There is no mistaking the authentic Mexican feel when you walk into Alvarado’s Mexican Cantina. The bright papel picado hanging from the ceilings, vast array of tequila behind the bar and patterned table linen give it away.
The Stevens Street eatery was once the poster child of the September 2010 earthquake, when its premises on the corner of Manchester and Worcester streets were destroyed. Eleven months later it reopened in a refurbished Stadium Sports Bar, next to Lancaster Park, and, although we dined on a quiet Tuesday evening, I imagine the atmosphere is much livelier on the weekends when it hosts live music and dance sessions.
To start – drinks. Seeing as we were at a Mexican restaurant, I couldn’t look past tequila, so ordered a classic margarita. When my dining partner asked the waitress what beers they had on offer, she encouraged him to try a Mexican one, before confidently rattling off a list of eight from which to choose. He went with the Pacifico and was pleasantly surprised.
The restaurant’s menu is extensive, making it difficult to decide on what to eat. We opted to start with the Jalapeno Poppers – deep-fried, cheese-filled crumbed jalapeno goodness with chipotle dipping sauce. We also ordered the Flautas, complete with a pronunciation lesson from our helpful waitress – well qualified, having come to Christchurch from Mexico. The crispy tortillas were filled with either chicken, or potato and cheese, served with melted cheese on top. An array of hot sauces is available to liven up the dishes, if you dare.
When it came to the mains, there were two pages filled with tantalising options. After hearing the Baja Fish Tacos were popular, they received my vote. The three flour tortillas were filled with deep-fried fish, salad, red cabbage, aioli and chipotle cream with tequila salsa adding a refreshing element. My dining partner ordered the chicken fajitas. The chicken strips, capsicum, mushrooms and onion came out sizzling on a hot plate, with a basket of warm tortillas wrapped in a tea towel, with guacamole, beans and sour cream served on the side. The charm of the fajitas was putting them together to your liking.
After we finished our mains, we weren’t sure we could fit in dessert. I will say, when you plan on dining at Alvarado’s, make sure you go hungry. But our waitress suggested we try the churros, which were smaller and perfect for sharing. You have a choice of chocolate, condensed milk or cajeta, a goat milk caramel sauce, for dipping. We went for chocolate and cajeta – a tasty, and decadent, way to finish our Mexican feast.