Birthdays have always been a little strange for me; being born in December really does have it's pros and cons! The best thing is seeming "younger" for longer; most of my friends growing up have earlier birthdays in the year and sometimes it honestly felt like I was a certain age forever. The only con was having a birthday so close to Christmas - I rarely had parties at all; in fact, I spent a lot of birthdays on flying alone airplanes (which definitely wasn't a bad thing!) There were some years where I would forget all together or spend my birthday overseas, away from family and friends. Keeping things simple suits me just fine but I was glad to celebrate a little in Perth before going home to Singapore; I had met some absolutely amazing people last year and the best way to celebrate that was to enjoy a great meal together.
I think we're lucky to have a Mexican joint in Perth like el Publico; it can get crazy busy during service but I always feel like the staff go out of their way to make you comfortable and ensure that a good selection of food is present on the table. The food itself has been impressive on many occasions; even when I'm dining with 10+ other people, I find it to be a reliable place that I can always have a great time in. It was the perfect place to have a preliminary birthday dinner with my housemates before we all travelled our separate ways for Christmas.
It's hard to say no to starting a meal at el Publico with drinks from their extensive bar selection; I especially find their cocktails to be superbly crafted and they often feature very interesting flavour combinations. There's also have a crowd pleasing list of beer, wine and "home brewed softies" for our dear designated drivers.
There's just something extremely satisfying about slicking the half moon tortilla chips over both the guacamole and tomato salsa - especially since el Publico's guacamole is so exceptional. There's plenty of street prawns to go around and if you're familiar with South East Asian flavours; this is quite similar to dried heh bee. Raining some lime over the crispy mound adds some much needed freshness to the full flavoured prawns. Most of the table really enjoyed this; it was so popular amongst my housemates that we ended up ordering two servings, but as a non heh bee fan, I found it to be too pungent for my liking.
Nobody even raised an eyebrow when I insisted on crickets at the table and at el Publico, they're about as real as real crickets can get. As most regular readers will know, I have a very inclusive nose-to-tail, "I'll eat anything once" policy when it comes to food and whilst it was my first time having crickets, I can confirm that it won't be my last. Each serving will get you about 25-30 crickets and it's definitely a fun thing to share. Deep fried crickets taste a bit like crunchy prawns and the texture is almost exactly like eating popcorn. I was really excited when I heard that Chef Sam Ward had put these on the menu and I strongly recommend the squeamish to close their eyes and have a go anyway!
Both the Street Corn and the Ceviche have been my long standing favourites largely due to how simplistic and extremely flavoursome they are. The corn is caramelised and charred, which turns satisfyingly creamy when stirred in with the queso cheese; personally, this starter's my favourite!
The ceviche is a beautiful myriad of textures, featuring fresh and firm fish, which goes great with cubes of zesty avocado and the crunchy slithers of radish and onion. Due to it's portion size, the ceviche is hard to share between more than two people, so I highly recommend ordering more than one when you're in a group.
Tacos are sold by the serve and always manage to steal the show; so much flavour gets packed onto these soft, house made tortillas that it's impossible not to get hooked. The beef tongue is meaty and yet melts in your mouth, just as the fresh salsa starts to kick in. I also loved how the vegetarian taco was approached differently, beyond the standard frijoles refritos filling; the potato matchsticks were perfectly seasoned and gave the taco such a great crunchy texture.
Whenever I'm with more than 6 people, we always include something from the big plate section; the dishes tend to be a main course sized plate which would also be perfect for sharing amongst a group. The use of Oaxacan Chocolate; Mexican cooking chocolate and Piloncilo; Mexican brown sugar was an ingenious way to add sweetness to the Pork Belly beyond the usual suspects like apple and pineapple. The crispy skin shelled the fatty, tender meat, which wilted away with every bite - all in all, a perfect pork belly dish.
I recommend coming in on a Monday night for their $20 Taco Special, which consists of my two favourite things on the menu - a selection of 3 tacos and a jar of street corn, with a drink of your choice from the house list. The allowances for reservations are limited to a 6:30PM sitting or an 8:30PM sitting for parties of 6 or more - during this time, it can be hard to flag staff down to take orders, but as I mentioned before; they're super attentive once they get to you. For example, despite every single table being filled that night, our waitress actually sat down next to me to discuss the entire menu and took those extra few minutes to help pick out a great selection of dishes for our fussy and allergy hindered party of 7. For many reasons, El Publico remains as one of my favourite places along Beaufort Street and clearly, I'm not the only one; there's always a lively vibe, which I find addictive and even when they're busy...the food is always worth waiting for!
Price: $$$ | $30-$50 per person
Contact: +61 4 18 187 708
Address: 511 Beaufort St, Highgate
Monday - Friday, from 5:00PM - 12:00AM
Saturday, from 4:00PM - 12:00AM
Sunday, from 4:00PM - 10:00PM
See the menu here.