Mexican vs. Chinese: Two Of Rose Street’s Best Eateries

Tucked between the hustle and bustle of the CBD and the Green Point business district is Cape Town’s Rose Street. Coming from the CBD and turning right onto the street you’ll find a short stretch that looks to be occupied by vagrants, illegal car guards, and dodgy apartment buildings. Though this is true, Rose Street is also a culinary hub where two of Cape Town’s most authentic Mexican and Chinese restaurants can be found.

Situated right next door to each other, these two unlikely neighbours will fill your belly with delicious treats from their respective countries. With Beijing Opera catering to the lunch time rush and San Julian to the dinner crowd, lets tuck in and take a look at what makes these two restaurants a culinary delight.

San Julian Taco & Tequila

San Julian Taco & Tequila is owned and run by the Garcia family, who hail from Culiacán, Mexico. It’s really the only place in the Mother City to go when you’ve got a hankering for real Mexican food. The authenticity of the place can be seen in the decor, felt in the atmosphere and, most importantly, tasted in the food.

From the outside, fairy lights line the windows blocking visibility into the restaurant (and vice versa). There are a few tables outside, which doubles as the smoking section. With dimmed lights, an array of old-school Mexican posters, and crosses hanging on the brightly coloured walls, Mexican music blares from a CD player in the corner and a piñata dangles from the ceiling. The decor is a cultural experience on its own.

The menu offers a small-ish but satisfying selection of traditional Mexican dishes including quesedillas, tacos dorados and empanadas. From the list of of three or four appetisers, the guacamole with homemade corn chips is a must. For mains my personal favourite is the enchiladas and fried tacos, both vegetarian (my meat-eating friends ensure me that the meaty options are just as delicious), which have to be washed down with a jug of lime margaritas or a local craft beer. After a very satisfying meal, a glance at the dessert menu could almost be dangerous. Filled with a small variety of sweet treats, adding another course is tempting, but I prefer a shot of tequila to end the evening. The food is authentic, flavoursome and delicious with perfectly sized portions and without fancy decorative plating.

San Julian is a family-run business where every member plays their role to make the restaurant the success it is. The matriarch takes telephonic bookings throughout the day (booking is essential) and runs the front of house. The patriarch and bartender, who definitely knows his way around the bar, makes traditional Mexican margaritas and keeps the huge selection of tequilas flowing. The waiters are mostly family members, with a few non-Mexicans as well. The kitchen is run by the son, who has trained locals to do an excellent job when he’s not around.

The restaurant runs on what seems like organised chaos: the waiters take orders in broken English, while pointing at the menu to double- check that they fully understand and get it right the first time. Waiters are helpful when you ask them for suggestions or request special dietary needs (being a vegetarian this is extremely useful, and I was assured that all meals on the menu can be made into a veggie ones). From the list of of three to four appetiser, the guacamole and homemade corn chips with a jug of lime margarita and some local craft beer to drink, is a must. The service runs like clock work with food arriving when needed, and drinks continuously flowing. 

 Around closing time, the bartender dad often picks up his guitar and will sit outside singing on the sidewalk — a great way to end an amazing evening.

Serving the dinner crowd from 5pm to 11pm, the reasonably priced meals (between R40 and R80) and wide variety of beverages make this Mexican restaurant one of the best in the city.

Beijing Opera

Best known for her hugely successful pair of pop-up restaurants called Beijing Opera (there’s also one in Johannesburg), Yang Zhao has found herself a permanent home on Rose Street. Though various places offer dim sum in Cape Town, there is no other eatery where these little packets of goodness have such a tasty punch.

The newly opened eatery takes an unorthodox approach to the dining experience (well, at least for Cape Town), offering two 15-seater communal tables. This seating arrangement forces one to enjoy a meal with strangers, and often sees first-timers asking for recommendations from those who rattle off their orders without looking at the menu.

The decor is simple, with crisp white walls and pops of red here and there, plus the work of some of Cape Town’s best up-and-coming photographers on display. The open-plan kitchen and dining area allows for a fragrant and warm (in winter) communal-style setting. 

The menu offers a variety of pork, beef, chicken and veggie options at reasonable prices (between R20 and R45). From doughy beef buns, steamed veggie parcels and pork and chive potstickers, the menu has something for everyone. Delicious flavours ooze out of the delicate dim sum served with soya sauce and chilli. If you can’t use chopsticks, you’re eating with your hands. I’d  recommend the potsticker and veggie buns. The menu is constantly changing with new dishes replacing older ones. Once the food is served you’ll quickly realise why Beijing Opera is so popular. With no dessert menu, you can easily spend hours ordering different versions of dim sum and will leave you feel completely full.

(Photo by Beijing Opera)

(Photo by Beijing Opera)

The only drawbacks are the fact there is no liquor licence (corkage is charged at R30 per bottle), but soft drinks teas and Asian juices are served. Also, there are often only one or two waitresses on duty, making the service quite slow (especially if you are hungry).

Despite this, the place does a roaring business. During the lunch time rush, it is often harder to find a seat at Beijing Opera than it is to find parking in the street. And with free wi-fi, you’ll be sure to find regulars doing work while they eat.

Beijing Opera is open from  Tuesday to Friday from 10am to 5pm, Saturday from 10am to 3pm and have a five course set dinner menu on Thursday nights (booking is essential for this).

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