We don’t do anything fancy here, just straight up home-cooked Mexican food. But it’s really, really good,” Itacate co-owner Mario Galán says, a wide smile hanging on his lips.
The Mexican chef and interior designer is proud of his heritage – it’s evident in the way he speaks and moves. “I am a Mexican myself, I have sampled Mexican food across the world over the past 30 years and believe me, this is as close to ‘Mexico’ as it gets,” he tells Good Times2 when we pop in to sample some of the dishes on offer.
Itacate may be new in town, having opened its doors just last month, but the “little brother” of Mexicano (on St 288) has garnered quite the attention of Phnom Penh foodies, thanks to the sneaky little “teasers” posted online by co-owner Frenchman Adrien Le Yondre.
Le Yondre, whose wife is a Mexican, was on the prowl for the best Mexican food in Phnom Penh when he stumbled upon Galán’s Mexicano less than two years ago and was immediately impressed by the eatery’s authenticity.
While Le Yondre wanted to emulate Mexicano’s success, Galán was looking for a way to cater to more people since his modest restaurant can only sit 25 guests at a time. The solution? A colourful collaboration between the duo, resulting in a gorgeous little establishment on St 302 today.
Itacate has an Instagram-friendly aesthetic, thanks to the splashes of mismatched, bright colours on the walls which add a little flair to this Mexican joint.
“We made and created everything here, we did not hire any contractors. Mexico is full of colours and the vibe is very joyful. We wanted to recreate that so our customers feel happy when they come,” Galán explains.
“In our culture, itacate means the food that you pack for someone to bring home. When there is a party, for instance, everyone will be bringing some food and at the end of the day there is always too much food left. So we pack some for our guests to take home.”
In this spirit, Itacate strives to offer the crème de la crème of Mexican gastronomy. From the most homely food such as Azteca (spicy Mexican chicken soup with crispy corn tortilla, cheese, sour cream and dried chilli) to authentic street food such as Tacos de Lengua (slowly-steamed beef tongue served with corn tortillas, onion, coriander and avocado sauce) – this place has it all.
There are also 10 kinds of tacos to choose from, including de Costilla (pork ribs slowly cooked with orange and herbs), de Carne Asada (homemade marinated beef), de Pescado (battered fish) and tacos Che-Che (Carne al Pastor on corn tortillas with pineapple).
Touting the line “Mexican food by Mexican hands”, those who prefer the classics will surely enjoy Itacate’s take on the beef or chicken fajitas, burrito, chimichanga and enchiladas – all of which are served with sour cream and guacamole on the side.
Prioritising quality over quantity, Itacate offers only three types of cocktails – margarita (silver tequila, cointreau and lime juice), jarrito (golden tequila, lime juice and grapefruit soda) and its signature creation called mezcalita (mezcal de gusano, agave honey and lime juice).
To spice things up, however, guests can choose the base tequila of their choice from the wide variety available from its tequila bar.
“We want to showcase the Mexican style of drinking so we offer a nice collection of tequila. It is completely up to the customer to pick which kind they want, as they all have different flavour profiles,” Galán explains.
Le Yondre adds, “Just like wine, each house will have different wines that taste completely different. So there is something here for everybody. If you need recommendations, we are more than happy to assist.”
Aside from the tequila bar, the eatery also offers Mexican-esque entertainment in the form of a traditional game known as Lotería. Similar to bingo, players mark spots on a tabla, or board, with a token and attempt to fill it up before all other players. The winner has to shout “lotería” to mark the end of the round.
The eatery is almost always fully booked so reservations are highly encouraged. Located on St 302 in Boeung Keng Kang 1, Itacate is open for lunch between 12pm-2.30pm and 6pm- 10pm for dinner, every day except Monday. Buen provecho!