Large, loud and boisterous – and that’s just the wait staff. No seriously, Big El’s premises in Northbridge in a warehouse-type setting, replete with crazy coloured plastic milk crates suspended from the ceiling and paintings of spooky undead women decorating the walls, was booming and slightly chaotic as the place steadily filled to capacity.
With the mega menu making food choices difficult, our group nonetheless weathered the storm and ordered large. Yes, so large in fact that we had several plates of half-eaten food that were later transported home. Portions are generous here, and you will not leave hungry. The joint filled rapidly on a Friday night amid a feeling of controlled mayhem. I say controlled, because the busy wait staff were totally on the ball, serving drinks at the bar and delivering plate after plate of tapas style food to the rowdy crowd. Surprisingly above the surrounding din, I could converse with my table of eight friends with no problem, unlike some noisy places I’ve visited lately where normal conversation was impossible. A large group attending a 21st birthday celebration was seated in the long room behind us, where they carried on having their own celebration without any impact on the rest of the patrons. What better way to begin a Big El’s Latino fusion feast than with some corn chips and oven roasted garlic and tomato salsa. Best to ease in gently to the big league courses following.
Hearty and well seasoned, the chicken taquitas were mighty sauce-smothered wraps, chock full of chunky chicken pieces and quite delicious. They came with our choice of sauce – the cheesy chilli con queso. I’ve had better cheese sauces, but as the dishes were so rich in themselves, you really didn’t need the sauces to enhance them.
The chicken enchiladas at the other end of the table were also yummy – I managed a sensible taste test, while making sure to leave room for my upcoming orders. They had a definite chilli kick, were sprinkled with tomato and red onion and generously covered with Jack cheese and sauce. If I had my druthers, I’d choose the enchiladas over the taquitas – a bit more chilli kick and just a bit more flavourful. Are you beginning to see how easy it is to fill up quickly here?
My favourite dish of the evening was the Coastal Baja fish tacos which you assemble yourself. Pieces of chunky, fresh, marinated fish arrived accompanied by fresh coriander, salad and soft wraps. Sadly I could only manage one, as I had to leave room for the chimichanga dessert.
Big El’s does nothing in small doses, and the desserts are no exception. Their Chimichangas are a heart-stopping experience made with your choice of favourite chocolate bar – Bounty, Mars, Kit Kat, Cherry Ripe, Crunchie, Boost – encased in a wrapper and deep fried. Ice-cream and caramel sauce popcorn seal the deal. Hubba bubba. Death by fat/carbs/kilojoules.
I don’t know that I’d rush back to try this again – all of this fat on top of an already massive dinner – well, it was overdoing it just a tad. And the caramel sauce with the popcorn had a seriously weird taste – all four Chimichanga eaters concurred on that point – something chemical and not quite right.
One of our group couldn’t resist the idea of deep fried Tequila shots with lemon sorbet. The Tequila shots were light and fluffy and you could really taste the Tequila. I taste tested of course. We thought this would have been better with ice-cream, rather than sorbet, and although my friend asked for this, they wouldn’t accommodate her request. Seemed a bit pedantic, seeing ice-cream was served with other desserts.
As you would expect here, Tequila features heavily on the drinks menu, along with several varieties of margaritas and a wide range of cocktails. Wine choices are very limited; only four by the glass. Big El’s was quite an experience – not the place for a quiet, romantic date, but definitely the place for a group that wants to share food, settle in for the night, and have a rollicking, noisy good time.