Love, Legacy and Tacos: The Story of Wellington’s Best Mexican Food

A man and woman holding a bowl of fresh vegetables smiling to camera.

Andrés Pimentel, the man behind Willis Lane’s ‘Hot Like A Mexican’, transformed his life from veteran hairdresser to outstanding chef - crafting a culinary tale as rich and vibrant as his menu.

Words by: Katherine Dewar

 

“Stop working, my friend. Eat!”

Handing a customer a plate of fresh tacos, Andrés leans over the counter with a warm smile.

This is how many friendships and loyal customers are forged at Hot Like a Mexican, where owner Andrés is known for his authentic Mexican cuisine - served with a side of quick wit and warm hospitality.

A hand holding a small cardboard box of tacos.

Hailing from Cuautla, México, young Andrés' palate was refined by the rich culinary landscape of his mother's kitchen - filled with the tantalising aroma of her traditional Mexican cooking. "She was always giving me a taste of what she was cooking. She taught me to be fussy about quality," he says. 

“You have to taste it to understand."

These words aren’t mere culinary wisdom, but Andrés’ life philosophy - one he picked up navigating the bustling markets of his childhood, tasked with bringing home the freshest ingredients for the evening family meal. Row after row of stalls stretched out in front of him - pineapples, tomatoes, chillies - paired with a chorus of vendors calling to the streets, beckoning customers in to sample their wares. 

Amidst the endless rows of seemingly identical produce, Andrés was taught to taste - and to know the difference. 

In 1988, aged 30, Andrés embarked on an adventure that led him to New Zealand, where his Mexican heritage was an enchanting novelty. He quickly became known for his mischievous smile and sunny disposition. Through laughter, he recalls: "Being Mexican in New Zealand then, it was the best thing that had happened in my life! Oh, yeah. I was very popular. It was a wonderful time.”

But Aotearoa didn't just capture his imagination; it won his heart. A trained hairdresser of more than 35 years, Andrés found love, marrying New Zealander Myrene - who he met while working at a salon. “She wanted a lifetime of free haircuts,” he teases.

Andrés carved out a comfortable life here, but he still quietly yearned for something more. The flavours of his homeland simmered in the back of his mind, culminating in a dream: a Mexican restaurant in Lower Hutt.

“I started cooking to bring back memories of my family - of being in the kitchen back home in México with my Mother and three sisters. I searched and searched for ingredients to make my salsas, tortillas, quesadillas.”

“Slowly, I started sharing them with my friends and family here in New Zealand, and everyone enjoyed them. Back then, I remember saying to my wife: Can you imagine if I sold these?”

Sure enough, Andrés traded the hairdressing scissors for an apron and his iconic sombrero. Accolades soon followed. Within a year of opening, the restaurant received a coveted five-star review from acclaimed food critic David Burton. 

“I said to my wife, I said… I will not take four stars. Or four-point-five. If he doesn’t give me five stars, we close the business. You have to understand - even if I get four-point-five - I don’t want to be second. I want to be the best. The best of the best.” 

“Then he gave me five stars.” 

But success is a winding road. Challenges arose, and a difficult location soon led the business to struggle. Despite his loyal customer base, Andrés faced losing the livelihood he had bet his life’s work on. 

Then, in early 2010, seemingly out of nowhere - a tiny hole-in-the-wall shop on Customhouse Quay became a beacon of hope. After hearing about the vacant space through a friend of a friend, apprehensive but desperate to revive his dream, Andrés took a leap of faith. 

“Just as I was getting nervous that no one was down this end of town… everything changed. I turned up one day with enough food to feed maybe 50 people. Suddenly, I had 100 people lining up outside.”

“The next day, it was 150. I couldn’t believe it.”

As word of Andrés’ incredible authentic Mexican flavours began to spread, his slow beginnings soon transformed into a cascade of success.

Now, ten years on, the doors are closing on Andrés' famous little hole-in-the-wall. His voice trembles with gratitude. "Like my Mother said, perseverance is the only thing that will take you there - against all odds."

But this isn’t the end. As he approaches his 65th birthday, Andrés has reached another lifelong dream: opening a full-scale eatery in the heart of the city, as part of the capital’s brand-new underground dining and entertainment precinct - Willis Lane. 

Tucked beneath the Aon Tower, light flooding down through the glass dome on the corner of Willis Street and Lambton Quay, outside the iconic Old Bank Arcade, Andrés embarks upon a new beginning.

"Finally, someone believes in what I'm doing,” Andrés smiles, close to tears. “I prayed for this opportunity to share the roots of my México with as many people as possible. Here I am.”

Neat Wellington Places

Monkfish

Strongwater fridge filled with chilled drinks at Monkfish.
Place Wellington
Bars key icon. Goods key icon.

A cosy refillery and off-licence that’s strictly about good vibes, Monkfish is your Vivian Street stop for your beer, wine, and spirits needs.

Wellington Apothecary

Close up of a herbal tea dispenser.
Place Wellington
Services key icon. Wellbeing key icon.

Find a complete range of botanical tonics, teas and skincare, all handmade in small batches at this local apothecary.

Bottega

New Italian deli food shop Bottega.
Place Wellington
Goods key icon.

Authentic Italian delicatessen Bottega is borne from a desire to bring a taste of home to the neighbourly suburb of Berhampore,

1154

Waiter holds three dishes at 1154, Wellington.
Place Wellington Editor's Pick
Restaurants key icon.

A pastaria with style in the heart of Cuba Street.