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The Mexican Street Kitchen: Open for business

Wahaca's Mexican Street Kitchen - Taking street food back to the streets

For years now people have been begging us to offer more takeaway (presumably to increase the risk of spilling salsa over their keyboard), but it’s always proved tricky without disrupting the restaurants main service. Now, we’re the first people to realise that this isn’t a great answer. If the people want it, surely there’s a way to give it to them. And if you’re going to give it to them, you might as well have a laugh doing it. So the idea struck us – rather than opening up a dedicated takeaway, with traditional things like walls and a roof, wouldn’t it be nicer to be able to take the tacos to the people – We needed wheels. The taco van dream was born and the search for our truck began.

It was after a chance encounter with Simon Swift, from the totally brilliant Wondering Wine company, that we first laid eyes on what would become the newest member of the Wahaca family. Looking past the rust, gathering moss and dodgy engine, we immediately fell in love with the characterful shape of this classic Citroen HY van – Born in 1958 and later re-bodied to transform it into, amongst other things, a shop selling leather and Citroen memorabilia (not at the same time). She was perfect for our needs.

Look past the rusting exterior and there's a character you've just got to love

It turns out converting an old van into a fully working kitchen fit to serve the finest tacos and burritos in all the land isn’t that straightforward.

You start with a specialist mechanic. This one’s called Alex.

Then you breakdown on the M25, a mere 40 minutes out of the workshop – Bad times. But it was here that we learnt how useful the words “low-loader” really are.

Bad times on the side of the M25

From a side junction of the motorway, it’s into the workshop of AJC trailers, a very impressive set up, where old vans go to get their va-va-voom slapped back into them. These were the guys who fitted our Robata charcoal grill – This behemoth of the meat cooking world is like a barbeque on crack – tiny jets pump air directly into the coals to superheat them, meaning that you have much higher temperatures and a smoky flavour that is worth travelling across town for. Having done some searching around, we think we’re the only van in the country equipped with such a thing, and the flavour is phenomenal.

But this wouldn’t be a true Wahaca if it didn’t have “the looks”, so next it was off to the spay shop. Spray shops are fun. They involve putting your vehicle into a big oven (honestly) and heating it up so you get an even covering of specially developed paint. The results are a van that looks as good as new – Not a French leather salesman in sight.

Once you’ve got a van that looks this good, you have to find a good home for it. We had thousands of requests for various parking spots around the country (which we still have in mind, don’t worry), but we felt it was best to start off in a site that we know, where our nearby restaurant can be on hand to cope with any teething problems and somewhere that housed a lot of burrito-hungry souls. So we headed to Canary Wharf’s Canada Square Park. Ideal you might think, until you find out that the only way into the park is through the lobby of One Canada Square, the tallest building in the country and one which comes with a selection of health and safety paperwork almost as tall. It made for a fun Saturday morning.

After all that effort, you don’t want to open without a bang: Cue 2 days of free burritos, a mariachi band, a donkey called Larry and a queue that threated to take over the whole of Canada Square Park. Canary Wharf had never had it so good.

And now comes the reality of running a new business – One that’s a little bit different to our other restaurants, one that we want to have as much fun as possible with, and one that we want your help in shaping the future of.

We have a new menu. It’s just a starting point (albeit a very delicious one) and something that we want to work with our customers to develop as we move on. If there’s something that you’d like to see on there, please leave a comment below let us know on facebook or twitter or go along and chat to guys. We want to make the most of our new found flexibility.

At the moment it's a nice neat rectangle - Help us shape it

You can find us in Canary Wharf until the end of the summer when we are off to Gloucestershire for the van’s first festival – Harvest at Alex James’ farm. And then we’d like you to help us decide where we should move on to – The louder you shout, the harder we’ll search for a parking space that we’re allowed to use.

The Mexican Street Kitchen is something we’re so excited about. We owe so much to everyone who has contributed so much to it, none less so than Charlie Carroll – The man with the van plan. If you’re in the area, go down and pat him on the back and chat to him about burritos. He’ll tell you a thing or two about tortillas, the perfect searing temperature of steak and how difficult it is to find a mechanic in Luton who knows how to fix a 53 year old clutch.

Here’s to hitting the road.

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Revealed: First look at the designs for our Mexican Street Kitchen

Here are the first glimpses of how we’ll be transforming the look of our Mexican Street Kitchen, from a classic 1958 long wheel based Citroën HY van, into the newest member of the Wahaca family.

A before and after look at The Mexican Street Kitchen

Back in the day, this beast (and yes, it is a beast) has been a travelling workshop for leather salesmen in France, before being converted into a display vehicle for classic Citroen fans, so we didn’t want to lose its iconic shape or its characterful charm. It is important that we instilled some of the Wahaca colour throughout, and so we handed it over to our expert designers who have done some rather special things with it.

Taking street food back to the streets

We’ll be adding some of the imagery we’ve collected over the years from across Mexico to make sure that everyone knows where we are and where we’ve come from.

Our other van's a restaurant

Keep your eyes peeled for more details on where we’ll be opening its hatches for the first time and when we’ll be launching. We hope you like it as much as we do.

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Exclusive news, we’re opening a new Wahaca. This time it’s on wheels.

There’s huge news at Wahaca HQ and we can’t keep it from you any longer. We’ve just secured the next Wahaca opening and this time it’s on wheels. Please say hello to the (soon-to-be) Mexican Street Kitchen.

The (Pre-op) Wahaca Mexican Street Kitchen

This little beauty is a long wheel base 1958 Citroen HY Van, which we’ve procured and are currently hurtling towards converting it into a fully functioning takeaway truck. (Oh yes, and your eyes are not deceiving you, it does have a sweet pair of megaphones on the roof!)

1958 Long Wheel Base Citroen HY Van (Complete with megaphones)

The idea of the Mexican Street Kitchen is not only to serve the best Mexican street food in London, but to take it back to the streets from where we began. We’re installing a state of the art Robata charcoal grill, which will give all of our freshly grilled meat that extra tasty flavour you can only get when you cook over flames – we’re pretty sure that’s the first of its kind in a van in London.

We’re going to be using the Mexican Street Kitchen to test out new recipes that you can’t find in our restaurants, and we’d like you to be a part of it. We’ll be holding events asking you to come and help us test out new recipes, new cuts of meat, new seasonal vegetables and new ways of serving them. We want you to help us as we develop exciting new street food recipes that (if they pass the “Tommi Test”) could be added to our restaurant menu.

Keep your eyes on our blog and facebook page to find out how we get on with the transformation. But before we get onto all of this, the first question has got to be, where do you want us to park it?