★★★★☆ / Mexican

La Chingada review – the converted caff dishing up Mexican gems

Previously a small takeaway, this restaurant has not only moved into larger premises around the corner, but has also upped its game.

Some things truly do get better with age. While numerous restaurants have closed over the past two years, Surrey Quays’ La Chingada has not only managed to survive but has even moved into larger premises. After spending the first 18 months of its life in a glorified takeaway (with a handful of counter perches) on Lower Road, it has since taken root in what was previously a caff on Rotherhithe New Road.

In doing so, the kitchen has gotten noticeably better in knocking out its straightforward menu of tacos and burritos as well as its Sunday specials which change every week. When I abortively visited the original La Chingada back in Feburary 2020, the cooking – while brimming with promise – was clearly shaky and inconsistent.

How things have changed.

La Chingada tacos

All of La Chingada tacos use corn tortillas – thin and soft, yet fluffy and boldly nutty. If you’ve only ever had the half-arsed tacos that – for so long – were the only ones available in London, then they alone will be revelatory enough.

illustrative image of takeaway tortillas from La Chingada
There are a handful of outside tables at La Chingada, although they’re right up against the traffic of Rotherhithe New Road. Alternatively, there are some tables underneath the ventilation unit as well as near the entrance door – which can be propped open for extra ventilation.

As with all tacos, there’s little room on those wee maize flour discs to hide bad fillings. Thankfully, for the most part, La Chingada has plenty to show off. The confit pork of the Carnitas tacos was consistently fatty, meaty and tender across multiple visits. The confit beef of the Suadero tacos managed to upstage them with a succulent heft all its own that was also denser with a touch of woody smoke brought out by a dab of the accompanying sauce on the side. It was easily my favourite of La Chingada’s tacos across my many visits, outshining the similar but less multifaceted steak tacos and their mild beefy tang.

  • illustrative photo of the takeaway carnitas tacos from La Chingada
  • illustrative photo of the carnitas tacos at La Chingada
  • illustrative photo of the pork carnitas tacos at La Chingada
  • illustrative photo of the suadero tacos at La Chingada
  • illustrative photo of the suadero tacos at La Chingada
  • illustrative photo of the suadero tacos at La Chingada Surrey Quays Southwark southeast London
  • illustrative photo of the suadero tacos at La Chingada Southwark
  • illustrative photo of the suadero tacos at La Chingada Surrey Quays
  • illustrative photo of the suadero tacos at La Chingada Rotherhithe New Road
  • illustrative photos of the suadero corn flour tacos at La Chingada
  • illustrative photo of the suadero Mexican tacos at La Chingada
  • illustrative photo of the suadero beef confit tacos at La Chingada
  • illustrative photos of the suadero beef tacos at La Chingada
  • illustrative photo of the suadero fatty beef tacos at La Chingada
  • illustrative photos of the suadero Mexican tacos at La Chingada
  • illustrative photos of the radish-topped suadero tacos at La Chingada
  • illustrative photo of the confit suadero tacos at La Chingada
illustrative photos of the steak tacos at La Chingada
steak tacos at La Chingada

Chorizo tacos were occasionally a touch too oily, but the coarseness and smoky pep of the red-hued sausage never waned. Even so, to get your chorizo fix in taco form, it’s better to order the alambre tacos instead. There, the combination of chopped chorizo, bacon and beef was bound together by curls of milky cheese to meatily moist effect.

illustrative photo of the takeaway chorizo tacos from La Chingada
takeaway chorizo tacos from La Chingada
illustrative photos of the chorizo tacos at La Chingada London
chorizo tacos at La Chingada London
  • illustrative photo of the alhambre tacos at La Chingada
  • illustrative photo of the alhambre tacos at La Chingada
  • illustrative photos of the alhambre tacos at La Chingada Southwark
  • illustrative photo of the alhambre tacos at La Chingada Surrey Quays
  • illustrative photo of the alhambre meat and cheese tacos at La Chingada
  • tacos de alambre at La Chingada
  • illustrative photo of the tacos de alambre at La Chingada London
  • illustrative photo of the alambre meat and cheese tacos at La Chingada
  • illustrative photo of the alambre tacos at La Chingada
  • illustrative photo of the alhambre Mexican tacos at La Chingada
  • illustrative photo of the alhambre tacos at La Chingada Surrey Quays Southwark
  • illustrative photo of the queso alhambre tacos at La Chingada
  • illustrative photo of the alhambre cheese and meat tacos at La Chingada Surrey Quays Southwark London

The only available choice for vegans felt like a cheap afterthought, with mounds of mushroom, onions and guacamole outweighing the headlining cactus. Weak.

illustrative photo of the cactus tacos at La Chingada
cactus tacos at La Chingada

The lone pescatarian option was almost as lacklustre, with limp prawns entombed in squishy batter. It was made far more bearable by the crisp, refreshing coleslaw and a tomato and pineapple relish that was both sweet and bristlingly spicy.

illustrative photo of the prawn tacos at La Chingada
prawn tacos at La Chingada

La Chingada’s kitchen had the greatest trouble in knocking out al pastor tacos. When the kitchen got it right, the ruddy-hued pork was succulent with a balance between sweetness and smokiness, all topped off with acidic pineapple. Sadly though, most of the time, the pork was too fruity sweet with not enough smokiness. On a few occasions, the whole affair was entirely muted. I wasn’t entirely surprised at all this as tacos al pastor can be notoriously difficult to get right and yet I was disappointed nonetheless.

  • illustrative photo of the takeaway pastor tacos from La Chingada
  • illustrative photo of the pastor tacos at La Chingada
  • illustrative photo of the pastor pork tacos at La Chingada
  • illustrative photo of the pastor pork tacos at La Chingada
  • illustrative photo of the pastor shepherd tacos at La Chingada
  • illustrative photo of the pastor maize tacos at La Chingada
  • illustrative photo of the pastor tacos at La Chingada Southwark
  • illustrative photo of the pastor tacos at La Chingada Surrey Quays

Burritos at La Chingada

Burritos are available with some, but not all of the filling options available for the tacos. The best option by far is the chorizo as its smoky pep stands out easily amidst the rice and lettuce. Pork al pastor had a harder time making its presence felt amidst all those extras. If you’re lucky, you’ll get a bit of tahdig-like chewiness to the rice, but it’s more likely to be soft and fluffy – which is of course absolutely fine. While the large wheat flour tortillas can’t hold a candle to the corn tortillas used in the tacos, they were always tightly wrapped with little ensuing spillage.

  • illustrative photo of the chorizo burrito at La Chingada
  • illustrative photo of the chorizo burrito at La Chingada Southwark
illustrative photo of the pastor burrito at La Chingada
pastor burrito at La Chingada

Quesadillas and mollettes at La Chingada

The key to eating La Chingada’s quesadillas is to let them sit for a couple of minutes. This allowed the melted cheese inside the soft folds of the wheat tortillas to congeal slightly. The resulting squidginess helped emphasise the lactic tang and creamy heft of the cheese all the better. Because of that alone, the ‘plain’ cheese quesadilla is perfectly enjoyable in its own right.

It’s certainly not worth bothering with the beef variant, where the only meaningful addition were the onions which added a touch of sharpness and crunch. A far better option is the version packed with chorizo which does what almost every pepperoni pizza promises but never fulfils – the smokiness and mild spicy warmth both sliced through and neatly complimented the creaminess of the cheese.

  • illustrative photo of the takeaway quesadilla from La Chingada
  • illustrative photo of the plain quesadilla at La Chingada
  • illustrative photo of the quesadilla at La Chingada
  • illustrative photo of the cheese quesadilla at La Chingada
  • illustrative photo of the beef quesadilla at La Chingada
  • illustrative photo of the beef quesadilla at La Chingada
  • illustrative photo of the cheese and chorizo quesadilla at La Chingada
  • illustrative photo of the chorizo queso quesadilla at La Chingada
  • illustrative photo of the chorizo quesadilla at La Chingada Surrey Quays
  • illustrative photo of the melted cheese and chorizo quesadilla at La Chingada
  • illustrative photo of the chourico quesadilla at La Chingada
  • illustrative photo of the chorizo quesadilla at La Chingada
  • illustrative photo of the chorizo quesadilla at La Chingada Surrey Quays Southwark
  • illustrative photo of the cheesy chorizo quesadilla at La Chingada
  • illustrative photo of the chorizo cheese quesadilla at La Chingada
  • illustrative photo of the chorizo quesadilla at La Chingada Surrey Quays Southwark southeast London

Reductionists would probably dismiss mollette out-of-hand as something they could make at home. But if they can make bread topped with cheese, onions, tomatoes, chilli and refried beans as well as La Chingada can, then they too would have my loyal custom. The soft, squishy bread stayed out of the way, allowing the toppings to take centre stage. Nutty beans, surprisingly light and milky cheese and a sharp, acidic combination of chilli, onions and tomatoes all melded together into a scoffably moreish whole.

  • illustrative photo of the tomato, cheese, chilli and beans on bread at La Chingada
  • illustrative photo of the mollettes at La Chingada Surrey Quays
  • illustrative photo of the mollettes at La Chingada Rotherhithe New Road
  • illustrative photo of the mollettes at La Chingada London
  • illustrative photo of the mollettes open sandwich at La Chingada
  • illustrative photo of the mollettes at La Chingada
  • illustrative photo of the mollettes at La Chingada Bermondsey
  • illustrative photo of the mollettes at La Chingada Southwark
  • illustrative photo of the mollettes at La Chingada Surrey Quays Southwark
  • illustrative photo of the mollettes topped bread at La Chingada
  • illustrative photo of the mollettes roll at La Chingada

Sunday specials at La Chingada

La Chingada’s Sunday specials can sometimes sell-out early, so it’s worth getting there for lunch on that day rather than dinner. There’s no discernible rhyme or reason as to what they’ll serve up or when a particular dish may reappear, but then the omnivorous joy of surprise is part of the appeal if you ask me.

Prawn soup had its bisque-like moreishness bolstered by a gentle spicy warmth.

illustrative photo of the prawn soup special from La Chingada
prawn soup special from La Chingada

The fried masa base of the sopes was crunchy and nutty, without a drop of stray grease or oil. Topped with delicately milky cheese, a paste of moreish refried beans and punchy chilli sauces, it was in some ways a mirror of the mollettes. An alternative version of the sopes had the addition of chorizo, but the meat’s charms were admittedly lost amidst all the other toppings.

illustrative photo of the sopes Sunday special at La Chingada
sopes Sunday special at La Chingada
illustrative photo of the sopes special at La Chingada
I guess you could think of sopes as a type of tart…
illustrative photo of the chorizo sopes at La Chingada
…but could it be described as a type of pie? *runs for cover*

La Chingada’s take on birria has strands of beef bobbing about in the scarlet-hued soup. Every drop was eminently slurpable with smoky, woody, tangy and – when garnished with the chopped chillies – fiery elements in every spoonful. The accompanying tacos packed those same multifaceted characteristics into dense hunks of beef perched atop the quality corn tortillas I’ve come to expect from La Chingada.

  • illustrative photo of the birria at La Chingada
  • illustrative photo of the birria beef tacos at La Chingada
  • illustrative photo of the birria special at La Chingada
  • illustrative photo of the birria special tacos at La Chingada
  • illustrative photo of the birria soup special at La Chingada
  • illustrative photo of the special birria tacos at La Chingada
  • illustrative photo of the birria beef soup special at La Chingada London
  • illustrative photo of the birria beef tacos special at La Chingada London

It’s almost inappropriate to call La Chingada’s beef and pork stew a stew or a soup, as it had so little liquid. This was by no means a bad thing though, given the hearty, almost obscenely generous helping of ground beef, beans and chopped bacon. Although not as multifaceted as the birria, this protein pile never outstayed its welcome. Not only was there a reasonable level of moreishness, a brief lilt of lime and some chopped coriander and onions helped season each spoonful. Four corn tortillas to the side were on hand for wrap-based guzzling.

illustrative photo of the beef and pork stew special at La Chingada
beef and pork stew special at La Chingada

La Chingada’s maize tortillas stood up well to frying, forming a crunchy, nutty base for fruity, smoky chicken. Although the cheese wasn’t really necessary and there was a bit too much lettuce and sour cream, these were still mighty fine tostadas.

chicken tostada special at La Chingada
chicken tostadas at La Chingada
illustrative photo of the chicken tostadas at La Chingada
The chicken tostadas is the only Sunday special, so far, to have made its way onto the regular everyday menu.

Those chicken tostadas were upstaged by their tuna counterpart, though. Each and every single meaty cube of fish bristled with a citrusy tang and a spicy warmth.

illustrative photo of the tuna ceviched tostadas at La Chingada
tuna ceviche tostadas at La Chingada
illustrative photos of the tuna tostadas at La Chingada
Now this is the tostada I wish they’d add as a permanent fixture to the menu.

Chicken pozole was surprisingly bland. It was far from a total loss though given the gamey chicken and bulgingly yielding corn kernels, as well as the chopped chillies on the side which can be poured in for some much needed punch.

illustrative photo of the chicken and corn soup at La Chingada
chicken pozole at La Chingada

Chilaquiles consists of tortilla chips softened in a frying pan. La Chingada topped them with a little cheese and sour cream, along with the real weight-pullers – moreishly refried beans and either a sprightly, zesty green salsa or a more moreish scarlet-hued sauce. Served alongside it was something just as important – the only example of Yecapixtla-style cecina that I know of in London. The cured, salted and flattened side of grilled beef was tender and succulent with hints of salt and zesty citrus to it. Pairing it with the carby ballast and sprightly salsa of the chilaquiles was an inspired move. Although the cecina was generally quite consistent, it was on occasion substituted with a more familiarly steak-like replacement that had a somewhat plumper consistency and a less pronounced citrus presence. Even then, it was still a fine hunk of beef.

  • illustrative photo of the chilaquiles and steak at La Chingada
  • illustrative photo of the chilaquiles at La Chingada Surrey Quays
  • illustrative photo of the chilaquiles at La Chingada

Tacos made with thinner, larger but still mostly corn-based tortillas served as vessels for a heap of small-grained rice and moist, gamey chicken. A lightly zingy and tangy sauce with a modest spicy heat bound meat and carbs together for a largely pleasing effect. An alternative version replaced the chicken with crunchy, dense and lightly chewy chicharrón-esque pork.

illustrative photo of the chicken rice tacos special at La Chingada
Blurring the taco-burrito distinction.
illustrative photo of the pork and rice tacos special at La Chingada
‘Chicken, pig, what’s the difference?’

That pork variant was enjoyable enough, but it could learn a few lessons from the rice-less pork belly taco special and vice-versa. Here, the pork had a far closer resemblance to chicharróns with crunchy crackling snapping apart to reveal moist meat with a fatty undertow. All this made the tame salsa all the more surprising. That relatively rich pork needed a sharper and brigther sauce – which La Chingada is more than capable of making or procuring – as a counterbalance. Still, these were delectable tacos.

illustrative photo of the chicharrón pork belly tacos special at La Chingada
Tacos de chicharrón

In a field of stiff competition, the finest of La Chingada’s pork taco specials had to be their version of cochinita pibil. Every moist strand of pig had a sour tang and gently fruity sweetness, a flavoursome double-punch that not only outshone almost every other version of this classic taco filling I’ve had in London. It also fulfilled that promise of sweet and sour that no anglicised Chinese takeaway pap has ever come close to achieving.

illustrative photo of the cochinita pibil tacos special at La Chingada
One of many specials that I would love to see as a permanent addition to the regular, everyday menu.

La Chingada’s spicy steak tacos special was so much better than their regular plain steak tacos, that it’s hardly a fair contest. Smooth and tinged with hints of woody smoke and crowned with a thin yet unmistakable trim of fat, the beef was also distinct from its more unctuous relation in the suadero tacos. The optional spicy avocado on the side added a chunky, creamy piquancy that so essential to the proceedings that it wasn’t really optional at all.

illustrative photo of the special steak tacos at La Chingada
The spice of life.

The reasonably crunchy pastry of the empanadas was fine, but ultimately forgettable – much like the drab, grey meat inside. The real star here was the fruity heat of the sauce on the side.

illustrative photo of the empanada special at La Chingada
empanada at La Chingada

While not quite as sumptuous as the versions sometimes available at Santo Remedio, the tamales still had the benefit of fluffy soft steamed masa occasionally tinged with a hint of nuttiness. The version filled with pork was lacking in flair and would’ve made for bland eating without the sprightly sauce on the side – steaming, unsurprisingly, doesn’t really suit pork (or at least it didn’t suit this pork).

The vegetarian version was far better – a mild chilli pepper and a log of cheese, possibly Oaxacan in style, combining the solid heft of halloumi with the creaminess of mozzarella. With or without the sauce, it made for a respectably satisfying tamal.

illustrative photo of the pork tamal at La Chingada
pork tamal at La Chingada
illustrative photo of the cheese tamal special at La Chingada
I’ll never forget the time when one of my dining companions attempted to eat a tamal when it was still in its corn husk wrapper.

Desserts at La Chingada

There only ever seems to be one dessert available at any one time at La Chingada, a tres leches cake, a flan or a mango cheesecake. Although the tres leches wasn’t quite as rich as the best examples of its kind, I still tend to favour it for its moist and tightly-crumbed mass tinged with vanilla.

illustrative photo of the tres leches cake at La Chingada
Tres leches? More like dos leches.

The smooth, soft and squidgy triangles of flan were pleasant enough, but were overly dependent on a boozy tang for flavour. The mango cheesecake had a good foundation in its wispily light and gently creamy layer of set cheese. The biscuit base was too thin and loose-crumbed for my liking though, while there was more mango flavour in the syrup-drizzled whipped cream than there was in the fruit layer itself.

  • illustrative photo of the flan at La Chingada
  • illustrative photo of the flan at La Chingada Southwark
  • illustrative photo of the flan dessert at La Chingada
  • illustrative photo of the flan pudding at La Chingada
  • illustrative photo of the mango cheesecake at La Chingada Southwark
  • illustrative photo of the mango cheesecake at La Chingada

The Verdict

For a restaurant that started out quite shakily, it’s remarkable how consistently delicious the dishes at La Chingada have become – the troughs/dips in the kitchen’s quality really are few and far in between. While many diners at La Chingada seem to favour the burritos, I chalk this mistake up to the hold that the burrito has over the very idea of Mexican food in the UK’s popular imagination – a weird psychocultural landscape that can’t help but pigeonhole ‘ethnic’ cuisines into just a handful of trope-like dishes. When chosen from wisely, the tacos and quesadillas at La Chingada – along with the ever-delightful and ever-varied Sunday specials – offer a meal that’s far more rewarding than any London burrito could ever hope to be.

The only thing holding La Chingada back from snagging Five Stars is the service – incorrect bills, forgotten dishes and general overall sluggishness are the only real blight on what is otherwise one of London’s best Mexican restaurants. La Chingada has so few peers, that it’s almost in a league of its own. Almost.

What to order: Suadero tacos; alambre tacos; plain and chorizo quesadillas; mollettes; the Sunday specials

What to skip: The burritos; possibly the pastor tacos

Name: La Chingada

Address: 12 Rotherhithe New Road, London SE16 2AA

Phone: 020 3972 3243

Web: https://lachingada.co.uk

Opening Hours: Tuesday-Saturday noon-22.00; Sunday noon-21.00. Closed Monday. 

Reservations? not taken.

Average cost for one person including soft drinks and tip: £25-35 approx. (£45 if you push the boat out as I did)

Rating: ★★★★☆

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