Time Out says
The force behind Dulwich Hill's La Tamaleria is bringing rustic Mexican cooking to Redfern – and yes, there are tamales
No travel? No problem. Sydney’s latest foodie destination by Rosa Cienfuegos – who has won fans citywide with her cult Mexican dishes at La Tamaleria in Dulwich Hill – is a bright, vibrant all-day eatery in Redfern called Itacate.
Itacate is an Aztec word, meaning 'takeaway food'. The deli-eatery is all about translating the homeliness and warmth of casual, family diners across Mexico and bringing them into the heart of Redfern. There are busy lines, staff yelling out names for takeaway orders and families squeezing in to eat shared meals. You’ll overhear conversations on nearby tables, see what they’re eating and want to order it, too. Across the far wall sprawls a large mural, paying tribute to Cinefuegos’ background, who was born in Mexico City but grew up in Guerrero (the town’s name means ‘warrior’). It features a depiction of Quetzalcoatl, a mythical deity, as well as jaguars, cactus, and corn as an offering.
Cienfuegos has certainly been busy in 2021. Not only has she just opened Itacate, but she also published Comida Mexicana, her first cookbook. “After the success of the cookbook, I had a lot of people calling me, asking for recipes, tips and tricks about specific dishes from the book,” she says. For Cienfuegos, the whole cookbook experience was more than just another project. “Bringing together different authentic recipes from Mexico and people enjoying it and people trying to cook it – that was the main motivation.”
At Itacate, Rosa and her team will guide you through your food journey, whichever meal you stop in for. Desayuno (breakfast) is a whole lot of fun. The huevos divorciados, translating to divorced eggs, carry emotion just in their name: two fried eggs on a tortilla adorned with salsa verde (green sauce) and roja (red sauce) are served with beans and the tang of salsa verde, which plays well with runny yolk eggs and the sweet, spicy finish of the salsa roja.
In case you're wondering, Cienfuegos’ tamales, which earned her devoted fans at her first eatery, La Tamaleria, also feature on the breakfast menu. Choose from the tamales green, with masa encasing chicken and salsa verde in corn husks, or the tamales rajas, which are stuffed with poblano peppers and cheese and wrapped in a banana leaf.
Lunch and dinner take you on a bus ride down to Mexico City with “comida corrida” (food on the go). Pick from street food favourites and specialties: garnaches are kinds of corn tortillas, like sopes and tlacoyos, which come topped with beans, lettuce, cream and cheese. The vegetarian tlacoyo is a thick blue organic-maize flour tortilla, thicker than the sopes, pressed into a long shape. It comes topped with beans, cream, grated Oaxaca cheese and salad of grilled and dressed cactus, whose preparation renders it soft and almost capsicum-like.
But the standout? Itacate’s chicken mole, a rich, traditional dish with sauce the consistency of thick gravy, and the flavour of dried chillies, chocolate, nuts and spices. You can taste the coffee, the chocolate, the bitter notes with every bite – and with every bite it gets sweeter. Mole can be an acquired taste for some, but to others, it’s the taste of Mexico. “What I really like about my business in general is that I don’t want to make a gourmet mole," says Cienfuegos."I want to show the mole the same way we eat in Mexico.” Eating Cienfuegos’ version, you feel like you could be on a restaurant terrace in Puebla, kerbside with people bustling past and dogs roaming free.
Because of Cienfuegos’ busy schedule, she has passed on her recipes to her staff. For many of them, it was their first time making Mexican staples from scratch. “All the garnachas, like the sopes, the pambazo…. everything is handmade,” she says. “Everyone here is learning how to make it. All the girls in the kitchen are super happy [that] they have a chance to try it for the first time, because in Mexico you do not make it. You just buy it."
Itacate's liquor license is on the way and the Mariachis visit from time to time. For now, this neighbourhood eatery is your temporary trip to southern Mexico. Cienfuegos has created a beautiful place to eat, share stories and discover aspects of Mexican culture through food – and that is what she hopes Itacate can be for her visitors. "Connect yourself with your family, your background, with your roots," she says. "Cook it, feel it, smell it, look at it, and learn.”