If you haven’t been to Abbotsford’s Happy Mexican, perhaps you’ve noticed its bright blue and yellow facade (with pink neon signage) while driving bumper-to-bumper down Hoddle Street. Owner Julian Romero’s new CBD spin-off, which opened late last month, is a little more hidden (but no less colourful).

Follow the signs from Franklin Street down a quiet laneway, up some steps and up a lift to a rooftop overlooking Queen Victoria Market. The large, open space stands out against the office buildings and grey skies with a bright and colourful fit-out of festive yellow umbrellas, Fiesta del Sol flags, geometric flooring and pastel shipping containers, which provide a more private (and cosy) dining experience “to keep the fiesta going during cold nights”, says Romero.

“We want our customers to feel like they are walking into a restaurant in Mexico as soon as they come off the lift or open the doors of the stairway,” he adds. It’s a level up from the Abbotsford location, with capacity for 200 diners (compared to the original site’s capacity of 70) with open, undercover and enclosed areas to greet all seasons.

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Romero was born in Colombia and later moved to Los Angeles, making frequent trips to Mexico City to see friends and relatives. At The Happy Mexican he’s teamed up with chef Jesus Rios, who has been with the business from the beginning. Rios has spent the past 10 years cooking Mexican food in Mexico and Australia.

His popular tacos are on the menu here, generously topped with slow-cooked pork and grilled pineapple; flathead with pickled cabbage and a garlic and habanero mayo; and tender cactus with Mexican potato and pickled onion.

“Nopales [cacti] are a main part of Mexican cuisine. They are also used in every kind of dish from street taquerias to higher-end cuisine restaurants,” says Romero. “Nopales are mainly used in the centre and south of Mexico, but they are also found used in some dishes in the north of Mexico at times.”

You’ll also find quesabirrias (two corn tortillas stuffed with Jalisco-style slow-cooked beef, melted Oaxaca cheese and served with a broth for dipping), plus crisp tostadas topped with either ceviche-style prawns, guacamole, cucumber, green apple and chipotle mayo or marinated fresh tuna, morita (a red, ripe jalapeno pepper) mayo, avocado and fried leek.

Other seafood dishes include a Mexican-style prawn cocktail with house-made salsa. And octopus ceviche marinated in fresh lime juice. Pair it all with a Mexican beer or a classic Margarita (there are also variations made with mezcal, jalapeno or lychee), or go for a non-alcoholic horchata or a sweet-sour tamarindo.

The Happy Mexican
167 Franklin Street, Melbourne (enter via Anthony Street)


Wed to Sun 12pm–late