El Cocinero: Hidden spot serving wallet-friendly Mexican food at Novena condominium

I love Mexican food but there’s only one problem, it could get a little steep in the expenses department, don’t you agree? My army buddy and I were recently discussing food places to check out, and that’s when he mentioned El Cocinero which is situated in the Novena Regency condominium.

According to him, it’s a hidden eatery serving decent Mexican food at reasonable prices. I’m no Spanish speaker, so I Googled “el cocinero” and it actually means chef— that actually makes perfect sense!

El Cocinero - condo entrance
El Cocinero - condo entrance

When I reached the condo I noticed that there were several eateries facing the main road but El Cocinero was nowhere in sight… that was until I saw a poster of a plate of tacos placed outside one of the entrances.

El Cocinero - restaurant entrance
El Cocinero - restaurant entrance

There it was, right smack at the corner! There were six tables scattered across the corridor (a real quiet one). You could literally hear a pin drop. “How on earth would anyone know of this place?” I thought to myself.

It wasn’t until music from the restaurant lightened the atmosphere from being less awkward— I’m not dining at a library for goodness sake.

El Cocinero - restaurant owner
El Cocinero - restaurant owner

El Cocinero is run by Shi Shi and Stan and they’ve been around since 2018. Stan was previously working in the F&B industry dealing with Mexican cuisine and decided to venture on his own. Shi Shi, who has no prior experience with food, decided to support him and help out at this humble little eatery— how sweet, awwwwww!

What I tried at El Cocinero

El Cocinero - nachos
El Cocinero - nachos

I spotted a few loaded nacho options on the menu but I didn’t want something heavy for a starter. I ordered a bowl of Tortilla Chips (S$2.90), Guacamole (S$4 for regular) and Cooked Green Salsa (S$1) instead.

El Cocinero - nacho dipped in guacamole
El Cocinero - nacho dipped in guacamole

The Tortilla Chips were satisfyingly crispy and warm and paired really well with the creamy Guacamole. The chunks of tomatoes and onions provided an additional depth of texture and flavour to the combination, but I just wished that they were cut a little bit smaller (it was a little too chunky for me).

El Cocinero - nacho dipped in green salsa
El Cocinero - nacho dipped in green salsa

The Cooked Green Salsa is made of tomatillo (green Mexican husk tomato) which was a breath of fresh air as compared to the boring red salsa that we usually see served at other Mexican establishments. It had an acidic tang and kick-started my appetite for the other dishes.

El Cocinero - beef cheek tacos
El Cocinero - beef cheek tacos

I moved on to the Beef Cheek Taco (S$11.80), which had three portions of pulled cheek meat garnished with a sprinkling of diced tomatoes and onions, served with lime wedges.

El Cocinero - beef cheek lime squuezing
El Cocinero - beef cheek lime squuezing

I was pleased that the taco turned out to be a soft version rather than a crispy fried one, which made it less crumbly and neater to eat. Squeezing the lime on the beef cheek made the taste brighter and tart, but I felt that the beef cheek needed a little boost in its seasoning. 

El Cocinero - fish goujons
El Cocinero - fish goujons

We moved on to the Battered Fish Goujons (S$8.50). It came in a plate of six served with an orange creamy dip. The colour on the battered fish was a perfect golden brown and it was wonderfully moist and soft upon biting into it.

El Cocinero - fish dipped in sauce
El Cocinero - fish dipped in sauce
El Cocinero - insides of fish
El Cocinero - insides of fish

The dip tasted like a mayonnaise spiced with chilli and was a great accompanying dip for the fried fish. I’ve had fried fish paired with tartar sauce a countless number of times, and this was a refreshing rendition— thumbs up!

El Cocinero - Chicken Pastor
El Cocinero - Chicken Pastor

The next dish we tried was the Pork Pastor Quesadilla (S$9.50). It came with six decent-sized pieces and the tortilla skin was nicely charred.

El Cocinero - quesadilla filling
El Cocinero - quesadilla filling

The quesadillas were filled with pieces of pork that were marinated with Mexican spices, mozzarella cheese and bits of pineapple. This dish was the heaviest of them all and I’d  recommend sharing it.

The meat was marinated nicely but I felt that the flavours could be slightly stronger. The bits of pineapple provided some sweet touches to the filling.

El Cocinero - ghost pepper
El Cocinero - ghost pepper

My dining partner spotted a bottle of ghost pepper sauce on the table and decided to try it. I remember seeing plenty of videos on YouTube about people describing ghost peppers as being 170 times hotter than Tabasco sauce!

When we both had a go at it, I’m happy to report that it packed a humongous punch to our senses (definitely not one for the faint-hearted)! As spicy as it was, it enhanced the experience of eating the quesadillas for sure.

El Cocinero - dessert
El Cocinero - dessert

We wanted some dessert and proceeded to order the Peach Carlotas (S$3). Even before I opened the cover, I was being judgmental and wasn’t having much expectations from something coming out of a plastic container.

El Cocinero - peach insides
El Cocinero - peach insides

Sorry Shi Shi & Stan, I was totally wrong. As my spoon tucked into the different layers of peach pieces and cookie dough, my face instantly lit up. The cookie dough pieces were buttery and fragrant and the peaches were delightfully sweet. It was definitely the underdog of the meal. My dining partners and I loved it so much, we could have gone for seconds.

Final Thoughts

El Cocinero - overview
El Cocinero - overview

El Cocinero doesn’t have much social media presence and mainly relies on its nearby expatriate residents to recommend them by word of mouth.

Head down to Novena today and give them a try. I’m sure they will win you over with their unpretentious food and good service— without a doubt, I’ll be back!

Expected damage: S$7.50 – S$14 per pax

Other articles you might like:

Cha Cha Cha: Singapore’s oldest authentic Mexican restaurant that’s easy on the wallet and the stomach

Huevos: Spec-taco-ular Mexican food including colourful Nachos, Tacos and Quesadillas

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