When Yolanda Mendez introduced Sam McKay and Theo Engela of Hark to birria tacos, it was a lightbulb moment for all of them. “We were just blown away with how nice they are,” says McKay. He knew the delicious tacos were too good not to share and immediately offered a solution: his shop Mollymawk by Hark in South Brighton, which is now open three nights a week as takeaway joint, Taco Libre.

Birria is a specialty from the Mexican region of Jalisco, where Mendez’s family lived for a period. The meat inside a birria taco is marinated in garlic, dried chillies and other spices, before being cooked in a broth until tender. All-corn tortillas are then fried with cheese and topped with the beef, onion, coriander, lime juice and salsa.

Even though she grew up eating birria (her mother ran a taco company) Mendez didn’t begin cooking it until moving to Australia five years ago. She says each Mexican state changes aspects of the birria recipe, but at Taco Libre, it’s more of the traditional style. “Melting the cheese inside, that’s very Jalisco,” Mendez says. A helping of birria sauce – full of tomatoes, dried chillies, onion and garlic – is served on the side for dipping, and Mendez’ hot and spicy salsa (she makes a mild version, too) is drizzled over the top.

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Taco Libre is easy to spot – when you see a bright blue wall, overturned milk crates and a string of Mexican flags you’ll know you’re in the right place. While it’s a grab-and-go joint at heart, outdoor seating and a liquor licence are on the way for those who want to stick around. Mendez and McKay are hopeful they can capture a true Mexican dining experience – whether it’s sitting on the kerb or enjoying a drink to the sound of Mexican hits coming from the kitchen.

Another playful nod to Mexico’s street food scene is the “chilli taco challenge”. The rules? First, eat the chilli taco (not an easy feat, considering it’s covered in Da Bomb hot sauce and Carolina reapers). Second, don’t drink anything for five minutes after eating it. Manage both feats and your taco is free – you’ll receive a small prize for your efforts, too.

For Mendez, opening Taco Libre has meant connecting with more Mexicans in Adelaide. “My culture has been everywhere [at Taco Libre] – you see so many Latinos there,” she says. “People are receiving Taco Libre really well,” adds McKay. “We had a guy come in the other night who said, ‘I’ve been to Mexico so many times, and I can’t tell the difference.” But for Mendez, perhaps the greatest pleasure of all has been the opportunity to reconnect with her roots through food. “I just cook how I would at home,” she says. “I’m very passionate about my country, so cooking something Mexican makes me proud.”

Taco Libre
243 Seacombe Rd, South Brighton

Hours:
Thurs to Sat 5pm–9pm

@tacolibre.southbrighton
tacolibre.com.au