and until I can get myself to Mexico where they’re a dollar a pop, Taco Tuesdays is the next best thing. And whilst plenty of places have some semblance of that going on each week, no one does it quite like Contrabando. Instead of offering up subpar tacos at a cheaper rate, the entire taco menu is fair game at $3-4 each, instead of the usual $6-8. Talk about a bargain!
Coupled with a discounted drinks list, it’s no wonder that the restaurant was absolutely frantic by 6pm on a Tuesday afternoon. Despite seating close to 100, the only seats available without a booking were in the rather sparse al fresco area. But it was a nice day, and for $3 tacos, I’m willing to make some sacrifices.
It didn’t take long for us to notice that, like many places in Sydney, Contrabando seems to be woefully understaffed. Despite the full house, I counted a total of 4 staff taking orders, with a couple more just running the food out and collecting empty plates. This made ordering an absolute ordeal, and it can’t have been fun for the staff either.
Though not on the discounted menu, I couldn’t resist trying the Corn ($6ea). As I had half expected, this was nowhere near as good as the perfect specimen from Mamasita that made me fall in love with the classic street snack in the first place. There wasn’t enough smokiness to the chargrilled corn, the chipotle aioli didn’t pack enough punch, the cheese lacked flavour, and there was a conspicuous absence of chilli powder. It just wasn’t quite enough all around, though it was certainly an improvement on the abomination served up by Mejico. Let’s hurry up and move on to the tacos, shall we?
The Crispy Fish ($3, full price $6) made for a promising start. The fried fish was a little on the soggy side, but there was plenty of chipotle mayo, tangy tomatillo salsa, and fresh pico de gallo to give it flavour. It wasn’t remarkable, but it was a good crowd-pleaser.
The Bulgogi Beef Rib ($3, full price $7) sounded way better than it tasted. The entire taco was drowned in a sticky and much-too-strong bulgogi sauce, as well as obscene amounts of mayo. It was much too overpowering, and it could’ve been any meat hidden under there.
On the other hand, the Cauliflower Sofrito ($3, full price $6) was better than I had expected. The cauliflower could’ve used a little more time on the grill to bring out its potential for a rich, caramelised flavour, but aside from that, it tasted surprisingly good with the rich, spicy chipotle romesco and the crunchy shallot salsa. This was a light yet flavoursome taco that may not be traditional, but will keep both vegetarians and meat-eaters happy.
The Pork ($3, full price $7) was another one I had been looking forward to, and this fell somewhere in the middle of the road. The pork stewed in adobo sauce had a good hit of spice, which contrasted nicely with the creamy guac at the bottom, as well as the sweet pineapple pieces. Yet despite sounding good on paper, it lacked a little something that I couldn’t quite put my finger on.
Given the slightly higher price point of the Popcorn Prawn ($4, full price $8) tacos, I was expecting something much nicer than what we got. The prawns were absolutely tiny, and served up in a dry, flavourless clump in the middle of the tortilla. The spicy sauce was nice but the filling could’ve really been anything. Even just a couple of normal-sized prawns would’ve been a huge improvement
The other vegetarian offering is the Pumpkin ($3, full price $6). This wasn’t quite as nice as the cauliflower sofrito, suffering from an excessively mushy texture with nothing else to break it up, though the sweetness of the pumpkin was a nice change.
Last, and perhaps most disappointingly of all, was the Korean Fried Chicken ($3, full price $6). Not only was the chicken simultaneously dry and greasy, it was also drowned in more of that cloyingly sweet sauce. Who knew fried chicken could be so disappointing?
Despite the appeal of tacos at a knock-down price, dinner at Contrabando was not as much of a joy as I had expected. Not only were the tacos mediocre at best, and largely dependent on the sauces they were served with, the poor service also made ordering much more stressful than it should have been. With that said however, I would come back, as this is still probably the best Taco Tuesday going around. But next time I’ll make sure to just order everything in one go at the start, and to stick to the few options I know to be good. With a bit of forward planning, this could work out.
Rating: 11.5/20 – not worth smuggling.
This rating reflects my personal experience at the time of visit.