9 May 2022
By Rochelle O'Loan
At 5pm on a Thursday afternoon in Downtown Tauranga, there’s a different vibe in the air. But not many know about it. Rather than join the commute home like a thousand other Tauranga central workers, I’m making plans for dinner in town to ‘fill time’ before one of the best kept secrets in the city unfolds.
Dinner reservations aren’t hard – there are so many restaurants with different cuisines on offer to appeal to whatever mood you’re in. On this particular night, however, I’ve a penchant for Italian, so Sugo is booked for 6pm, giving me an hour to finish up my work and take a short stroll up town to Farmers. Working in the city has its perks; everything I love is within walking distance and, if the traditional Tauranga weather stays true to its name, the Strand is the perfect place to catch up with friends at lunch.
After Farmers, I notice But First Desserts is open (naturally) so I pop in for a few salted caramel macrons for later. (Edit: later never came.) The novelty of having a dessert shop in our CBD never gets old and temptation is real. With a selection with such finesse it’s hard to not stop, even if it’s just to see what’s new and admire the beauty of it all.
I can smell Sugo before I see it as I round the corner. The strings of globe lights that have become synonymous with Wharf Street’s night life create a warm glow; signally the end of another working day and the start of all things night-timey and heady with promise. The train barrels past behind me but it’s a comforting reminder that all is well in the city. It’s a Tauranga thing.
Sugo doesn’t disappoint. All the deliciousness you’d expect from throwing garlic, cream, parmesan and pancetta together with years of Italian influence behind it (and some mean local talent) is there. My dinner mates and I share a pure no-words moment. They are in their own bliss with the risotto and Prosciutto pizza. The others run head-first into dessert and, despite my earlier macrons, I join them. I was realistic about my active night ahead so figured I needed the energy.
A few wines later and after some excellent table banter by the wait staff at Sugo, we pay and leave, headed back around the corner to La Mexica, where the aforementioned ‘best kept secret’ is just kicking off. Music spills out from the open doors… and there’s an immediate contradiction at play; the Mexican façade is North American, but the music is South American. It shakes up your senses and sends you immediately to somewhere warm and welcoming in the Dominican Republic or Cuba. Familiar friends unite and greet with a hug and a grin – it’s Thursday night! Social dance night! What’s not to love! I buy a Corona and take it all in. The night starts with a lesson encouraging any newbies to join in and have fun. No judgement, no egos. Just beautiful people sharing the joy of dance. Over the next four hours, La Mexica turns into a social haven for the many, like me, that have spent their weekday evenings putting in the mahi at Latin classes all over Tauranga, learning new skills, experiencing different cultures, and making lifelong friends. All ages, from all countries, and all skill levels… the Tauranga CBD brings us all together for what could possibly be the best night of the week in Tauranga city.
Pictured: Becky Wilde and Merwan Ghadiali
Photos by Charmaine Marinkovich