Exuding plenty of life and colour from its nook upstairs from Eva Beva, Dixon Street's El Barrio isn't content with only serving up tapas.
Its extensive and wide-ranging menu aside, it seems like there's always something happening at El Barrio — Spanish for " the neighbourhood". On the particular night we visited, there was a live presentation on Latin American musical instruments, which provided an interesting soundtrack to our meal to say the least. A cursory scroll through their Facebook page also hints at gigs, dance sessions and plenty of other cultural events to keep the place humming.
The bar has strong links to Wellington's Latino community, and it certainly shows. While the menu — featuring tapas, sliders, sharing plates and a decent dessert range — reflects this, it's evident they've added a Kiwi twist in an attempt to appeal to all.
We decided to pick a few tapas to test the waters. These are very reasonably priced and on the whole, a mixed bag. The crispy squid with sriracha aioli ($7) and the sriracha glazed buttermilk chicken ($10) are a quite standard and do little to fire the imagination. That said, the blue cheese sour cream sauce that accompanies the chicken does kick it up a few notches.
On the other hand, we were definitely impressed with the polenta fries ($6). These were perfectly crisp on the outside and soft on the inside; a solid enough dish that goes well with the smoked aioli it comes with.
The beef, blue cheese, pear and pancetta sliders ($12 for two) were decently sized, but once again we were let down by the overall quality. We found the meat a tad dry, although the pear and pancetta went some way in balancing this out.
Feeling like we needed something extra to round off the night, we added the patatas bravas ($8) to our order and these turned out to be our favourite of the night. The portions are generous, the potatoes crisp and golden, and the salsa, aioli and hot sauce combine well to add just the right amount of heat.
The food here is well priced for what you get, and although it's not the most exceptional fare you'll find on the hotly contested Dixon Street, El Barrio is nonetheless a cool place to chill with friends over some snacks, some drinks and some laughs.