The Bay Area is expensive. We all know and loathe this, but it is a fact of life. Everything is more expensive here, but perhaps nothing tops the overpriced list quite like drinks.
Based on personal experience, I’d say paying $8 – $10 for a cocktail is average around these parts, and that gets expensive really fast. That is why I find Aqui so exciting. Paying $6.50 for a margarita swirl is a steal around here. And this is not one of those mini cocktails that you finish in three sips. These drinks really are industrial strength; if I am going to drive, I cannot have even one. Yet even with the copious amounts of alcohol, they are super tasty with lots of fruity goodness.
The food is less cheap but still reasonable and delicious. Aqui calls itself Cal-Mex cuisine, but it is really Mexican fusion in every possible sense. I’ve had Indian-inspired dishes (which were fabulous!), Thai burritos, and flautas served with barbeque sauce. Some things work better than others, but on the whole, the mixes truly evoke the best of both worlds. Being a guacamole connoisseur, I cannot visit without getting the Avocado Dip which answers the age old question, “Salsa or guacamole,” with a resounding “Both!” The only thing lacking in the food area is a dearth of chips. Despite having a lovely salsa bar, they want you to actually pay for chips. I’ve talked my way into getting a small bowl a few times, but I wouldn’t count on that.
As for ambience, Aqui is a “pay when you order then find a table” kind of restaurant. It still has a sit-down feel, but it can get really crowded, especially the one in Campbell. You may have to wait for a table before you order, and since there are no hosts, you end up fighting for one yourself. It’s annoying. However, if you do not go during peak hours, you should be fine, and they do have a bar if you just want a drink and don’t want to wait for it.
Aqui is a great casual dining spot whether you want to get drunk on the cheap or try a new kind of Mexican food. Just remember to be responsible with your drinks. They really do pack quite a punch!
UPDATE: Of course, once I decide to write about their super cheap drinks, Aqui decides to raise their prices. Even so, $8 for what you get in these swirls is really reasonable for the alcohol content and delicious flavor.