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A Mezcal Moment

At the Annex in the Fan, you’ll find an extensive tequila selection and a menu that’s best for late-night bar snacks.

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Tacos. Tequila. What’s not to love? This place serves a 40-ounce, bigger-than-your-face margarita? Sign me up. It turns out, high expectations can lead to big disappointment at the Annex.

Snuggled in a corner pocket of the Fan, this joint sounded promising and garnered quite a bit of excitement before its opening earlier this year. Sure, we had plenty of Mexican restaurants that delivered much of what we’ve come to expect, which, it turns out, is usually Tex-Mex. But this promised a focus on rare tequila and more of a bar atmosphere brought to you by the owners of the neighboring hot spot, District 5. The folks also have a hand in Southern Railways Taphouse and formerly Off the Hookah.

Entering the Annex feels much like any Fan watering hole, a welcoming neighborhood joint with a handful of wooden tables, marble-top bar, requisite televisions above the bar tuned to a football game, the noise held slightly at bay by the cozy exposed brick walls. There’s even a nod to Texas: faux cowhide stools flanking the bar. The staff was plentiful and welcoming on our first visit, immediately seating us and taking drink orders.

Having heard craft cocktails were going to be a focus of the Annex, I gave the Pasado de Mode a whirl, a mezcal take on an old fashioned. This was where a series of unfortunate events began. The cocktail was lackluster and slightly watered down — certainly not up to snuff with the cocktails we’re used to in Richmond. Next, I went for the anticipated 40 Ounces to Freedom, the aforementioned jumbo marg made even better with a baby Corona slammed up in it for an extra five bones. Why not?

Realizing that food is in order before consuming such a thing, we started with the chicken tinga taquitos and street corn. Both arrived in a short time in red plastic baskets and checkerboard paper, indicating this was casual dining. The taquitos were crisp, golden and packed with flavor thanks to the tequila lime crema and tangy chipotle ranch that accompanied them. The street corn was not as on-point. While generously slathered with the usual mayo, cheese and chili powder spread, the cob was barely charred and lacked freshness. This would be a trend for the dishes that followed.

I decided on a classic dish, the chicken fajitas — they came out in a nonsizzling skillet and were lukewarm. Seven strips of dense, possibly pressed chicken breast atop a bed of peppers and onions didn’t look but so appealing, so I ordered an adobo chicken taco. Alas, it too had the same strange meat inside and overkill of some unbeknownst spice. The winner of the meal turned out to be a special taco on the menu called the Sweet and Spicy, comprising glazed cauliflower over a bed of fresh kimchi, jicama, carrot and cilantro with a cucumber crema. This needs to be added as a permanent offering.

With food hopes dashed, I held on to the promise of my massive margarita that still had not yet arrived. To be fair, it was peak happy hour traffic, and our once plentiful staff was stretched. Finally, there it was in full lime-colored glory, but the Coronita was missing. Our server apologized and eventually brought one over. Surprisingly, that bowl of booze didn’t offer up the face flush you might expect but it was flavorful. You can also add a can of Red Bull, which might deliver a better buzz.

On our second visit, we employed a slightly different strategy given that pretty much anything with chicken wasn’t great and table service was spotty at best. Would bar seating, beef and barbacoa save us? Spoiler: The answer is kind of.

I kicked it off with one of the four Cazadores Tequila and Grand Marnier margarita selections, served either frozen from what looks like a Slurpee machine or on the rocks. Given that often it’s tough to get the booze to mixer ratio right with frozen dispensers, I opted for rocks with salt. Having had the classic margarita before and cringing at the thought of one made with Sour Patch Kids (yes, with actual mouth-puckering candies in it) I rolled basic and got strawberry. In a word, fine. Just fine. Slightly tart and not sticky-sweet like some margaritas, it refreshed but wasn’t memorable. Much like the drinks on our first visit, there wasn’t much of a boozy bite.

We ordered chips and queso to start things off. They arrived in minutes and immediately suggested we were in for more meh eats. I know, it’s chips and cheese, but hear me out. This stuff was straight up 7-Eleven quality, perfect for quelling the 2 a.m. munchies but off-putting in most situations. Remember that cheese you used to get at the skating rink as a kid? Yep, that’s it. Melty, microwaved Cheetos vibes. We moved on to the beef empanadas and things started looking up. For five bucks on happy hour special, two golden pastries stuffed to the gills with peppers, onions and cotija cheese delivered a pleasant crunch and slight bite thanks to the chipotle ranch sauce o
n the side.
It was time for tacos! Optimistic after the previous special taco, I decided to make a meal out of both build-your-own creations and specials. Street tacos served with either flour or corn tortillas are decently priced at $4 each and legit packed full of ingredients. Choose a protein (barbacoa, chicken tinga or carnitas) and how you’d like it prepped. The choices are traditional with onions or cilantro or gringo with tons of lettuce, sour cream and cheese. I went with the Gringo barbacoa and the signature bacon cheeseburger tacos. One of these made up for the train wreck of the other. Barbacoa for the win! A tender flour tortilla cradled a fistful of juicy, flavorful meat that made a glorious mess when you sank your teeth into it. The only feedback I’d give on this otherwise awesome bite, was it could have used a little more shredded cheese on top.

Now, let’s talk about this cheeseburger taco. Part of me knew better, but I had to at least give it a go. It arrived with what looked like a tablespoon of meat crumbled in it, some cheese, pico and cilantro topped with a burned, dry piece of bacon. Pass on this one, folks.

My pal strayed from our no-chicken strategy ordering a build-your-own burrito that delivered more of the same processed poultry flavor, or lack thereof. Luckily, there were enough black beans, jalapeños and chili sauce to make it a palatable plate. So, let me reiterate: Pass on most of the chicken dishes.

Only slightly satisfied, I needed a palate cleanser, and I had yet to see a mezcal menu around this joint, though it allegedly has quite the selection.

When I asked the bartender if she had a tequila and mezcal list, she emphatically replied and turned my drink menu over. My stars, there it was — a list of about 100, ranging from blanco to reposado, to anejo and my beloved mezcal. After a conversation about preferences, I was recommended the Ilegal Mezcal Joven. While it wasn’t most expensive selection, the bartender said it was one of her favorites. Served on ice, it delivered a searing, smoky mouth number that made me forget about the food faults before it.

Amigos, heed my word. Think of this as a tequila bar with a handful of snacks to hold you over while you Lyft to your meal elsewhere. You’ll thank me later.

The Annex
1919 W. Main St.
716-0963
Mondays – Thursdays 3 – 11 p.m.
Fridays 3 pm. – 2 a.m.
Saturdays 11 – 2 a.m.
Sundays 11 a.m. – 11 p.m.

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