While it’s wonderful that so many good new Mexican restaurants are popping up in Wellington, one can tire of the more-authentic-than-thou attitudes: “Our food is REAL Mexican! None of that Tex-Mex rubbish here.” It’s thus refreshing to see a place offering unabashed Mexican-American food as a cuisine in its own right. And with a name like Tequila Joe’s, you’d expect the emphasis to be on unpretentious hearty fun rather than being muy auténtico.
Tequila Joe’s calls itself a bar, and the combination of bar stools (no comfy seats here) and a TV behind the bartender confirms that. However, it feels more muted and respectable than the Americana dive bars that they seem to be emulating – more like a café or small restaurant – and the comprehensive menu reinforces that impression. We were in the mood for a bar, though, so we went straight for the cocktails.
Their speciality is margarita on the rocks, which was pleasant if not outstanding, though impressive value at $10. These were served in jam jars, an affectation that is making a rapid transition from cute to twee to tired, but neither I nor my tequila-mad companion were complaining. As a former resident of Austin, Texas, she was eagerly anticipating the rich flavours promised by the menu.
Up to a point, the reality delivered. The corn chips were excellent, crisp and piping, straight from the hot oil, and flavoursome enough to eat on their own. Queso fundido was a gratifyingly gooey concoction of cheese and minced chorizo, and the jalapeño poppers were dangerously tasty (dangerous mostly because the molten interior had the same thermal properties as napalm).
Of the more substantial dishes, only the mango and feta taco impressed. The “Yucatan pork” in the Mission burrito was far from succulent, served in a tough, tepid tortilla. The marinated steak in the carne asada was better, but the accompanying black beans were the blandest either of us had ever tried. There was no trace of the promised jalapeño with the beans, nor indeed of anything resembling flavour. The guacamole was thin and lifeless, tasting more of lime than avocado. We hoped for better things from the desserts, but the churros were stodgy and the Mexican hot chocolate lacked chocolate flavour beneath the cream.
It was disappointing, since we so wanted to like it. Any place that shows Pulp Fiction and Scarface (silently, thank God), has pin-up art on the walls and serves good, cheap cocktails has our attention immediately. But the atmosphere at Tequila Joe’s doesn’t quite gel, and the more ambitious the food got, the less it delivered. Treat it as the bar it wants to be, get raucously drunk (I mean, responsibly not-quite-intoxicated) and stick to the cheesier bar snacks: then you’ll have a good time.[warning]
Address: 43 Vivian Street, Te Aro
Phone: 04 802 5637
Cost: Appetisers $6–$19.50; larger plates $15.50–$19.50
Open: Tue 4pm–late, Wed–Fri 11.30am–late, Sat–Sun 10am–late
Drink: Dos Equis XX $9.50; Rojo Garnacha $9/glass, $39/bottle
Of all the places to find good French food, down the back of a rickety Newtown mall named after a ‘corpse gate’ seems about as unlikely as you could get. But that’s the unprepossessing setting for French Cancan, and word of mouth about its superb patisserie selection has been enough to lure people off the street. As well as delicate treats such as millefeuille and peach and pistachio brioche, you can have more quotidian French fare such as a heart-stoppingly oozy croque madame with a bottle of Orangina. It’s worth a detour, or even a special trip to Newtown just to indulge.
Address: Shop 6, Lychgate Centre, 100 Riddiford Street, Newtown
Phone: 022 693 9837
Open: Tue–Sat 8am–5pm[/info]