Look to the right and you’ll find all the need-to-know information about me. My job, my sporting limitations and my favourite pastime; drinking margaritas. I’m convinced tequila runs through my veins and my first words were ’half salt rim’. So naturally, I jumped at the chance to visit the UK’s original Mexican cantina, Cafe Pacifico.
Venue and Atmosphere
In 1982 a former banana factory became the first bar and restaurant of its kind in the country, bringing the bold flavours and vivacious lifestyle of authentic Mexico to Covent Garden. 35 years on, and we’ve never looked back. There’s now a Mexican joint on every street corner and an hour’s wait to get into this particular one.
Crossing the threshold of the venue is a vibrant assault on the senses. A loud hum of laughter and an infectious buzz of fun pulsate throughout the bar and restaurant areas inviting guests to instantly relax into the homely atmosphere. The walls are simply decorated with bric-a-brac art work and graffiti murals, whilst the ceiling is adorned in colourful flags. Lucky enough to get a table on the eve of Cinco De Mayo, we had the extra bonus of a Mariachi band entertaining us late into the night. Toe tapping soon turned into dancing, and before long the whole restaurant was engaged in a shameful rendition of The Macarena.
Food and drink
I knew Cafe Pacifico and I were a good match when mere seconds after being seated a large helping of tortilla chips and salsa appeared on the table. The tangy, chunky appetiser acted as the perfect partner to a pre-dinner cocktail and allowed us time to deliberate over the extensive and classic menu.
In agreement that Mexican cuisine is best enjoyed shared, my guest and I started with the Crispy Empanadas filled with mince, potatoes, onions and spices, and an off-the-menu special of Grilled Tortilla with Mango and Brie. The thick, handmade exterior of the empanadas easily gave way to the juicy, hearty stuffing which was welcomingly intensified by the fiery salsa side. In contrast, the second starter was light in taste and simple in style, yet just as delicious. The soft cheese balanced the sweetness of the mango which melted in our mouths and left us hoping that the dish would find a permanent home at Cafe Pacifico.
On the waiter’s recommendation, we tried the Fresh Tuna Tacos (with a smoked paprika crust, topped with mixed leaves, jalapenos, lime and mango dressing, avocado slices and edible flowers) and Slow Cooked Pulled Pork Chilli Tacos (with Ancho chili sauce, topped with red cabbage and jicama slaw) for mains. Served in threes with a large portion of sweet potato fries on the side, both servings packed a bold, flavourful punch and confirmed for us how this kitchen earned its notorious reputation. The tuna steak particularly stood out due to the chilli and herb paste in which the fish was pan-fried to create a powerful smoky and spicy flavour combination.
Now let’s talk about these margaritas. Cafe Pacifico has a back bar storing over 150 tequilas and 50 mezcals, and an impressive cocktail list to match. I opted for the classic Pacifico Margarita made with Ocho Blanco Tequila 2016 Putera del Aire served on the rocks. Sharp, fresh and with a prominent citrus undertone; the cocktail was perfectly balanced and left me pining for one of their infamous pitchers. My friend, wanting a fruitier option, ordered the Fresh Fruit Rum Mojito which was brimming with raspberries and strawberries, and became an instant crowd-pleaser due to its sweet and refreshing blend.
Serving up generously sized portions of classic Mexican grub at affordable prices - and despite opening over three decades ago - Cafe Pacifico still ticks all the boxes. What really makes this bar and restaurant stand out are the passionate staff and the energetic atmosphere, which instantly gives you the impression that every day is a fiesta at Cafe Pacifico.