El Chino added a dose of colour, quirk and taco-tinted good times to St Georges Road when it opened in 2013.
These days the menu has evolved from the cheap Mexican vibes of its past (don’t stress, that lunchtime taco deal remains) into more experimental tapas and ceviche courtesy of chef Craig Huntley (ex-Dukes Coffee Roasters, The Grace Darling Hotel).
Huntley is big on no waste. Fish are ordered whole, with the good meaty bits used for ceviche, the bones for stock and the skins for crispy crackers. The crackers are used to scoop up the likes of Portland tuna and fresh watermelon ceviche, served with aji rocoto (chilli) sauce, lime and pickled watermelon rind (again, no waste).
The roast Andean squash is cooked over fire and comes with all the stringy bits, seeds and skin still intact. It’s drizzled with a creamy, spicy sauce called Huancaína that leaves your mouth pleasantly tingling.
Fermented beans, pickles and a smattering of kale round out the plentiful vegetarian, vegan and gluten-free options. There are also hearty slow-cooked meats.
To sluice it all down with, dip into the selection of local and imported beer and wine, margaritas and Mexican sodas.
The space is casual and comfortable. The mishmash of vintage furniture feels like you’re dining in someone’s sunroom. The garden out the back is particularly leafy. It’s equipped with fireplaces for when the mercury drops.