Guac, tortilla chips, salsa, queso. Your standard Mexican fare.
DON’T SETTLE, FRIENDS!
There’s so much more to Mexican cuisine. If you’re not able to catch a 24-hour flight across the Pacific to actually visit Mexico, don’t worry. These Melbourne restaurants are paying homage to the complex workings of a Mexican kitchen, dishing up dishes you’ve never heard of. Unless you are from Mexico, in which case, perhaps you’ll find a taste of home at these places.
11-13 Carlisle Street, St Kilda
At this much-loved St Kilda establishment you can see your tacos coming out of their custom built carro de tacos – literally, “taco cart”. Items you probably haven’t seen on a menu before: their house specialty, pork belly al pastor (roasted pork belly with pineapple salsa, their take on a Mexico City classic), and their decadent Mezcal dark chocolate mousse tart. And technically, while you’ve had margaritas before, you haven’t had perfectly balanced margaritas like theirs.
Hot Lips Hacienda
2 Railway Parade, Highett
Ever had cactus? And we’re not talking about in tequila form – but actually eaten a piece of cactus? Didn’t think so. To tick that off your bucket list, head on down to Hot Lips and order their nopales quesadilla (nopales = cactus). The rest of their menu is similarly unusual in that it boasts a range of tostaditas, which normally get only a casual mention somewhere in the snacks section. All of these come with handy drink recommendations to complete the meal. And while you’ve seen pleeeeenty of churros around (make sure you roll that double r), you probably haven’t seen them with a caramelised goat’s milk caramel dipping sauce.
Level 6, Curtin House, 252 Swanston Street, Melbourne
The love for all things agave at this establishment is strong at this one. They’ve got one of the largest collections of agave-based spirits in Australia. We’re talking mezcal, tequila, and solol. They love it so much it features in the most unexpected dishes. Mezcal mignonette, mezcal-cured ceviche, and a their mezcal chocolate churros sauce. That’s a lot of love.
If you prefer your food sin alcohol, there’s still plenty of options. The crispy prawn tostadas are always a fresh and crunchy delight, and the baja fish tacos are a crowd-favourite. Or for something more filling, the mole negra beef cheek is a pleasantly unfamiliar burst of flavours and textures.
56 Little Bourke St, Melbourne CBD
A restaurant smuggled from Mexico to China Town. Bodega is a mezcal bar and taqueria hidden underground on Little Bourke Street, and open from 4pm – 3am, 7 days a week. Featuring Mexican hip-hop, in what is a highly immersive and simply cool restaurant, that manages to skip all the tacky Mexican clichés.
Expect a huge selection of traditional flavours coming out of the taqueria, as well as melt in your mouth share dishes and desserts from all over Mexico. The entire food offering is gluten free, and also features plenty of vegetarian and vegan options too, all of which can be tailored to your group.
69 Chapel Street, Windsor
At Jalisco you’ll find simple, wholesome, authentic Mexican. Probably no new unfamiliar dishes or ingredients, but that’s their strength. What they do, they do well, and it’s a recipe for success (see what we did there) given they’re a local favourite along Chapel St. Popular orders include the tequila-lime tiger prawn fajitas, their crunchy fish tacos, and – a classic – their chilli con carne with tortilla chips. The secret to their autentico flavours? Fresh local ingredients as well as unique spices that can’t be found outside of Mexico. It’s the real deal with these guys.
233 Lonsdale Street, Melbourne
The menu here might not be suuuuper authentic (it might have a notable Melbournian twist) but it’s definitely not Mexican food like you’ve seen elsewhere in Melbs. Where have you seen an octopus or swordfish taco? Or orange zest churros with chilli chocolate sauce? Answer: nowhere. And while queso is always good, here it’s great – bubbling and molten, gooey queso over spicy chorizo and crunchy tortilla chips. If you’re ok with dousing your hands in some high-quality, flavourful grease, go for the fatty lamb ribs or the fried chicken wings (or both – ¿Porque no los dos?).
By Yogita Maruti