When two Liverpool lads fell in love with all things Central American following a road trip, there was only one thing they could do. Set up a restaurant in Liverpool specialising in Mexican street food. Well, we guess there were many things they could do. We’re just glad they settled on this particular path – for in Lucha Libre they’ve given Liverpool – finally – an authentic Mexican restaurant (is Mexican cuisine the most abused in the name of fast food? We’d say it was). One bite of their potato and chorizo quesadillas, or their chicken burritos (or any of their ridiculously cheap and incredible, authentic, fuss-free mains) and you’ll be glad of one thing: whatever happened on that road trip didn’t stay on that road trip.
Opening in 2012 in a handy spot opposite FACT, the bar/cantina is the culmination of another love affair: that of owner/managers Alex Hannah and Dave Roach’s affection for all things Central American. And Mexican in particular.
If you’ve been, you’ll know Lucha Libre dishes up fuss-free, filling and fabulously authentic Mexican street food. The sort you’ll get at any tarpaulin-covered roadside cafe along the road to Guadalajara (or even Tijuana, should your satnav fail you). It’s fresh, zingy, spicy and generous. And it’s a million miles from Chiquitos.
Downstairs, the brick lined cocktail bar, complete with shine-like recesses and snug booths is its civilized subterranean counterpart, serving fine tequilas, Mexican beers and cocktails to an expectant crowd (you’ll wait here with a wooden spoon, should the restaurant be bursting at the seams).
It is, in short, a much welcome addition to the city, to this corner of the Ropewalks, and to any night out in town: whether for a pre-FACT meal, or an extended celebration with friends. But, even if you’re as smitten as we are, you really don’t need to dress up to show Lucha Libre your love. Come as you are.
“The idea began when I was on a tequila tasting trip to Jalisco,” says Alex, who once managed Liverpool’s original Latin stalwart, Alma de Cuba, “We were at a street taco stand in the middle of nowhere. The guy on the stand would make tacos out of anything, and one of the locals brought him a rabbit he’d just shot. He covered in hot sauce and in a fresh warm tortilla by the time the fella had his first beer. It was truly an eye opening experience and more importantly damn good, fresh honest food.”
The boys returned home with a fire in their belly (thankfully not from Montezuma) and began their search for premises. They happened upon a chef ‘crazy Luis Michel’ by chance in a London bar (actually, he was from El Camino’s, London’s buzzing Mexican restaurant on Portobello Road) and ‘got cooking’. At first they peddled their tacos from a van around Liverpool ONE while their premises (the old Above and Below restaurant, gutted by fire) was being fitted out.
“We always wanted to create a place that reflected a more contemporary Mexico than possibly many are aware of. We didn’t want to ram mariachi bands and sombreros down customers’ throats so we kept it simple. We enlisted two local artists to recreate our street scene at the entrance, and we enlisted Luis’ girlfriend back in Guadalajara to take photos of the incredible street art and of the produce at the markets.”
In Lucha Libre it’s clear you’re here for one thing. To eat. This is not a space that’s gone to design hell. It’s a busy, hard-working canteen, with the emphasis on fresh food served fast.
It works well. In Lucha Libre it’s clear you’re here for one thing. To eat. This is not a space that’s gone to design hell. It’s a busy, hard-working canteen, with the emphasis on fresh food served fast. Trust us, the boys have their priorities in all the right order.
Which brings us to the food. But when Lucha Libre gets it right – with plates of sociable snacks, homemade chorizo and marinated belly pork tacos arriving, seemingly at random, to be washed down with a bottle of two of Modelo – you really wouldn’t want to be anywhere else.
“We knew the first the version of the menu would take a little refining,” says Alex, “that’s why the taco van was so useful in getting a little market research before we opened. Our core a la carte menu lets us see what people are going for, and we’ll continually add new specials and try some more contemporary versions of classics,” he says of Lucha Libra’s quixotic blend of tex-mex favourites (quesadilla, burritos, nachos) and curious new combinations. “The main thing we definitely underestimated was people’s need for heat in Liverpool – they’ve gone mad for the hot sauces and the hotter dishes.”
Whatever you plump for, one thing is consistent: Lucha Libre’s convivial, non-judgemental atmosphere is a much welcome breath of fresh air (handy after you’ve been a little too macho with the application of ‘The Hottest Fuckin’ Sauce’) and a well timed shot over the Ropewalks.
So if you’ve not been, we’ll leave the last words to Alex and Dave…
Why should we come? Give us seven words to tempt us.
“Because we care about what we do…”.
Lucha Libre96 Wood Street