Rotorua: El Mexicano Zapata

After a full days driving (both in the Mini and on the luge) there was no way I was going to throw together a family meal in the little kitchenette at the Regal Palms Resort. So I asked my husband (wearing a wide-eyed expression not unlike the one Puss-In-Boots wears when trying to stun his opponents with cute) that we go out for dinner instead. He agreed, although I suspect that this was nothing to do with my Bambi eyes but more likely his reluctance to deal with the verbal volcano he knew would erupt if I was forced to buy provisions from the nearest supermarket and to cook a hot meal in an unfamiliar kitchen while everyone else watched Sky Movies. He knows me so well.

So we went to El Mexicano Zapata.

The colourful and twinkly façade of this tiny cantina situated on Tutanekai Street in Rotorua’s restaurant district would have lured me over the threshold anyway had I not researched if beforehand and discovered it was one of the top restaurants in Rotorua.

El Mexicano Zapata

And the inside was no less twinkly. The primary coloured walls were festooned with garlands of lights and various Mexicana art and artifacts. Given there was barely enough room to swing a piñata, it made it feel like you were dining in a biscuit tin of Christmas decorations. There were only a handful of tables inside as well as a few outside and I can imagine that in the height of the tourist season, this place would get pretty rammed.

The eclectic décor
A Día de Muertos themed picture
Three Día de Muertos divas perched on jars of dried chillies

We were seated at a table near the serving counter and were immediately given menus by the manager, a real eccentric character who made us smile instantly. She was funny and chatty, and engaged both my son and my daughter too. After discovering that I was English and remarking that she had a boyfriend from Birmingham, she took to calling me ‘m’lady’ which was followed by a slight bow, clearly offered in jest with no offence intended.

The food was not authentically Mexican (my chimichanga wasn’t fried and was instead smothered in cheese and mayo) but it was tasty nonetheless and all the portion sizes were generous. My children loved the fried chicken nibbles!

My chimichanga

And I loved that the only thing they offered for desert was churros, the only choice being whether to have them with chocolate or caramel sauce.

Stuffed to the gills with chimichanga and churros, we left the restaurant after promising the manager we’d leave an excellent review on Trip Advisor, and slowly made our way back to the car.

Our pre-booked adventure for the next morning was a tour of what was advertised as a Living Māori Village: Whakarewarewa.

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