Dining Review | Antojitos | Daniel Honan

It’s been more than a few months since Antojitos decamped from their hole-in-the-wall (with bonus  backyard) in Carrington, to Steel Street, wedged between Hunter and King streets, Newcastle West.

“We think this is the place to be,” Eric Flores says. Flores is the owner and instigator of Antojitos, aka ‘little cravings’.

“We had a lot of interesting comments from people about us moving here, especially since there’s a Dominos on one side and a brothel on the other.”

Sure, but people know they don’t actually have to enter the brothel (or Dominos for that matter) to eat at Antojtos, right? You’re not running any type of special deal, are you?

“No, that’s it … Once you walk through our doors, it’s like, this place is its own little world,” Flores says. “There’s definitely some interesting people that walk by every now and then, but, to be honest, I think it just adds to the culture.”

Newcastle West’s foodie culture continues to get upgraded. In particular, the Hunter Street strip that defines this part of ‘Newy-brah’ is awash with some of coolest joints in town… Bao Brothers, Papa’s Bagel Bar, The Family Hotel, The Happy Wombat and Subo. It’s Midtown, man, and it rocks.

“People were definitely fond of our place in Carrington, it had a great vibe and energy, especially on weekends when people would spill out onto the streets and just chill there for a while,” Flores says. “We haven’t tried to duplicate that here, but we did want to carry over that same philosophy of good food and casual service, but just in a bigger setting.”

The Steel Street set-up is a cross between Chicano culture and a re-purposed Asian grocer, via the set from some 90s movie shot in the warehouse district of Watsonville, CA. Super spacious, industrial, street-life. Hidden behind three spray-painted roller-doors you’ll find an immobile Kombi and a sprawl of eclectic furniture spread over what looks to be the building’s original orange floor tiles. The kitchen is set within the old cool room from when the building was an Asian grocer. It’s been chopped and channelled like Flores’ VW Beetle (usually parked out front) and redesigned as the Antojitos kitchen, complete with a commercial tortilla machine imported from Mexico.

“Now, we can make our tortillas thinner and as fresh as possible,” Flores says. “It also allows us to keep up with demand.”

The kitchen also has the capacity to cut the tortillas smaller and deep fry them into corn chips, which make for a dangerous grazing snack between dishes.

“The corn chips are like our version of good hand-cut French fries from a really good burger shop. We want them to be hot, well salted and really crispy.”

They are. Just don’t fill up on them, because the quesadillas are coming...

The food menu is very similar to Antojitos’ old Carrington hang out. There’s tacos ($6) and mulitas ($12), burritos ($16.5) and nachos ($16.5) each packed with your choice of either crispy braised pork (carnitas), braised beef (suadero), grilled chicken (pollo) or battered fish (pescado). Variations on a vegetarian/vegan theme are also available – featuring sweet, grilled capsicum, potato and spinach. Yum.

The fish tacos are the move. A lump of crispy battered fish surrounded by crunchy shredded cabbage, a dollop of avocado and a slash of crema piled into a soft folding taco that can barely contain the freshness. Likewise, the braised beef quesadilla, especially when loaded with a liberal dollop of Tapatío and Valentina hot sauce to make it a provocatively crispy, crunchy combination of beefy cheese piquant-ness. Serve with a basket of hot and crunchy corn chips and a couple of tins of Tecate beer – or, maybe a margarita or michelada cocktail.

“We’ve added a short list of cocktails to our menu,” Flores says. “Michelada are like Mexican versions of a Bloody Mary, and we’ve got palomas too, which are actually a more common cocktail in Mexico than margaritas.”

Notwithstanding the liquour license and bordello next door, the family-friendly neighbourhood vibe continues on Steel Street, especially when live music fills the air.

“We want everyone to feel welcome, like everybody’s family when they eat here,” Flores says.

QUICK BITE

  • What: Antojitos
  • Where: Steel St, Newcastle West
  • Owner: Eric Flores
  • Drinks: Tap and bottled beer, wine, margaritas, Jarritos soft drinks, etc.
  • Hours: Tues-Sat; 11am-9pm
  • Vegetarian: Yes
  • Bottom Line: $70 for two (incl. drinks)
  • Do Try: Pescado (fish taco), Mandarin Jarritos