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IMG_2435I was ini­tially puzzled by the buzz among my friends about Mexico’s immin­ent open­ing: they’re not nor­mally the type to get excited by chain res­taur­ants with branches in Taka­puna and Hamilton. Then I saw the menu and under­stood the hype. The dishes looked more innov­at­ive and bet­ter presen­ted than most Mex­ic­an food in Wel­ling­ton. Queues out onto Dix­on Street attested to its appeal.

We waited at the bar, start­ing with a carafe of clas­sic Mar­gar­ita and salsa roja with corn chips. Everything was bey­ond reproach: well bal­anced, fresh and fla­vour­some. Even­tu­ally the perky staff ushered us to our table… I say “our”, but this is shared canteen-style seat­ing. This can be enjoy­ably con­vivi­al, but hard, heavy benches don’t make it com­fort­able to sit or move around.

The menu is short, but packed with enti­cing options that made it hard to choose a rep­res­ent­at­ive selec­tion. Once we did order, it wasn’t long before the dishes star­ted arriv­ing. And they kept on com­ing, in rap­id suc­ces­sion, until a table already groan­ing with cut­lery, sauce bottles and drinks became awk­wardly cluttered.

While not quite the art­ful com­pos­i­tions on their web­site, the dishes were pleas­antly presen­ted, with tacos served open so you can enjoy the com­pos­i­tion before wrap­ping up their soft shells and eat­ing them. Grapes and apple are unusu­al accom­pani­ments for beef skirt, but they provided a lively con­trast. Can­died pepitas and lem­on con­fit prom­ised a sim­il­ar zing in the Pipían chick­en taco, but it was sur­pris­ingly muted. Sliv­ers of radish enlivened the spe­cial roast pork cheek taco, but pob­lano and chilli pica­dillo got lost in the mix.

We looked for­ward to the flautas, but as we worked our way around the strings that tied them up, we couldn’t help noti­cing that the pump­kin was under­cooked and the fen­nel salad was watery and bland. Fried chick­en was crisp, but didn’t live up to the “not to be missed” billing. Bold com­bin­a­tions of red meat and sweet spices were more impress­ive, such as braised coconut brisket in the gorditas, and cin­na­mon braised lamb quesa­d­il­las. The lat­ter came with a rich salsa bor­racha, but with little sign of the advert­ised zuc­chini and mint. The robust fish fla­vours of the pan-fried skate were com­ple­men­ted with a tangy, almost Medi­ter­ranean-style Ver­ac­ruz sauce, though if there was fried orange in the puffed wild rice, or if the olives were truly can­died with ginger, it was impossible to tell.

After wash­ing this down with a quaf­fable san­gria bianco, we tried some dessert. While the churros were a tad doughy, the two oth­er desserts on the menu were much bet­ter. Rhu­barb mousse was deli­cious, des­pite the lack of tan­gible ginger in the ginger jelly, and the car­rot cake was a sur­prise hit: more like a sweet, crisp taco than cake, bril­liantly com­bined with cin­na­mon buñuelo and lem­on-peel ice cream.

What is Mexico’s niche? The ser­vice is too hur­ried for a relaxed meal, but wait­ing for a table rules out a quick grab and go. If it’s inten­ded as a bar, then the food is unusu­ally ambi­tious for ‘cantina’-style rauc­ous­ness. This might rep­res­ent a gen­er­al rais­ing of stand­ards, with adven­tur­ous com­bin­a­tions no longer restric­ted to finer din­ing, but the exe­cu­tion doesn’t match the ambi­tion. The trick might be to order dishes in waves, and linger over a few more tequilas, for a more relaxed experience.



Address: 41 Dix­on Street, Te Aro

Phone: 04 894 6982

Cost: Snacks and tacos $6–8; spe­ci­al­it­ies and quesa­d­il­las $14–16

Open: Daily noon–late

Food: Con­tem­por­ary Mexican

Drink: Tec­ate $9; san­gria $10/glass, $26/carafe[/warning]