When a progressive coffee shop acquires a derelict kiosk to open a Mexican taqueria, great things surprisingly can happen. The owners of Sumerian have joined the emerging wave of Shanghai’s answer to the globally adored food truck and pulled up the shutters next door on a tiny five-sq. meter kitchen. Every night Dogtown serves Mexican treats to a lively kerbside audience.
Not that Shanghai is new to the taqueria concept. Franck Pecol’s rooftop space and Yongkang Lu’s el Luchador are both turning a brisk taco trade. Dogtown, however, has a certain rough-and-ready appeal, which brings a touch of hectic authenticity to their handful of food offerings and craft beers.
Chef to the petite kitchen is Sam Norris, who was previously at Nobu in London before working in pop-up kitchens in Shanghai. Norris prepares and executes each dish with frenetic precision, turning tortillas with one hand, whipping chipotle with another and marinating sea bass ceviche with a third. It’s hot, thirsty work (to watch) and deserving of a glass of draft Brooklyn Lager (RMB50) at the bar under their cool mist-producing awning.
Dogtown’s dishes adhere to the clean, fresh Californian spectrum of Mexican cuisine. Spears of "frickles" (deep fried peppers, RMB20) dipped in their house-made chipotle mayo (RMB10) enhance the pepper’s delicate texture with a piquant crunch and moreish tang. Similarly addictive is a plate of chicharron (RMB20); these strips of puffed pork scratchings are a guilty pleasure.
The main event, beyond the laid back atmosphere and mellow hip-hop playlist, are Dogtown’s tacos. Served as a pair (RMB45) filled with either pulled pork, sea bass ceviche or fried baja fish, they’re large, messy and delicious. Perhaps they’re not as refined as the ones at Franckito; we were lucky to get more than half their contents into our mouths. Admittedly, that could also be because their sun-brewed Dogtown iced tea spiked with vodka (RMB40) had slipped down a little too well.