If I had to say one thing about Wellington’s hospitality industry, it would be that this windy city is not short on highly-commended eateries. With reportedly more restaurants and cafés per capita than New York, it takes something special to stand out in the crowd. In saying that, let me introduce you to Los Banditos – a vibrant Mexican-inspired restaurant.
Located on Blair street, off the ever-humming Courtney Place, it’s hard to miss. Everything from the one-of-a-kind table – handmade using tiles from Mexico – to the colourful larger-than-life murals, creates a unique light-hearted dining experience.
Luckily my friend and I had decided an early afternoon meal was on the cards, missing the lunch rush completely. The restaurant manager (whose name eludes me) happily boasted how in the weeks since opening, they’d become busier and busier.
The menu was extensive, and everything was worthy of an order. So, we decided to let Los Banditos take charge. When it comes to customer service, I find nothing more impressive than staff who are well-trained, regarding the food they’re putting on the table. Whatever Los Banditos are doing, they’re doing it right.
Now, if I told you about everything we tried, you’d be here all day. So, I’m just going to divulge the highlights – starting with the guacamole. Served alongside homemade tortilla chips, beetroot powder and topped with pickled red onions and an edible flower, it was as pretty as a picture. The perfectly-salted chips provided the necessary crunch to complement the creaminess of the avocado.
Then there was the cooked sheep’s cheese, sprinkled with black sesame seeds, doused in Ouzo and set on fire. Much to my pleasure, the theatrics didn’t overwhelm the flavours. The nutty, molten cheese was eaten with the homemade beetroot tortilla wraps. It was unlike anything I’d ever tried before, and I’ve been dreaming about it ever since.
A special mention goes to the vegan quinoa salad, for being so much more than a bowl of leafy greens. A stack of butternut and quinoa was topped with charred broccolini, slices of tomato, crispy kale, a quinoa crisp and a moreish tahini dressing.
But, for me, the hero was the Al Pastor taco. Melt-in-the-mouth shredded pork belly, achiote (a vibrant spice paste), pineapple pico and pickled onions are placed on a small, homemade tortilla. But that’s not all, precariously-balanced on the very top was a piece of dehydrated crackling. And crackle and crunch it did. I take my tacos very seriously, and I’m happy to say this was the best pork taco I’ve ever had. Yes, ever.
Of course, despite all the aforementioned food, we ended the meal on a sweet note. It was silly of you to think otherwise. Full as a doctor’s wallet, we could only fathom sharing something small and light. Cue the chocolate tostada. Adorned with dollops of chocolate and vanilla mousse, petite raspberry meringues, fruit and edible flowers. It was almost too fetching to eat. Almost. It was the perfect end to a vibrant and flavoursome meal.
So, whether you’re lucky enough to reside in Wellington, are currently there or looking for a reason to make the trip, this incredible Mexican-inspired establishment is a must-visit. Oh, and make sure you sample one, or five, of their marvellous margaritas. After all, you’ll need something to wash all that food down with…
19 Blair Street,
Sunday - Thursday: Midday - 10pm
Friday and Saturday Midday - Midnight