La Masa Taco Bar, Glasgow

New Mexican street food spot La Masa brings a splash of colour to central Glasgow

Feature by Peter Simpson | 05 Apr 2024
  • La Masa Taco Bar's Tostada

Food runs in cycles, trends are fickle beasts, time is a flat circle – these sentence fragments are rushing through our heads as we stomp through central Glasgow in a light state of déjà vu. When we popped into Scamp on Renfield Street around two years ago, we were the only folk in the restaurant on a Sunday lunchtime. Now we're back to that same Renfield Street unit for La Masa, and the place is hoaching at 4.30 and booked up all evening. That’s not the only change – there’s more colour and a bit more fun to the place in its new guise. It’s only been open a few weeks but La Masa already feels like a well-worn, cool place to be; it’s incredible what painting two walls and filling the place with hungry Glaswegians can do for the vibe.

So the vibe is sorted, and these folk also seem to have a ready-made plan for culinary success. The strategy: ‘liberally apply tajin – the spicy, citrusy, salty Mexican seasoning – to anything leaving the kitchen’. Friends, we think they might be onto a winner. The queso dip (£4) boasts a big flash of red flakes down the centre, perking up an already lively dip. The fresh tortilla chips have also been tossed in tajin, giving them a spicy, salty lift. The sea bass ceviche tostada (£4) is fresh, zingy, and as it’s a tostada it has a catastrophic level of crunch that leads to us losing several bits of fish overboard. It is also flecked with – say it with us – tajin!

Staying in the sea, the fish taco (£4) is an absolute unit. It’s a deceptively simple construction, with a smear of crema (yes there's tajin in there too), some delicious pickled onions and a piece of juicy, crunchy battered fish the size of a small torch. That simplicity is what keeps your jeans unsullied and your tortillas from falling to bits. It was the same story at Paz in Edinburgh a few months back, time is a flat circle, etc etc.

Photo of a plate of pork belly, against a tiled floor.
Tajin pork belly at La Masa. Image: voom

Next up are two folded, cheese-filled tacos, brought at the same time as if to make comparison completely unavoidable. In the vegetarian corner, an earthy blue corn quesadilla (£3.50) filled with stringy, oozy Oaxaca cheese and a very spicy salsa negra. It’s good, but it is a tiddler of a quesadilla, and it’s worth pointing out that there are a couple of headscratchers on the price list, not least the birria taco (£4.50). Birria – a slow-cooked beef taco, melted cheese in the middle, served with a beef consommé on the side – is a meaty, unctuous taqueria classic. You’d think this would be a pricey lad what with the meat and all, so why is this the only taco that comes as a duo? Obviously we’re not annoyed, but we are confused. Is there… something… wrong with it?

Good news: it’s fine. The meat is tender, the construction is excellent, but there’s something missing, something to cut through the fat and the cheese and all that red meat. Ironically, if they whacked a big load of tajin on this we’d be laughing. Maybe they can take some cues from the street corn. It’s a single cob (£6, he said, scratching a hole in his cranium) cut into thirds for undisputable convenience, immediately undermined by smothering the entire thing in cheese and homemade salsa. It is delicious, its form allows you to eat your corn with some semblance of dignity, there is no way that this is worth one-and-a-half-times that fish taco from 20 minutes ago.

Our grand finale comes from the barbacoa side of the menu, all big chunks of smoked and grilled meat, but the tajin pork belly (£9) looks a little bit like a dessert pulled from the lucid dreams of a meat-obsessed sculptor. Two hefty slabs of juicy pork, tajin crema draped across the top, and little flecks of puffed pork skin that really, really look like Rice Krispies. It’s so rich that bringing it at the end of the meal seems like some kind of attack, but then again it is delicious. Juicy, spicy, savoury, grab a big chunk in a tortilla and go, quite literally, hog wild.

The drinks are great (shout out to a nicely-balanced and surprisingly fruity mezcal negroni), the staff are lovely, the place is bouncing; all signs point to La Masa as an excellent new addition to Glasgow’s food scene. As long as they keep that tajin flowing, we can’t see that changing any time soon.

26A Renfield St, Glasgow G2 1LU, Tue, 5pm - midnight; Wed-Sat, midday-midnight