It wasn't just the summer rain slicing through the street lights and pelting on the grey asphalt that made me think, for a moment, that I was in New York. It was the people, most of them 20-something, with their lace, their fur, the flowers in their hair, their sequinned skirts and tight-fitting shirts and tattoos, all busting to cram into the tiny bar at Mexico and wait at least half an hour for a table - and this was an ordinary Wednesday at 7pm.
But it's the crowd and the colour at Mexico that make the difference. The beautiful, unflappable waiters in their crazy headbands set the mood. The walls, crammed with Mexicana-style art, from postcards and calendars to the occasional original, keep it up. There's even a room named for Frida Kahlo out the back.
Mexico is divided into two. Bar in front, spilling out to Britomart Place, and restaurant behind. You can book only for tables of 10 or more. We found the best option was to eat in the bar. Certainly we were jammed against a wall, but there was plenty of room to push our chairs back and survey the ever-changing scene.
Finding the food menu was our biggest challenge. It was only when our smiling waiter with the impressive Alice-band pointed it out, that we realised.
There it was, in a small corner of the large drinks menu with its 11 choices of cerveza (beer), 20 tequilas and five versions of margarita.
Possibly because there were only 16 food options and everything was so cheap, we went a little wild with the ordering. The first dish to arrive was the ceviche fish with jalapeno, lime and coriander. The fish had been thoroughly marinated, making it almost "cooked" by the lime juice. Delicious.
Meanwhile my first ever margarita had arrived and I was delighted. All that salt, sugar, lime and alcohol was a delightful surprise. If I hadn't been driving I'd have had several.
The guacamole with corn chips was relatively ordinary while the chilli spiced crispy squid with lime mayo looked blackened, due thankfully to the spices it had been rolled in, rather than overcooking. The squid pieces were smallish, some with a bunch of tiny tentacles intact - extra crunchy and delicious.
But for me the highlight of the night was the pulled pork soft shell taco. At $6 this has to be one of the greatest bargains in Auckland. And so they continued to arrive. Most dishes were accompanied by salsas and sauces and the chef was lavish with the limes, despite them being priced like gold dust in supermarkets.
Only the taco arrachera chipotle-marinated skirt steak with onions and slaw failed to impress. The steak was so tough I was only just able to swallow it, while Brian found it impossibly chilli-hot.
What we needed was something cool and creamy to cool us down and that something was Mexico's dessert special. Named a Catalan, it had been torched, brulee-style, on top, but had a mysterious creamy concoction underneath. The perfect ending to a unpredictable and interesting evening.
Rating out of 10
Our meal: $136.50 for one margarita, two glasses of vino tinto, guacamole and chips to share, three tacos, a dish each of squid, chicken and fish, one quesadilla, two salads and two desserts.
Wine list: There are only three wines available, so this may be your chance to try the terrific tequilas, sangrias, margaritas and cervezas (beers) of Mexico.
Verdict: A low-cost, super-cool addition to the line-up of bars and restaurants and around Britomart. It's open late but arrive early for a table.By Carroll du Chateau Email Carroll