El Rapido

A cracking hole in the wall Mexican restaurant. Photo courtesy of El Rapido's facebook page.

Long term Budapest residents will remember when Kazinczy Utca was a slightly dodgy looking, unpaved and dark street, the negotiation of which required a delicate balancing act across potholes and piles of rubble to reach the iconic Szimpla, its neon sign welcoming brave souls through the night to what was then a genuine underground ruin pub rather than a “must see” nightspot that advertises on Ryanair flights. Such days of course are long gone and the revamped Kazinczy is a buzzing hub of Budapest nightlife, posh apartments flanking one side of the street with cafes, bars and eateries along the other. Szimpla of course is still there, standing haughtily among the new kids on the block but the grand old dame of Budapest’s ruin pubs is not the reason for these scribbles. That rather is the aforementioned eateries. And in particular, tacos.

And Burritos. And all things TexMex to be honest. Because amongst the pileup of food trucks and spots on Kazinczy is El Rapido; a little Mexican street food joint small enough that you can easily miss it as you walk up the street. But which to do so would be a travesty.

This joint was doing street food before it became big in Europe. And real street food at that, not the hipster nonsense. Quickly, freshly prepared, wrapped up on a paper tray with a plastic fork and off you go into the night. Or not. If you prefer you can sit in and eat it there, which I recommend you do and not just for the food. Although that’s the obvious place to start.

Behind the grill.

El Rapido does the best tacos and burritos in Budapest, beating Ellátó kert across the line to that title by a whisker. Cooked on an open flat top grill, you can watch and smell the fresh meat, veg and spices being tossed around in front of you and packed into its delicious cornbread wrapping before being topped off with sauces as per your preference. Or just stick with the veggies if that’s your bag. You can keep it mild, give it some kick, or blow your head off if that’s your other bag. It’s fresh, cheesy, filled with spice and flavour and a big difference from normal offerings on the Mexican front in Budapest which can often be somewhat bland. The menu goes beyond Burritos, Tacos, and Quesadillas with Chilli con carne and nachos on the go as well. But I would advise to stick to those previous three as that’s where they specialise.

It’s not fast food. There’s about a 10 minute wait involved while your order is rustled up from scratch. Amazingly this annoys some people who then take to TripAdvisor to complain about waiting times. Staff attitude also seems to get a bad write-up on public forums. What I would say this boils down to is the fact this is an extremely chilled out place with young student staff who will laugh and joke with each other while cooking, will sing and dance to the music and even do the odd shot of tequila to keep their shift ticking along. For me personally, this actually adds to the late night atmosphere of the place and certainly doesn’t detract from the quality. It’s worth remember as well at this point that ultimately we’re talking about a street food joint on a nightlife street serving up Mexican food for around the 1000 HUF (3€) mark which is pretty damn reasonable when you consider how delicious it is.

In any event while waiting for your food, you can take a look around or grab a beer or soft drink from the fridges. El Rapido stocks an impressive selection of imported beers and drinks from around the world, going far beyond what you would expect from your average street food joint, including craft beers and exotic coconut waters hand squeezed by maidens from far-flung islands you’ve never heard of. It also stocks a selection of spices, sauces, jalapeños and pickles, corn chips and other whatnots which you can buy to give your home cooking a kick and which you certainly won’t find in any ABC or corner shop around the city.

So, take a look around you said? But the place only has three tables. It’s tiny! That’s where you’re wrong my friend. Take the metal staircase by the entrance downstairs and El Rapido opens up into a whole new expansive ruin pub world. There’s a bar, a comfy assortment seating, and the usual ruin pub collection of retro bric-à-brac from the Socialist era to have your Hungarian friends collapsing into nostalgia as they recognise various cartoon characters or signage from their childhood.

Being a Mexican joint, one of the first questions should be “So what about the tequila?” Well, “Take your pick!” is El Rapido’s response. 48 different tequilas are on offer, from your standard 700 HUF a shot stuff right up to the real high-end tipples to have you groaning in despair the next day when you realise you spent 3000 HUF on a shot at 3am. So it’s not only about the food. You can drink and be merry in El Rapido as well and if you’re particularly on your game, even commandeer the open laptop connected to YouTube and rule the tunes that keep the place bouncing until such point as you are muscled off the coveted spot by a burly rocker who takes umbrage with your 3am nineties selection and declares that only Tankcsapda will do.

Hidden treasure downstairs.

Tucked right at the back of El Rapido’s ruin pub is even an escape room, offering three different experiences. I must confess that despite once considering giving it a go after several tequilas too many one night in the early hours, I eventually punked out and so cannot review that one personally, although it was certainly one of the first escape rooms to pop up when that particular craze came to the fore and as such is not some hanger-on chancer.

As previously mentioned, you can blink and miss this place as you walk on Kazinczy. But to do so would be to deprive yourself not just of good food but also a trip down into a cracking little ruin pub basement with plenty more to offer than the initial glance through the window suggests and is one of the true gems of the rapidly changing Kazinczy street area.