43 Vivian St
Ph: 802 5637 (no reservations for fewer than five people)
Open Tuesday 4pm til late, Wednesday to Friday 11.30am till late, Saturday & Sunday 10am till late. Closed Mondays.
Price range of mains: $16-$19
Cost: $61 for two
Cocktail list: 5/5
Until now, Wellington's new wave of Mexican restaurateurs have been emphatic about disowning the Americanised Tex-Mex style that went before.
That, after all, is what we got back in the 80s at The Mexican Cantina in Edward St, where an entire kitchen wall was taken up with microwaves.
So I guess it had to happen: Tequila Joe's point of difference is the very fact that it's Tex-Mex – only this time it's a modern, more sophisticated version, incorporating ingredients such as fresh coriander and the smoked chilli known as chipotle.
Their menu offers "classic" American inventions such as Chile Con Queso, which despite the Spanish name, is virtually unknown in Mexico. It's a dip served with corn chips, comprising melted cheese, cream and chilli.
As to exactly what it is that might hook you into Tequila Joe's "addictive blend of Mexican and American cheeses", our waiter would not say: "That's our secret."
My one concern had been that it please not be Velveeta, the American equivalent of Chesdale, which is commonly used by American restaurateurs for Chile Con Queso.
In the event, I fancied it wasn't Velveeta, but it was hard to tell, the dominant flavour being smoked cheese. Let down with plenty of cream and slightly sharpened with chilli, it actually turned out to be one of the nicest things I ate all evening.
This being the kingdom of Tex-Mex, I had to try the nachos. The joke about nachos is that today they are a hot fashion item in Mexico. Why? Because up to about 15 years ago, they were completely unknown in Mexico outside of tourist resorts catering to los Americanos.
Tequila Joe's nachos are not, thank God, as provincial New Zealanders understand the dish. The pinto beans here are probably not, for once, out of a tin, but even if mine were, they'd been tastily transformed by beef, bacon, onion and chillies. The guacamole on top had good lime acidity and a hint of coriander, and it hadn't, for once, been over-blended to a sticky paste in a food processor. But it was Kiwi in the sense that I could barely finish the pile, even with help from my guest, and in so doing banished all thoughts of dessert.
The size – and this, mind, was a "regular" – may explain why the dish is named for a beefy American footballer, Joe Staley.
Tequila Joe's is the successor to the late, lamented Shinobi Sushi Lounge, and the new -out has the vibe, rather, of a macho American sports bar.
A mural depicts a rear-on view of a woman in short shorts, and a series of artworks – modern successors to the Vargas girl school – is displayed on the wall beside the tables and high stools.
There's a big sports screen behind the bar, yet funnily enough, on this, the night when the All Blacks were thrashing France 30-0, it was tuned to a film.
A fairly odd sort of dinner-hour choice, I had to say, while comparing the shade of my Salsa Rocha to the blood spattered down the front of John Travolta's shirt. That's when I realised we were watching Pulp Fiction.
As the film got steadily raunchier, my waitress delivered a glass jar brim full of Sex On The Beach: "Vodka, Peach Schnapps and Sexy Juices."
The figurative "sand" lay as a bed of brown sugar on a plate beneath the jar. Just as well: we wouldn't want any co-mingling with the sexy juices.
ONE THING YOU SHOULD TRY
Margarita on the rocks
This is the original Margarita, made with tequila, lime, sugar and orange liqueur (in this case Triple Sec), which cannot be improved upon.
- The Dominion Post