When Anthony Bourdain was asked what food trend he would like to see in a Reddit AMA (Ask Me Anything), he said, “I would like people really to pay more for top-quality Mexican food. I think it’s the most undervalued, underappreciated world cuisine with tremendous, tremendous potential.”
At Hook & Lime Tacos + Tequila, North Downtown’s newest addition, you will find that top-quality Mexican food and all kinds of potential, though you won’t necessarily have to pay more for it.
Owner Robbie Malm says after selling his share in Dudley’s Pizza and Tavern, he wanted to do something smaller and more creative. With a little help from his wife, Erin, and his brother, Tim Malm, he has done just that.
Hook & Lime’s menu has a selection of a la carte tacos, small plates, and tortas, all for under $20.
But if you do want to spend some money and have a more decadent experience, you can try the family-style tacos or the tasting menu (with or without tequila).
For the family-style tacos, you can choose between the whole fish, which is currently fried, striped bass, or bone-in barbacoa, which is cooked for 72 hours, crisped in the oven, and sent to the table for you to pick apart.
Head chef Alex Sorens says the tasting menu is something he’s excited about because it gives his crew the opportunity to create dishes and test things out. If they’re good, they’ll go on the next tasting menu.
“It’s stuff that we wouldn’t normally serve to the public,” he says. “It will be a select amount of these things, and when we run out, we run out.”
The menu features a lot of fish, hence the “hook” in Hook & Lime. Sorens says he gets their fish from Seattle Fish Co. out of Kansas City, Missouri. He uses their program Whole Boat Harvest for some of the dishes, like the ceviche. The program sells the “leftover” fish from hauls, fish that would normally go to waste because they’re not as well-known as others.
“The reason for that is because I’m trying to do my part to not be in that same group that’s using all those super popular, over-fished species that are going on endangered lists right now.”
Sorens also tries to support other environmentally conscious businesses, getting a lot of their ingredients from local producers like Plum Creek Farms and Jon’s Naturals.
Malm says these are things you might normally only find at “higher-end, white tablecloth places.” He says their goal is to make that food available to everyone.
“We have this amazing menu, these amazing items, that we’re able to bring to people who normally wouldn’t get to experience them,” he says. “We’re trying to take that food, that approach of sourcing locally and treating these items with respect, and make it more approachable. It doesn’t matter if you’re in a suit and tie or flip-flops, we welcome everybody here.”
Malm says he has been “very, very fortunate” in finding the team to do that.
“Everyone seems to be really excited about their role in this,” he says. “So I quickly found out that my best role is really to enable them to just dive in.”
This enthusiasm extends to the front of the house, where bar manager Brian van Egmond works to create original cocktails using ingredients made in house.
“It’s a fusion between speed and craft,” he says. There will be a couple margaritas available on tap, but the fresh juices are added after they’re poured.
So far, van Egmond says they’ve made their own orange brandy, orange liquor, syrups, and crème de cassis. He is currently working on a strawberry tequila for their strawberry margaritas. They also have a hibiscus-infused reposado, which is used to make the Roselle cocktail.
“That’s one I think both Negroni and Cosmo fans will appreciate.”
Van Egmond says they also have a well-curated spirits list, and plenty of beers to offer, including many from local breweries. There are also several wine options.
Of course, if what you’re really looking for is some straight up, premium tequila, Hook & Lime has you covered.
“Tequila is my favorite thing to drink,” Malm says. “It is my favorite thing to drink,” he repeats, laughing. “And I’m a fairly recent convert.”
But once he fell in love with tequila, it became a little bit of an obsession. He talks excitedly about touring tequila distilleries in Mexico with his wife. He says they toured five different spots, including Cuervo and Herradura.
The restaurant’s offerings reflect his enthusiasm, with more than 100 tequilas on their list and four different styles of flights available if you want to do a little sampling before you commit.
“They say there’s no zealot like a convert,” Malm says. “And that is definitely true when it comes to tequila.”
Undoubtedly, Hook & Lime will do their share in creating converts, both to tequila and to a greater appreciation of top-quality Mexican food.
Hook & Lime is open Sundays through Wednesdays from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m., and 11 a.m. to 2 a.m. Thursdays through Saturdays.
This article was printed in the March/April 2017 edition of Encounter.