A summer spent eating and drinking your way through every roadside stall on Mexico’s Yucatán peninsula is something of a double edged sword when you are asked to compare it to a Mexican restaurant chain in central London.
The former ignites memories of fresh flour tortillas stuffed with melt-in-your-mouth pulled pork and drizzled with fiery pico de gallo for around 30 pesos (£1.30) or less, if you’re game.
The latter, with its promise of authentic, “taste bud tingling” Mexican cuisine conjures up images of garish decor, sombreros filled with tortilla chips and novelty cocktail glasses with hen parties attached to the straws.
Lupita East, the Commercial Street offshoot of the central-born chain, does well to shrug off the artificial image of its many, many amigos with authentic cooking and punchy flavours to surprise even the most snobbish (I prefer the term ‘culturally minted’) palettes.
A strong pedigree helps; this is, after all, the group responsible for the popular El Farolito taquería in Mexico City. But there’s also an inherent understanding that decent tacos don’t need all the fanfare, just a good molcajete.
For starters, the restaurant itself is less Cancun strip more Shoreditch shabby chic with paint-stripped floorboards, exposed brick archways and just the odd folk mask to liven things up.
It makes a subdued first impression, particularly with only a smattering of tables occupied despite our late-week visit, but the smells from the kitchen demand a reservation of judgement.
We don’t have to wait long; shared starters arrive quickly and range from totopas pimped out with grilled steak and Mexican cheese sauce, to vegetarian or tuna tostadas and ceviche.
It’s all lacking a little of the heat you might expect, but very fresh tasting, a point hammered home by the guacamole being prepared with flourish at the table next to us.
Tortilla-wrapped mains, on the other hand, pack more of a punch; tangy fish tacos, cheesy pork al pastor gringas and the star Gobernador (translation: governor) of juicy prawns slathered in smoky chipotle mayo with lashings of salsa guajilla.
According to the menu, this is what you should eat if you have aspirations to become El Presidente – and if this is what they serve the big dogs, consider us in the running.
When it comes to the requisite margarita, you won’t find the frozen slushie style here, just a choice of tequila or mezcal served classic or sweetened with tropical fruits.
Tequila drinkers might think the mezcal a little lacking in the sharpness they’re used to, but sup and enjoy the smokiness, you’ll end up ordering another round.
As for the rest of the drinks menu – we all know someone who still can’t touch the stuff after that one night at uni – wines are mostly Spanish or South American and beers are served bottled or Michelada; combined with lime juice, assorted sauces, spices, and peppers, and even clam and tomato juice for “the ultimate hangover cure”.
It’s intriguing, but we skip it and get down to the business of creating the hangover with a couple of shots of patron. Now that takes me back to that summer.