Dos Amigos Cantina, Mission Bay

By Nici Wickes

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Address: 93 Tamaki Drive
Phone: (09) 528 7494
Website: dosamigos.co.nz
Cuisine: Mexican
Rating: 6/10

Taquitos at Dos Amigos Cantina, Mission Bay. Photo / Babiche Martens
Taquitos at Dos Amigos Cantina, Mission Bay. Photo / Babiche Martens

Travel memories can be deceptive. Sometimes it's the smallest of moments that leave the biggest impression. A fleeting interaction with a street trader can dwarf even the most giant monument with its poignancy, and a simple street snack can outshine a Michelin star banquet with the intensity of flavour it engraves on to your palate.

I'll never forget the moment when I thought I'd found the best food in the world. My friend Clayton and I were in the middle of a mad Mexican market. We sat on tiny stools, looking at the table littered with empty plates from which we'd just consumed smoky char-grilled meats, velvety slow-cooked beans, stuffed and fried peppers and bowls of fresh red and orange salsa that burned like the Mexican sunset.

All we could do was shake our heads until one of us uttered "this has got to be the best food in the world". We were, quite simply, blown away with the flavours bouncing around our mouths and the freshness of the produce in that wonderful, wild country.

So when I asked him to join me for a trip around the bays to dine at Dos Amigos Cantina in Mission Bay, he didn't hesitate.

The staff at Dos Amigos are just as you'd expect in a cantina and I wish our bill had had the name of whoever looked after us so that I could out him as being fabulous, friendly, energetic and engaging because he was all that and we loved him for it.

He got us started with a complimentary bowl of corn chips and pico de gallo (fresh tomato salsa), a promising start with the zing of red onion and a decent kick from green chilli.

Our guacamole came with plenty of warm corn chips and was a fair concoction - smooth, garlicky and with ample flecks of fresh coriander - but it could have been vastly improved with a big pinch of salt.

The other snack we'd ordered to start - a quesadilla - was marvellous. These "toasted sandwiches" put panini to shame, their thin crisp tortilla envelope filled with soft and melting cheese, refried beans and shredded chicken.

The only spoiler was the sour cream that it, and most of the other dishes we ordered, came with. It's unheard of in Mexico. Instead, freshly-made, crumbly white cheese, queso, is offered up and given it is one of the simplest things to make I can't imagine why a place like Dos Amigos, that is trying so hard to be authentic, is substituting it with sour cream and grated cheddar. They could really score a point for difference if they did.

As we tucked into our main dishes I noticed there were plenty of families enjoying the fun at Dos Amigos. The glass case of live, pre-historic looking lizards was proving a hit with the kids and staff were more than happy to let the little tykes have a hold of the sly looking reptiles. It occurred to me the parents were probably enjoying the good value for money Dos Amigos presents, and the safe seasoning more than we were.

Our mains were perfectly adequate but the flavours weren't loud enough for us. We weren't just looking for cheap chili kicks, merely waiting for our taste buds to start reminiscing of their own accord, perhaps with the high astringent note of a fresh lime, or with the deep and smoky notes of a chipotle, but they never really did.

We ended up slathering on our own flavours from the range of bottled chilli sauces that Dos Amigos makes in-house and these did vastly improve things.

Desserts needed no help whatsoever in the taste department. A mocha flan was sensational - thick, creamy, sweet beyond belief - and a chocolate chili torte, which looked like a boring piece of brownie, had all the bitterness and creeping heat that we were looking for.

Dos Amigos lacks the atmosphere you'd expect from a cantina and there's a meekness shown in the seasoning of the food - both could be easily remedied.

I wanted strings of colourful flags, flamboyant plastic table coverings, gaudy wall hangings, bowls of freshly cut wedges of limes, onions and coriander ... but that's just me.

I did notice a stack of sombrero in the corner and perhaps these come out on a busy night as I've no doubt there could be quite the party atmosphere, but as for my amigo and me, we'll be happy to live off our memories of that Mexican market place for a bit longer.

From the menu: Guacamole $12, Quesadilla $13, Fajitas Carne Asada $25, Taquitos $22, Mocha flan $10, Chocolate Chili Torte $10.

Drinks: Fully licensed.

- NZ Herald

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