MY first mistake was thinking, rather arrogantly, that because of things being what they are, I’d be able to book a table 24 hours in advance. Wrong! Not when it’s Tortuga Loca, which has only been open a few months but has swiftly garnered itself a popularity that is entirely justified.
The nice man gently told me if I wanted to book for a weekend, I should do so by the Wednesday. Suitably admonished, I set another date with my fab new friend (this is pointed out because as I told her to her face, a new friend is the last thing I expected) and tried again. Alas, with the table secured, I suffered an affliction and could not go. Back to the drawing board.
Saturday was the day. All the arrangements were in place. Fab Friend was to fetch me, but she called to say her car had broken down and she was on the side of the road waiting for a tow truck. The meal – and hope – flashed momentarily past my eyes but we are nothing if not resourceful and although we were a bit late, we finally made it. I am so glad we did.
The spacious dining area is vibrantly and colourfully decorated, from table tops (which made an excellent background for pics) to walls, and in this instance I’ll forgive the big TV screen (I usually hate them in bars and restaurants) because this one shows surfing. I believe the word is “gnarly” but since it’s not a word I’d usually drop into conversation, pretend I didn’t say it. Tortuga Loca embraces the surf culture of Muizenberg. Even the bathrooms have funky wallpaper. There is a quieter dining area at the front of the restaurant, overlooking the main road, and an even more intimate little lounge area.
The menu is Mexican, with some faithful familiars we all know and love, plus some twists that are more unusual. The most notable of which is jackfruit. A fascinating fruit, a species of tree in the fig, mulberry, and breadfruit family, it can be eaten in numerous ways and here it serves as a worthy substitute for pork (or any meat for that matter). Our waiter responded to my query by bringing us a bit to taste, and we were amazed. It was then that we looked a little closer at the menu and realised (Fab Friend had prior knowledge) there is no red meat.
There is jackfruit, there is chicken, there is fish, and there is vegetarian mince. On top of that, eggs and chicken are free range, the corn chips are organic and non GMO, and gluten-free wraps are available. Owner Georgina Mccloughan says she took into account the general feelings of the community and decided to go this route. To date, only two people have asked “where’s the red meat?”. Frankly, you really won’t miss it here.
The food is unreservedly delicious. The whole first page of the menu is starters, and I’m guessing a selection of these would be great for a table of friends to share. In fact, flip it over and you’ll see the option to order five items on a platter. I checked with the waiter about portion sizes and he said it would be enough for two to share, or one person could have it as a main meal.
We chose taquitos filled with jackfruit; mini soft shell tacos with chicken; red pepper poppers (stuffed with vegetarian mince, cream cheese, coriander and rice, topped with grilled cheddar); hake in lime beer batter; and spicy jalapeño rice balls with coriander aioli. Spoiler: they were not spicy, which was fine for me but Fab Friend asked – and received – a bowl of gloriously vivid red chilli to add wherever she wanted it.
Other starters include spicy black bean soup, chicken wings, corn ribs, quesadillas, a chopped salad, and nachos of course. There’s also ceviche which FF had as her main course and it was pretty sizeable. I was just feeling the burrito and I had no regrets – a soft tortilla crammed with spicy rice, melted cheese, guacamole, cabbage slaw, sour cream salas and coriander, with a filling of your choice. I had chicken.
Tacos, nachos, enchiladas, fajitas, chilli sin carne (if you need to brush up on your Spanish, “sin carne” is “without meat”), fish, taco salad and burgers are all main course options. We weren’t initially in the market for dessert but FF was seduced by the chocolate shot of tequila. This too turned out to be much larger than expected, and she was in raptures about the orange slice with burnt sugar. And there was vanilla ice cream. You’ve got to love the concept of under promising and over delivering.
It took us a while but as the headline says, it was worth the wait. I can’t wait to go back; there is so much more I want to try. Oh! I nearly forgot (*smacks head) – the margaritas. An absolute must with Mexican food. We had classic ones and frozen ones, and my vote goes to the classic lime. I’m a purist like that, although there are mango, strawberry and grenadilla options available too. There are also mojitos made with tequila in a variety of fruity flavours. I think when in doubt, just add tequila.
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PHOTO CREDIT: Bianca Coleman ©