You may have driven past one of Melbourne’s best new Mexican restaurants at peak hour and not even realised – or queued at another only to have all the tacos sell out. The city’s well-established list of authentic Mexican joints has received some worthy additions of late, and we’ve rounded up four of our faves so you’ll never go taco-less again.
The Happy Mexican
Hoddle Street isn’t known for its dining pedigree, but if you’re after affordable, authentic Mexican and affable service, The Happy Mexican (near the corner of Gipps Street) is worth a look-in.
It’s owned and run by Julian Romero, and managed by his girlfriend Kelly Araque. Romero was born in Colombia, but moved to Los Angeles at 16. From there he made frequent trips to Mexico City to visit friends and family. He and the restaurant’s chef, Jesus Rios – who moved to Australia from Mexico six months ago – produce an undiluted, down-home interpretation of Mexican classics.
The tacos come generously stacked with slow-cooked marinated pork, squishy roast pumpkin, or fatty lengua (beef tongue), a staple at Mexican taquerias. On Tuesdays all the tacos are $3, and on Fridays there are $10 Margaritas.
The California-style burrito is rolled thick as a tube of Pringles and filled with green rice, corn, black beans, cheese, salsa and your choice of sautéed mushrooms, roast chicken or slow-braised pork.
Don’t let the kitschy sombreros, maracas and cacti emblazoned on the buttercup-yellow exterior fool you – the food here is legit.
Frankie’s Tortas and Tacos
Frankie’s opened late last year in a former kebab stand on an empty Collingwood lot. It belts out straightforward Mexican fare for the lunchtime crowd and has singlehandedly lifted Melbourne’s street-food game with its no-fuss, two-option menu.
It’s a simple choice: tortas or tacos. And nothing costs more than $15.
The tacos come in three varieties – al pastor (spiced pork that’s cooked on a spit), asada (barbequed beef with a smoky, charred flavour), and mushroom. But it’s the torta (a Mexican sandwich) you’re after.
To make a torta, cheese is slapped onto the grill, then the cut side of a bread roll is placed on top so the cheese cooks into the bread. The roll is then stuffed with black beans, avocado, lettuce, coriander, an onion-y pickle, and your choice of protein. Easy.
The hard part is getting there before they sell out.
There are three distinct options when it comes to seating at Taquito. In summer you might not make it past the outdoor benches and tables by the entrance on Drummond Street (after all, tacos and outdoor dining are a great fit). Inside there’s a casual front room and bar, downstairs there’s a plant-filled dining room.
Taquito makes all its tortillas in-house and even grows its own hard-to-find Mexican ingredients, such as epazote (an aromatic herb). For smaller appetites, a flight of tacos and a salad could serve as a late-night, post-Cinema Nova snack. For something larger to share, the beef short-rib birria (spicy stew) comes with a stack of tortillas for a DIY-style taco dinner. The six-course “feed-me” option is also good value at $50 a head.
Drinks-wise, there’s a house-made horchata (a sweet rice-milk and cinnamon drink) and a handful of punchy cocktails. If you’re after something stronger, the drinks list places equal importance on Mexican spirit-producers as it does Australian winemakers.
Bodriggy Brewing Co
Bodriggy Brewing Co has real night-time energy without being overly loud and nightclub-y. The converted warehouse space is big – and licensed for 424 – but clever subdivisions mean there are spots for bigger groups to work their way through an extensive list of beers, and smaller groups to sit down for dinner.
It’s a brewpub, but the owners haven’t neglected the food – which is not strictly Mexican, but draws influence from across Central and South America, particularly from Peru.
Alongside staples such as $7-apiece empanadas, bowls of totopos (tortilla chips) with two types of salsa, and trios of tacos, are jalapenos stuffed with smoked swordfish; elote (corn on the cob); big plates of pulled pork and other slow-cooked meats; and a zippy ceviche.
In addition to crisp Bodriggy-brewed pilsners, summer ales and sours, there’s tepache, a Mexican drink made with fermented pineapple juice.
You can find our full guide to Melbourne’s best Mexican restaurants here.
This article first appeared on Broadsheet on January 16, 2020. Menu items may have changed since publication.