Masa, named after the traditional corn dough or flour used to make real tortillas, is Dublin’s newest taqueria. It opened its doors in late July in the space on the corner of Drury Street that was once home to Super Miss Sue. In the kitchen is Shane Gleeson, who comes from a dynasty of quality fast food restaurants; his brother Finn and cousin Tom are the founders and owners of Bunsen Burger, the burger chain dotted around Dublin. Finn and Tom are partners in Masa but Shane is very much the captain of the ship. He’s not only the founder and owner, he’s the chef as well.
Gleeson first fell for tacos while travelling around Mexico. In the three months he was there, he ate tacos every day. “They were so tasty,” he says, “but also so affordable.” He moved to London for a spell and worked in Wahaca, Thomasina Miers’ Mexican fast food chain. When he returned to Dublin in early 2017, he saw a gap in Dublin’s food scene. Apart from El Grito in Temple Bar, he says, he felt Dublin was lacking in tasty, traditional and affordable tacos. So he came up with the concept for Masa and convinced the Bunsen Gleesons to come on board.
Gleeson and his team are working to deliver on their promise and showing signs of doing a great job, once some initial teething problems have been sorted out. When we visit, there is only Corona for the drinkers; it’s a Sunday and they have run out of wine, Pacifico and Sierra Nevada, but that was just a temporary hiccup in the first fortnight of opening. Gleeson is working on extending their license to serve tequila and mescal for extra taqueria authenticity.
The tacos themselves are the real deal, and that’s largely down to the homemade corn tortillas. Gleeson and his team make these from scratch in house using masa flour from Mexico. The chicken taco (€5.95 for two tacos) is exceptionally good – crisp and juicy fried chicken thighs sourced from Manor Farm are topped with a salsa macha, a chipotle and garlic heavy salsa.
The beef barbacoa (€5.45 for two tacos) is a little less successful – the beef chuck sourced from FX Buckley is tender and slow-cooked, and the feta and coriander on top is a nice touch but it’s lacking in a sauce to finish off the flavour profile. What makes Mexican food so special is its multi-dimensional taste profiles; it’s all about the layering of tortilla, meat, chillies and sauce. Gleeson has since taken the barbacoa off the menu because he wasn’t happy with how the juices impacted the corn tortilla, making it break apart. “We are working on improving the menu every day,” he says. “There is always room to do better. We have loads of ideas about how to develop the menu, like adding specials such as ceviche and tuna tostadas. We are just trying to nail this menu first.”
Elsewhere on the menu, the Pork Asador (€4.45 for two tacos) looks really tempting, but they’ve run out on the evening we visit. There’s a fish taco with cod from Wrights of Howth, and a portobello mushroom taco (€4.45 for two) with crema and avocado for the vegetarians.
Service is friendly and attentive, and the food is with us within 15 minutes of our order being placed. The decor, designed by Catherine Crowe and Lucy Rainey at Luca Architecture, is urban greenhouse meets 1980s swimming pool – in a good way. This space is blessed with its wall of windows making it ideal for laid-back hangs and that’s very much the vibe at Masa.
They’re working towards opening for lunch and dinner seven days a week. Despite the teething problems, this is a no brainer for people who love fast food with flavour and authenticity with an extremely reasonable price tag.
Words: Aoife McElwain
Photo: Killian Broderick
43 Stephen Street Lower