The Ill Repute: Bristol dive bar popular for its authentic Mexican cuisine and vegan options – Louisa Streeting


Mexican cuisine can often be a difficult cuisine to master. The Tex-Mex craze has unfortunately popularized sloppy, Westernized versions of dishes that are filled with cheap cheese and devoid of any real flavor.

Only the United States could find a way to market a fried burrito and serve it as a staple, known as a chimichanga.

Wahaca may have briefly revived the cuisine’s status by attempting dishes slightly closer to authentic Mexican-inspired dishes, until an outbreak of norovirus spread through nine of their restaurants in 2016.

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Hoping to show off corporate chains and prove that independence is best, The Ill Repute, one of Bristol’s closest answers to an American dive bar.

The pub promises fine food, libations and quality entertainment; American artifacts line the walls, an Elvis Presley-themed bathroom, and a turntable spinning a The Police record in the corner.

There is a cool temper among punters, who seem at ease and drawn to Ill Repute’s unabashed nonchalance.

I opted for the House Margarita in the purest spirit of cooking (£8), a tangy and rejuvenating make-up remover served in a cup.

Those more beer-inclined will feel right at home with a wealth of artisanal offerings from the region. Later, I sipped a larger Bad Reputation, a refreshing accompaniment to the feast that awaited it.

The woman behind the bar was very nice and waited patiently while I went through the menu at my usual icy pace, letting us know that the kitchen could do just about any of the vegan dishes.

The Ill Repute serves diner-style Mexican food with great vegan options

I had heard this before, and so we opted for an almost entirely vegan menu to see for ourselves.

I was definitely curious how butternut squash could mimic chicken wings. The answer is – it’s not – served in long chunks of vegetables coated in a crispy, delicate batter.

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However, it was a nice touch at £7 a pop and simulated the finger licking experience, complete with celery, hot sauce and vegan garlic mayonnaise.

The snack-sized portion of nachos is more than enough for two diners, arriving in a sizable basket stacked with cheese, salad, and a handful of guacamole. I can only imagine that the larger version must arrive in a bucket!

We opted for a black bean filling for an extra £1.50 which for me was one of the highlights, perfectly cooked and not thick or heavy with a hint of chilli which did not overpower.

The main events followed momentarily afterwards and it’s safe to say I’ve never seen a burrito (£11) nearly as wide as it was long. Meat eaters can choose beef, pork or chicken as a filling.

It was loaded with rice and beans, as well as salad and chicken, which could have been a bit more but it was well seasoned and filling.

The use of brown rice was duly noted. I still think it adds more of a nutty flavor and it was perfectly cooked.

After the woman kindly presented my barbecued jackfruit tacos to the table, she hurriedly took them back to the kitchen, suspecting that they were actually meat.

Jackfruit is a plant grown primarily in Thailand and often used as a substitute for pulled pork because when cooked it mimics a similar stingy texture.

Although I haven’t eaten meat in years, I’m aware it’s definitely not like the real thing, but it’s a strong copycat.

After the chef confirmed it was actually jackfruit, I picked up the first of three stacked tacos with salad and dairy-free cheese (£8).

It was slightly overflowing with even more lettuce, which made it difficult to scoop and a rather messy affair, but that’s what you sign up for with a soft taco.

The jackfruit absorbed the BBQ flavor well and was well cooked, which was a relief as it can be rather unpleasant if undercooked.

I had heard whispers about the huge portions and wish I had taken this seriously as we inadvertently ordered enough food for a party of four.

Ill Repute definitely puts the corporate Tex-Mex chains to shame, and their renditions of American diners on Mexican classics were fun and affordable.

Most notably, their cuisine goes above and beyond to accommodate vegans with every dish having at least one plant-based version.

The Bad Reputation, 16 West Street, Bristol BS2 0DF

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