Tadashi Hidaka had wanted to open his own sports bar long before he hit on the concept. “You wouldn’t eat something sophisticated like French food while you’re watching a soccer match,” he says. “But Mexican food? It’s a natural fit.”
Once (pronounced ohn-say, in the Spanish style) opened in Nakameguro last May, and has so far managed to hold its own in a neighborhood where Mexican food is synonymous with Junkadelic. Rather than attempt to replicate the cantina vibe of its chief rival, Once goes for something a little brasher: lurid yellow walls decorated with soccer paraphernalia, and TVs gushing a constant torrent of sports.
They’ve been tweaking the menu since opening day: the beers are now cheaper, the tequila lineup has expanded, and the food menu has drawn a line in the sand between Mexican and Tex-Mex. The draft beer selection includes Edelpis (¥700) and Guinness (¥550-¥950), but we skip straight to the Mexican bottles and order up a round of Bohemia (¥800).
It isn’t the right time of year for frozen margaritas (¥900), so we inquire about the tequilas and end up with a glass of splendid Reserva del Señor Añejo (¥1,000). Drinkers with an appetite for novelty might appreciate the Reserva del Señor Almendrado (¥600)—almond-flavor tequila that, in a perfect world, would depose Bailey’s as the after-dinner liqueur of choice.
Unusually for a sports bar, the food at Once is actually worth eating. The cactus salad (¥1,200)—spicy marinated seafood served in a taco-shell bowl with strips of nopales on top—gives our tastebuds a good workout, and the vegetable enchilada (¥800/¥1,400) is probably the least healthy thing we’ve eaten all year, but also one of the tastiest.