Mexican bar and restaurant Q Mex is poised to make a huge splash — think of a herd of donkeys doing a collective cannonball off an Acapulco cliff — when it officially opens at 9:16 PM on June 21
Good cocktails at fair prices, hearty quality food, a kitchen that is open late, a layout that can facilitate anything from secluded chats to solo drinkers to birthday parties to tango classes… this place is smartly thought out, not to mention well-located.
Just below Kro’s Nest in Sanlitun South, Q Mex is close to upscale spots such as D Lounge and newbie Veloce as well as Ole, Brussels, Salsa Caribe and Nanjie, and helps make the area increasingly attractive to those tired of shoulder-to-shoulder drunks in Sanlitun North.
Ultimately, Q Mex will do for Mexican food what Susu did last year for Vietnamese food, except with an easier to find location, hours that appeal to night owls, and a party vibe. This place has “bar and restaurant awards” written all over it.
Anyway, Q Mex held a tasting for an alumni group and a dozen other people last night, and I was lucky enough to attend. Here are ten thoughts on that tasting
(Note: The Beijing Foodies will hold an event at Q Mex on Sunday. As usual, you get a food tasting and drink — shot of tequila — for rmb100, with donations gathered via envelope and going this time to charity Teach. Word is 100+ people have signed up, so those interested should email bjfoodies (at) gmail.com ASAP.)
1. Hopes are high for the cocktails given the involvement of Echo Sun from Q Bar (formerly Midnight Cafe and First Cafe), consultant Paul Mathew (many know him from Flamme, classes at The Hutong or his other gigs about town) and Sophie Gai (formerly Flamme and Fubar).
Are the drinks perfect yet? For me, the Q Mex Margarita is too spicy, though the vanilla is a nice touch, while The Dirty Maria could use a bit more heat. But that’s just me: you be the judge.
There are plenty of classic and creative options on the menu. Mai Tai fanatics can geek out over whether Q Mex has nailed the original Trader Vics recipe mentioned in the description. And there is even a drink with Clamato juice, in case any Canucks are reading.
2. The drinks are arranged on a flavor chart, with “sweet” and “sour” along one axis and “fruity” and “bitter” along the other. Decide what flavors you want -– say, something a bit sweet and quite fruity -– and order the drink in that area. A Pisco Sour, for example, is solidly in the bitter and sour quadrant.
3. The cocktails are priced at rmb50 to rmb60, fair for this level of quality. Given we are seeing more drinks at rmb70 and up, this is happy news.
4. The tequila flights are a good idea and I don’t understand why more spots don’t do things such as this. It isn’t rocket science, or even jet engine technology, it is simply fun. Q Mex has six options, with flights of three 30ml pours that range from house tequilas to agave options to much pricier trips with Don Julio and other makers. Word is Mathew — who some might remember from such drinks as the Licensed to Kim Jong-Il — will lead a tequila tasting in July.
5. There are a lot of tequila options. Some are lower-end, some are premium, some are gimick-y, including the two gun-shaped bottles -– and more are coming. If you want your mescal with a scorpion in the bottle, they have one of those, too.
6. The “agua fresca” infused waters are a good alternative for non-drinkers and come in four flavors, including apple and pear or lemon and blueberry. I liked the tamarind and hibiscus.
7. In terms of design, there is fine-tuning to be done, but the place is pretty much ready to go: brightly colored and nicely arranged, with the open kitchen on one side and the bar on the other. There is table seating, a deck, and a handful of lounges that can seat six to eight people, including a few units behind the glass-backed bar — quiet and private but still giving a glimpse of what is happening out front. Look for some kind of art in the high-ceiling area near the door, perhaps a huge pinata of a tequila worm or a sombrero or a donkey pooping delicious chipotle sauce.
8. Speaking of which, the chipotle sauce is delicious. Slightly sweet with a nice controlled heat. Call it “hot with a purpose” rather than “hot just for the sake of hot”, which is also often the difference between Sichuan food that is good and that simply takes the top layer off your tongue.
9. Given chef Karla Castillo Reyes has been consulting for less than a week, things look very promising. We tried a handful of items last night: my favorites were the taquitos (crunchy outside, soft meat inside, salsa verde on top — I tried them with chipotle sauce, too), the fish taco (another nice texture contrast) and, in the intriguing department, the chorizo quesadilla. The ribs: tender and dropping off the bone. Delicious churros. Chris Ruggles, who is handling marketing, said the food is improving on a daily basis, which is even better.
10. The kitchen will be open until 1 AM, with bar snacks available until 3 AM or later. Late-night eat options are not abundant in this area and this is a welcome addition.
So, yeah, donkey, cannonballs, cliffs… fasten my seat belt for a tequila flight and pass the chipotle sauce.