Cait and I fell for Mexican food many years ago. We stayed with relatives in southern California on several occasions and upon sampling nearly every Mexican restaurant we came across we decided to have our own wee Mexican road trip.
Our Mexico trip
In 2001 we booked fights to Mexico and then set about planning our route, being a massive country and unsure about transport links and timings we turned to Dougie and Rhoda from Lupe Pintos for help. They had lived in Mexico for a few years and had written a Mexican cook book we used at home. (now 2 books: Hot as Hell and The Half Canned Cooks)
Instead of giving us some broad outlines of what was possible in 3 weeks they invited us around for dinner and mapped out a great route that they believed was possible. Over traditional Mexican food and tequila of course!
Our journey started in Merida, followed by, San Cristabal De Las Casas, onto Oaxaca and many small towns and villages in between. Some had not even made it to the Rough Guide at that stage. These were probably some of the most fun and memorable experiences; seeing a market town in the middle of nowhere function, seeing stalls that had not the smallest inkling of what food safety and hygiene were, witnessing a local fall off a pavement laughing at how tall I am!
Along our way we were robbed from our accommodation, apart from having the experience of how the Mexican police service works and having to ‘denuncio del robo’ this had an added benefit and that was to create more space in our ruck sacks for souvenirs. Each area has it own style of art, from animalitos made by kids to raise a bit of cash to the black pottery of Oaxaca.
When we returned from Mexico we decided that the cuisine was so wide and varied that we would open our own Mexican restaurant. We started writing menus and collecting menus from each Mexican we went too. We finally got the opportunity to buy the rest of the shareholding in Mamma’s and this idea was put in the attic!
Fast forward 13 years, 2 kids, a few wrinkles and the purchase 60 and 64 Grassmarket.
El Toro Loco
We examined many different ideas for number 60 and with the planning consents we decided the only thing possible out of the site was a burrito bar. Caitriona decided on the name, El Toro Loco as she thought I was mad taking on the size of the challenge and the debt. (I’m a Taurean; El Toro Loco is The crazy bull). This then made my brain click into place regarding the décor. We had seen many examples of regional art on our travels and we decided that we didn’t want to go down the route of sombreros and cactus normally associated with Mexicans and wanted to use traditional art that bought back memories from our trip and of course the bull! We also wanted to be different from any other burrito bar design.
I decided first to tile the floor in Mexican coins, this became the most difficult and costly thing to pull off. No banks, currency exchange or other financial institute in the U.K hold Mexican coins. So I went further afield and was unable to get a contact in bank of Mexico. After different recommendations from coin collectors across the U.S. I found a man to help! He had contacts in the Bank of Mexico “who were taken care of” and an order for 36,000 coins was placed. Then we had a problem I did not envisage and that was no courier would transport them as apparently it is illegal to transport currency in circulation. We managed to circumvent this problem and get the coins to Edinburgh at great cost!
We then laid each coin onto masking tape to create coin tiles and laid these tiles into an epoxy resin as it set, we then removed the tape and poured another transparent resin over the top. This has been done a few times until we were able to get it to work properly.
Then to the art work; Oaxaca, was where we had seen the most interesting pieces when we were there. This led me to a Canadian guy in Puerto Valleta who sells locals work in a fair trade scheme. He was able to source everything I asked for. We purchased from him some black pottery (ours now unfortunately long smashed by our kids) beaded bulls skulls, resin beaded human skulls and my favourite a 2mx1m hand made bees wax yarn. The yarn has a beautiful story on the back from the artist in Spanish.
From the art pieces and coins we got a feel for how we wanted the place to look and feel. We have since added more locally sourced pieces. Being a small family run business we feel it is important to stand out from the crowd but also to support small local businesses. We purchased our tequila bottles from Lupe Pintos to make the light fittings and have bought Mexican tiles and Freda Kahlo art and candle holders from Caoba in Stockbridge (fab shop and very helpful!).
Food wise we are limited on space but we slow cook all our meat each morning and make all the beans, salsas and Guacamole fresh on the premises. In addition we have handmade Mexican mousse, Mexican flan, breakfasts and nachos!