Something new: Encore Saloon

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When you think of Encore Saloon, you imagine a bar full of dusty people on a dusty street in a western boom town. Not so fast, pardner. Turns out Encore was the name of the original establishment in this spot on Hotel Street, and the Kakaako restaurant formerly known as Cocina has just set up shop here, so it’s a fitting name after all.

Encore Saloon is a skinny corridor of a restaurant with a long bar and high-top seating. Bigger groups will probably enjoy dining al fresco in the courtyard, where Encore's liquor license extends.

Encore Saloon is a skinny corridor of a restaurant with a long bar and high-top seating. Bigger groups can go al fresco in the courtyard, where Encore’s liquor license extends.

The revitalized block between Nuuanu Avenue and Smith Street is also home to Fete, Brick Fire Tavern and Downbeat Diner. Encore Saloon, set between Brick Fire and Fete, is a mezcal and tequila focused bar serving Mexican inspired fare. It’s a welcome addition to the fast-changing culinary scene in Chinatown.

Encore Saloon is nestled between Brick Fire Tavern (left) and Fete (right).

Encore Saloon is nestled between Brick Fire Tavern (left) and Fete (right).

Encore has more than 30 selections of tequila and mezcal, with more on the way. If you’re into vertical tastings, snag yourself a spot at the bar and ask for Quinn, the resident mezcal enthusiast.

Quinn insists on serving mezcal in copitas, little terra cotta cups, with orange segments and chile salt.

Quinn serves mezcal in copitas, little terra cotta cups, with orange segments and sal de gusano or agave worm salt.

Mezcal, for the unfamiliar, is a Mexican liquor distilled from agave plants. Technically speaking, the more popular tequila is a type of mezcal, although it is region-specific and uses the blue agave only.

After a short Q&A about our likes, Quinn selected three mezcal for us. Starting from the right with the buttery and spicy Alipus San Miguel from Oaxaca and graduating to the petroleum-esque, full-bodied Sotol pour Siempre, made from a plant called desert spoon.

After a short Q&A about our likes, Quinn selected three mezcal for us. Tasting started from the right with the buttery and spicy Alipus San Miguel from Oaxaca and graduated to the petroleum-esque, full-bodied Sotol pour Siempre, made from a plant called desert spoon.

Whether tequila is your jam or you’re a newbie to mezcal like myself, bartender Quinn can point you in the right direction. We asked for a vertical tasting that would best pair with food. The three choices worked well with the beef barbacoa and chicken mole tacos.

Here's how to enjoy mezcal. Sip some from the copito first. Next dip the orange segment in worm salt and bite. Follow your bite with another sip.

Here’s how to enjoy mezcal: Sip from the copito, dip the orange in worm salt, bite. Then sip again.

Encore also offers a menu of handcrafted cocktails with a separate list of margaritas and slushy specials. Think backyard mango margarita slushies that’ll keep you happy. Cocktails are about $10 and have some kick to them. The Orta Salon puts a citrusy twist on your standard marg while the Madre Medicina, made with whisky and a turmeric and ginger elixir, offers a dose of healthy with your poison.

The Orta Salon ($10) is a slight deviance from the standard margarita. Made with mezcal, spiced vermouth, curacao, grapefruit liqueur, lime, campari and finished with a sea salt rim, this is for those who like a little smoke with their citrus.

The Orta Salon ($10) is a slight deviation from the standard margarita. Made with mezcal, spiced vermouth, curacao, grapefruit liqueur, lime and campari and finished with a sea salt rim, this is for those who like a little smoke with their citrus.

If you’re familiar with the kitchen offerings of Cocina, then you might be thrown through a lasso loop. Gone are the tortaguesas, migas and headcheese tacos. Instead you’ll find Mexican staples like tacos, nachos and sides to complement the bar’s focus on mezcal and tequila. Ole!

Small plates range from a bowl of achiote rice ($3) to a not-so-small Grime Time Nacho platter with barbacoa beef ($15.75). The house chips and salsa for $4 are nice to munch on if you’re going the light route.

Now that's what I'm talking about. The Grime Time nachos ($12) come stacked with tex-mex queso, beans, cilantro, salsa roja, pickled jalapenos and can be kicked up a notch with pork or chicken ($3) or beef ($3.75).

Now that’s what I’m talking about. Grime Time Nachos come stacked with tex-mex queso, beans, cilantro, salsa roja and pickled jalapenos and can be kicked up a notch with pork or chicken ($3) or beef ($3.75).

There’s a reason the nachos have been on my table every time I’ve gone. The grime time cheese sauce has the right amount of ooze without being too runny, so it coats each chip without making them soggy.

The chicken and pasilla chile-based tortilla soup ($8) is standard fair, but we wished the tortillas strips were still crispy to play with texture.

The chicken and pasilla chile-based tortilla soup ($8) is standard fare, but we wished the tortillas strips were crispy for some textural contrast.

I love Mexican rice and refried beans – something I used to order all the time at King Taco in L.A. The combo at Encore is legit and will add some heft to your meal. The achiote chile-spiked rice has the right amount of heat and the vegetarian beans are wholesome and flavorful for beans cooked without lard.

If you're a rice and beans kind of guy like me, you'll want to get the combo ($6.50). Although it's pricey, it provides a wholesome completeness to your meal, especially if you're getting an order of tacos.

If you’re a rice and beans kind of guy like me, you’ll want to get the combo ($6.50). Although it’s pricey, it provides a completeness to your meal, especially if you’re getting an order of tacos ($5-$6 for two). Oh, and they’re vegetarian to boot.

My order of two barbacoa beef tacos ($5.75) was gobbled up in mere seconds. The beefy flavor shines, especially against pops of cilantro and onion. The chicken mole tacos ($5) are my second favorite for their roasted poblano flavor and saucy disposition.

The horchata ($4) is good if you're looking for something sans alcohol to wash all those nachos down. It's not sweet, but it definitely hits the spot.

The horchata ($4) is good if you’re looking for something without alcohol to wash all those nachos down. It’s not sweet, but it hits the spot.

Cinnamon fans will rejoice with fists of Encore Saloon's churros ($6), which come with a Mexican-chocolate sauce that's got some spice to it. The churro sticks are light and airy and are just what you want after a few tacos and some margaritas.

Churros ($6) come with a Mexican-chocolate sauce that’s got some spice. The cinnamon-y sticks are light, airy and just what you want after a tacos and margaritas.

Encore Saloon
10 N Hotel St
Chinatown
Monday – Thursday 11 – 12 a.m.
Friday – Saturday 11 – 1 a.m.
www.encoresaloon.com