As I see it
PUBLISHED : Saturday, 06 April, 2013, 2:03am
UPDATED : Saturday, 06 April, 2013, 2:03am

Restaurant review: Socialito

BIO

Born in Hong Kong, Jason is a globe-trotter who spent his entire adult life in Europe, the United States and Canada before settling back in his birthplace to rediscover his roots. He is a full-time lawyer and a freelance writer who raves and rants about Hong Kong and its people. Jason is the bestselling author of HONG KONG State of Mind and No City for Slow Men. Follow him on Twitter @jasonyng.
 

If there is any doubt that the Hong Kong restaurant scene is experiencing a Latin Renaissance, look no further than the new taco joints that are popping up in Central. In the past twelve months, Mr. Taco Truck, Taco Chaca, Chicha, Brickhouse and Socialito opened all within the 100-yard radius of my office. Among the half-dozen newcomers, Socialito – which means a little hangout place in Spanish -- is the more interesting one in terms of concept, décor and food offering.

Socialito sits on the ground floor of The Centrium, where French restaurant Privé used to be. Between the neon signs and the Latin music blasting from the outdoor boom box, the restaurant is hard to miss. At any time of the day on any day of the week (except Sundays when they are closed), you will see hungry souls gobbling down tacos at the open counter like sword swallowers. The taqueria-style store front, reminiscent of a New York City food truck, mops up the spillover crowds from Dragon-I upstairs and Wagyu next door.

Behind the low brow façade is an elegant and dimly-lit dining hall featuring iron gates, mahogany wall paneling and ceramic-tiled floors. The space transports you to an old church in Mexico and doubles as a dance floor at the stroke of midnight. That’s right, there is salsa dancing at Socialito Wednesdays through Saturdays from 12 to 3am. According to the friendly waitress who served me, there is an underground salsa community in Hong Kong itching to shake their bon-bon each night after Cinderella goes home.

Lunch at Socialito will set you back around $300 per person. Bite-sized appetizers like the snapper ceviche and the shredded pork slope are worth a try. But the real winners are their soft-shell tacos made from homemade tortilla. Be sure to try the mushroom tacos stuffed with chopped Portobello in a rich cream sauce. The wagyu beef tacos do not disappoint either. Between my guest and me, we ordered two appetizers, four tacos and a chorizo quesadilla. By the time we finished everything, we were too stuffed for desserts and had to turn down their signature king banana that has scored high points among food critics. We also had taco juice dripping down our forearms. Business lunch-goers beware: Mexican food does not make for graceful eating.

The lunch scene at Socialito is, in a word, dead. We were the only table in the entire dining hall and could hear our own echo. It appears that the fickle lunch crowd in Central does not enjoy hiking all the way up to Wyndham Street for a pricy lunch. But after night falls, the restaurant springs to life and fills up quickly. Dinner tables, I was warned, are booked up weeks in advance. There is no telling whether the Latin fever in Hong Kong is a passing craze and how long it will go on. But for now, Socialito is riding the Mexican wave and is dancing all the way to the bank.

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