I first drove past La Cholita before it opened, and made a mental note to try it out sometime – Perth doesn’t really have the best Mexican restaurants, so the new ones popping up over the past few years have been a welcome addition. La Cholita has an interesting reputation – some will wait for over an hour to get in and rave about the food; others feel that it’s overpriced and overrated.
The place is cozy and beautifully decorated, with exposed brick and rustic wooden furniture. Clear panels set into the floor allow you look through to the cellar, which is both cool and disconcerting. One side (not pictured) contains booths and a small area to sit in whilst waiting for a table; the other has tall tables and seats at the bar, with a larger table at the back. Loud and funky latin music plays, and the whole place feels like a great place to spend a Friday night drinks. It was, however, a Monday night that we went there for dinner with a big group of friends, which thankfully meant that we didn’t have to face the famed long wait.
A common criticism about La Cholita seems to be about the service. The staff we encountered were friendly and helpful, if a little… confused. The Boy and I showed up first, and asked for a table for 11 people – a number which unfortunately doesn’t really fit into the restaurant if the big table is already taken, as the other tables aren’t able to be moved. We were told we could have two of the tall tables situated next to each other… assuming they were still available when the rest of our party arrived. Until then we were shuttled off to the waiting area. When we did get our tables, there was a bit of confusion in ordering (we wanted to all order together, but after talking to the waiter they needed each table to order separately), then confusion bringing the right food to the right tables despite the separate orders, then further confusion when the bill came. I suppose between the large group, the waiter’s accent and the loud music it was bound to happen though.
The important thing, of course, is the food. The menu is mainly made for sharing tapas style, well suited to small groups. We ordered a variety from the different sections, including the guacamole with crispy flour tortilla ($6), market ceviche ($10), crab meat & avocado tostada ($6), pumpkin, pickled cabbage, queso fresco taco ($5), beef cheek & pico de gallo taco ($5), slow cooked pork & pineapple taco ($5) and 3 cheese & jalapeño quesadilla ($10). As with most tapas style places, each individual item is inexpensive but small, and making a full meal out of them does add up quickly.
The crispy flour tortillas served with our guacamole and ceviche were a nice change from the usual corn chips, and are made in-house. We also ordered a litre of sangria to share for each table, which comes in eclectic glass bowls and was more than enough for us on a Monday night.
The cheese empanadas reminded me of a toasted cheese sandwich, which is tasty but perhaps not the most impressive of dishes. The tostadas come in sets of three, and ours came with a good dollop of tasty crab meat – probably one of the better value items on the menu.
The tacos were tasty, but at $5-6 a pop (and these are pretty teeny tacos) it feels a bit crazy even for Perth. Everything was fresh and well-made, I just wish there was a little more of them! The pork and pineapple was my favourite.
All up: I’m not convinced that La Cholita lives up to either of its reputations – the bad or the great. The food was well made and it’s nice to see Mexican food that isn’t swimming in cheese, but I’m not sure it lives up to the hype. It also makes for a rather expensive night out – and our orders weren’t really enough to fill up the hungry boys. I’m happy to pay the price for fantastic food, but The Boy and I both felt that this fell a bit short of the mark. The extensive tequila list is impressive and I think it’s much better suited to Friday evening drinks than a weeknight meal, although then you do have to contend with the crowds. I’m not sure I’d bother waiting for a table personally, especially with a large range of other options around. La Cholita was just short of satisfying, and I don’t think we’ll be revisiting.