On Wednesday evening, Plus One and I joined friends in heading to Wellington's eastern suburbs to check out the first public screening of a locally made Western movie, Good For Nothing (it's great - go see it). With an hour to kill before showtime, and a hunger for something delicious, we dropped into La Boca Loca on Park Road.
I love Mexican food. I genuinely think it is one of my absolute favourite international cuisines - fresh, vibrant flavours, lime, chilli, coriander.
In fact, one of the first things I wrote upon commencing this blog last year was a piece about my love of Mexican food, having actually visited Mexico the previous year.
I made no bones about my fondness for Viva Mexico, the Taco Shop that had relocated from my beloved Wakefield St Markets to the Left Bank, which made the best Mexican food I had eaten outside of Mexico.
I also expressed my thought that the best food I ate in Mexico was at both ends of the spectrum - eateries whose prices would have been comparable to the top end places here, and dirt cheap streetside taco shacks that really have nothing comparable here in NZ. The mid-priced stuff - pretty shabby.
I'd heard mixed reports about La Boca Loca - some had raved, while others found the servings a little modest and the prices a little high, while another had damned it with the epithet "pub Mexican". Ouch!
It was really going to have to deliver - by eating there I had passed up an opportunity to eat in one of my other favourite Miramar eateries, The Larder or Café Polo (you Miramar-ians really do have it pretty good!).
Time for me to find out for myself.
Firstly - the décor. It's quite a bit bigger, flasher and more tasteful than I had expected (see picture below).
For some reason in my mind I had fused the idea of colourful plastic seats, chipped Formica and mismatched cutlery, and, um, it's not really like that at all. It has a lively, vibrant, casual feel, the staff all seem chipper and friendly, and it's a good deal more polished than I was expecting. I am also impressed that they use free range chicken and pork, which I always think bespeaks a commitment to making food that tastes better because it is better.
We order some corn chips and guacamole to share - to whet my magnificent, overachieving appetite, if you will - and an excellent Mexican beer called Bohemia, a fine pilsner-styled drop, that arrives with a lime wedge in the neck.
So far, so good. Even P1, not so much of a fan of the guac, has to concede that it is pretty delicious - lemony and with plenty of fresh coriander.
Ordering is a very speedy process for me when I spy the words "soft taco" and "roasted pork shoulder" - combined as tacos de puerco.
Our fellow diners (unfathomably to me when there is roasted pork on offer) go for enchiladas de pollo. Sheesh - each to their own.
P1 goes for one of the specials of the day, a piece of chicken leg and thigh in a mole (chilli and chocolate) sauce.
(I recalled the last time I ate a mole - a place called Tepotzlan, south of Mexico City, in a little family run restaurant.It was literally bursting with flavour - the sauce was thick, rich, dark, chocolatey, bursting with spices. It also came at the end of a day we had spent climbing a mountain, lungs bursting, coughing and spluttering whilst we were overtaken, repeatedly, by a man running up and down carrying dozens of two litre bottles of water to the top, and by women in cheap plastic sandals carrying toddlers in their arms. It was a humbling experience, which probably made the food seem more, I don't know, intense? Anyway...)
When the food arrives, in timely fashion and looking good, I shape to sprinkle a dash of luridly green habanero sauce onto my pork tacos (say it now, Simon Gault voice: "Fish tacos! CHICKEN tacos! PORK TACOS!!!") and out comes a thick stream of fiery sauce.
Oops! I do my best to scoop out and share around the surfeit of sauce, but the damage has been done. I brace myself for chilli wipeout.
But, you know what? No wipeout.
The sauce is less fiery than I might have imagined, and I have inadvertently applied the exact right amount to my food. The pork tastes subtly spicy (maybe a little cinnamon?), the pineapple salsa is zingy, the rice and beans savoury and hearty, and the greens (see pic) actually turn out to be peppery watercress, which seems weird, but tastes great in context.
In fact, it all tastes pretty good. Everything is fresh, and simply and lovingly prepared. The soft corn tacos are perfect.
Our dining guests are similarly chuffed with their enchiladas.
P1 is a just a little underwhelmed by the mole, but it could be she is comparing it to that which we had after scaling the Mexican Everest (and being smalled out by tiny women in plastic shoes). Have some more chilli sauce...
No time for dessert - we've got a Western to go see!
La Boca Loca - I liked it.
I suspect they are slightly toning down the more vibrant/extreme side of Mexican flavours to cater to the milder Kiwi tastes.
But if I can find a way of expressing that I want the food as authentic/spicy as possible (without sounding like an arch tosser), I think all the component parts are there for it to be exceptional.
Have you eaten at La Boca Loca? Your verdict? Where is your favourite Mexican food in NZ? Or have you too been to Mexico? Anyone else climbed the 'mountain of death' in Tepotzlan?
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