Perhaps you’ve seen The Happy Mexican – and dismissed it – while stuck in one of Hoddle Street’s notorious traffic jams? The kitschy sombreros, maracas and cacti emblazoned on the buttercup-yellow facade aren’t the most encouraging signs.

Give it a chance.

Owner Julian Romero was born in Colombia and moved to Los Angeles when he was 16, from where he made frequent trips to Mexico City to see friends and relatives. He’s selling an undiluted, down-home interpretation of Mexican cuisine akin to that once found at Fitzroy’s defunct Los Amates (RIP) and still found at Kensington’s La Tortilleria (the Happy Mexican’s tortilla supplier).

Generously stacked tacos are the main attraction. Especially so on Tuesdays, when they’re half price. The carnitas sees pork marinated in orange juice and spices, then slow-cooked until it’s falling apart. Fatty lengua (beef tongue), a staple at Mexican taquerias, is fortified with full-bodied pasilla chillies. And squishy roast pumpkin plays nice with potato, capsicum, black beans and guac.

Fans of California-style Mexican should order a burrito. Rolled thick as a tube of Pringles, the flour tortillas strain with green rice, corn, black beans, cheese, salsa, plus your choice of sautéed mushrooms, roast chicken or slow-braised pork. The Happy Mexican also serves tortas (sandwiches), pairing fried chicken and steak milanesa with refried beans, lettuce, tomato, onion and chipotle mayo.

The cheerful yellow room, with its weathered timber tables and old-timey photographs, also serves up tap beer, margaritas (10 bucks on Fridays) and a more-than-decent selection of mezcal and tequila.

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Updated: March 20th, 2023

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