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photoWhile 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.



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

Food: Mex­ic­an-Amer­ic­an

Drink: Dos Equis XX $9.50; Rojo Gar­nacha $9/glass, $39/bottle





Septem­ber Café

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



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