Name: Guzman y Gomez
Address: Shop EZ07-07B, Canberra Centre Shopping Centre, Bunda Street, Civic
Ph: 9191 0906
Hours: Sunday-Thursday, 11am-10pm. Friday-Saturday, 11am-11pm.
I have a beard. Not just a little goatee, but a whole, lush beard. If I am honest, sometimes I look a little like a bear.
Before you think that I might have grown it out of a yearning for hipster cred, that’s not the case. It began as a travel beard, a matter of convenience and laziness when hopping from hostel to hostel. When I got home, I decided that, actually, I quite liked it. I liked the ruggedness. I liked not having to shave every morning. And, yes, I did like the somewhat hipster nature of it.
But there is one thing that doesn’t work, a design flaw with the whole masculine facial hair thing. It was one I discovered when my teeth cut through the slight give of tortilla and sliced steak, juices from meat and salsa dripping slowly over my chin, dividing this way and that through my thick brush.
Beards make messy food a lot messier.
Not that I really mind, though. Food that explodes in a bite, that needs a thicket of napkins before you can touch anything again, is glorious. This mess allows you to connect to the food, to have a tactile experience. And more than that, it’s just so much fun.
At the Canberra Centre’s booming new taqueria, Guzman y Gomez, this concept is shown again to be true. Much of the food here will leave you with juices down your chin, shirt, and running down your forearms. Exactly as it should.
A lot of people seem to be excited about GYG, with the sleek yellow and black room buzzing with customers around the clock. And there is a lot to be excited about with this near-authentic Mexican food, if some of it more than others.
At the top of the tree are the quesadillas, the small corn tortillas, folded over filled with meat, cheese and salsa, then grilled in a sandwich press. Toasting it brings out the real nuttiness of the always superior torn tortilla, while the melted cheese brings a touch more seasoning to the “fillings”. They are a delight.
There are seven fillings. Chicken thighs are marinated in Guerrero sauce then grilled, available as mild or spicy. The choice of thigh is a great one, bringing a rich fattiness and stronger flavour than breast could ever have. Guerrero marinade pops up again on some slow roasted beef, while steak is rubbed with hot, smokey chipotle, grilled and sliced. Both are good, though the steak could be sliced more thinly to cut down on toughness.
For lighter but no less flavourful options there is barramundi, sauteed and packed with fishiness. There is also a vegetarian option, with onion, capsicum and mushrooms all fried up together, making a surprisingly meaty combination. All are worthy choices.
However, the pork filling is disappointing. Marinated and slow roasted, I would expect that powerful richness that comes from picked pork, but here it lacked flavour and seasoning. It is a very rare thing that pork would be at the bottom of my list, but this falters while the others roar.
Alongside the joy of the quesadillas are the soft tacos. Again, the flavours are great, but the doubling up of tortillas to keep it all together give it a slightly doughy texture that makes them rank just under the quesadillas. They are still exciting, and again very messy.
To get the real joy of this place it’s best to eat in, watching the golden chicken thighs sizzling on the grill, the spicy latin beats blasting a little loudly through the stereo making you want to dance. There’s always noise and people, the sounds of people having fun. Not to mention, there’s $8.50 frozen margaritas, so who could complain?
Amongst all this excitement is the GYG standard bearer, the burrito. This is what most people order, and what they gave out for free to thousands of people on their launch day. And, honestly, unlikely the rest of the place, they’re just a little dull.
They come wrapped snugly in a flour tortilla, the flavour of which can never match that of the corn. Inside is the same filling and salsa from the other options, but padded out by rice and beans, both of which add blandness. Whereas with the quesadilla each bite gives an avalanche of flavour, here half the time you sink your teeth in and get nothing more than starch. It’s also, incidentally, far too tidy. It is so neatly wrapped that there are no juices running anywhere.
Guzman y Gomez has a lot going for it. For fast food, it’s a lot of fun, a lot of excitement. Just bypass the burritos and pick something else, something that will explode with flavour and juices. There is so much joy in this mess, so let it run down your chin. Whether it’s bearded or not.