It's the weekend, you've had enough of cooking for the week and you're keen to wrap your taste buds around one of the many incredible menus on offer in Auckland. Deciding where to go can be half the battle. Restaurant critic Kim Knight has done the hard work for you. Here are a few suggestions for you to try this weekend.
Mexico reviewed: Tequila-adjacent toasted sandwiches
Almost a decade after the first Mexico opened in Britomart, restaurant reviewer Kim Knight visits the Ponsonby Rd incarnation where everyone gets a taco.
In lockdown, I learned Spanish.
More accurately, I memorised Spanish. For at least 10 minutes every day I logged into the language app Duolingo and practised saying hello, goodbye and you are welcome for the cheese.
The app recorded my "streak". Twenty days. Fifty days. Lockdown passed and I kept going. Ultimately, I would clock up more than six months of continuous lessons, routinely squeaking in just before midnight when Duo - a bossy cartoon owl - would pop up and remind me to modify another verb.
One day, the app crapped out. I stared at the screen in shock. That tiny owlish overlord had wound me back to Day Zero. My streak was over. I never opened the stupid app again.
Now I'm at Mexico and I can't read the (Spanish) writing on the wall. I'm also wondering what it says about my personality that one technical hitch was enough to derail a 190-day habit?
Nicola listens to my rant with careful empathy. "I know what you mean!" she says. "The exact same thing happened to me on that Go Sober app!" I laughed. And then we ordered a jug of sangria.
When the first Mexico opened in 2012, critics reported queues out the door but suggested it was a better place to eat than drink. Almost a decade later and everybody I know is drinking less and eating more - and Mexico is still here for you.
Its newest menu does 10 margaritas, four wine-soaked sangrias and a tequila tasting flight, but the vibe at our table was as much feast as fiesta. Die-hards will be delighted to learn the fried chicken ($16) hasn't changed. Succulent, spicy-but-not-too-spicy, it's one of those dishes that reminds you summer will be back and, meanwhile, order a side of brussels sprouts ($9) because we're all grown-ups now and Mexico (much like adulthood) is both sweet and bitter.
From its Britomart beginnings, the Mexico restaurant empire now extends to 11 locations. We ate at Mexico Ponsonby, where roses and skulls combine with a hot-pink, turquoise and clay-yellow palette to say "tacos" more effectively than any waitperson. Sure it's a cliche but as far as a visual dictum goes, the ubiquitous Mexican fit-out is more interesting than the Italian red-checked tablecloth.
Everybody gets a taco! Priced between $8 and $14, if you can't find one that appeals, you should probably stay home and microwave a pie or something. The fish was tarakihi; the squid and chicken was stuffed with squid. The vegetarian-in-training who couldn't resist the chicken relieved her guilt with chickpeas. Her taco was crunchy with fried legumes, squishy with roasted pumpkin and bright with red pepper. Hearty, delicious fare.
The two-chilli descriptor on my "picante" pulled-pork taco was optimistic. It arrived as a cylindrical wrap and I childishly wanted something foldable, plus I thought there would be more peanuts. If I made this at home, I'd add cheese and sour cream and just call it a Wednesday in suburbia.
Far better in my opinion, was the lamb quesadilla. Crispy and meaty, with little spikes of minty flavour and vege texture, it was the best use of a leek so far this winter and perfect sharing food. We ordered the full-size serve that allowed two generous pieces each ($19). Think tequila-adjacent toasted sandwich for the masses.
Guacamole felt compulsory. While the menu says "traditional", I would describe the accompanying strip of grilled pineapple as "inexplicable". It served little purpose beyond obstructing access to $14 worth of smashed avo. (Nice, but not as nice as owning your own house.)
If you're looking for a second sharing option from the "snacks" menu, try the esquites - corn stripped from the cob that you can spoon into soft tortillas ($10). I know corn is out of season but freezers are not the devil. Embrace the technology and slather those sweet yellow nubs in chipotle butter and a splodge of burnt onion-infused dairy. Yum.
Also yum: Dessert. Chocolate brownie was fudgy and loaded with both icecream and a refreshingly slushy granita ($14); churros were sugary and sweet and the caramel dipping sauce sublime ($13). There was nothing to shock or surprise and almost a decade after opening, that might be the point of Mexico. It manages to feel like somewhere you could bring almost anyone, while still being somewhere you might want to bring almost anyone. Like that tyrannical green owl might say: Todos bienvenidos!
Mexico Ponsonby, 164 Ponsonby Rd, Auckland, ph (09) 280 3919. We spent: $215 for four.
MEXICO PONSONBY DRINKS LIST
With no fewer than 10 margaritas to choose from (bring me a $25 carafe of green apple and jalapeno or a large goblet of strawberry and goblet, stat!) Or perhaps try a triple tequila tasting board, featuring Jose Cuervo, Herradurra and El Jimador, sparkling, red, pink or white sangrias, OR perhaps a cleansing Negra Modelo or Dos Equis Ambar beer ... the saliva glands are going into overload. Although (broken record here) having a zero alcohol beer would be lo mejor. The wine list? Forget about it. It's a simple, six-item selection featuring De Luca prosecco, Duck Hunter sauvignon blanc, Growers Mark pinot gris, Arrogant Frog rosé, Brookfields syrah and Lake Chalice pinot noir. And they're all available by the glass and the bottle. So easy, so simple, so Mexico.
— Yvonne Lorkin
Spoilt for choice....
Plant-based eating is not the ground-breaking deal it used to be and Ponsonby Road's vegan restaurant Khu Khu proves this by favouring fake meat over no meat. It would be indisputably better for the planet if we all ate a little less meat. Yep, I know there are disputers and you should take them to Khu Khu, where I swear they won't even notice they're eating slaughter-free spring rolls.
If vegan food isn't what you're looking for this weekend then the beef tartare from Nook in St Kevin's Arcade might be more up your alley. Nook takes its culinary inspiration from Japan and the food is stupidly good.
Alternatively you take a trip to Greece and sample the cuisine at Ponsonby Road's Daphnes. With surprisingly few Greek restaurants in Auckland Daphnes is busy, but the souvlaki and spanakopita will make you want to camp outside to get a table.
Continuing on the Mediterranean theme, Alma shows us that while Italian is hot, Spanish is hotter. The classy fit-out combined with tables that are actually big enough to cope with a shared plates menu and an unobtrusive soundtrack and this is a great option for a relaxed but special meal with friends.