Popping neon, bold cocktails, hot sauce bottles and eclectic music – everything from Charley Crockett to The Cure and even a Mariachi-style cover of Nirvana’s Lithium – fill the room at Bar Tobala. The Mexican bar and restaurant from bartender Anthony Jayasekera and wife Frankie Jayasekera opened quietly earlier in the year and quickly became a Pascoe Vale South favourite.

“It’s ‘American diner meets roadside taco stand’,” Anthony tells Broadsheet. “But mostly we want it to feel like the hospitality of being at somebody’s house.”

Pool table green-painted walls crowded with pieces from Mexican artists, combined with high-top window seating, booths and tables loaded with snacks and share plates, add to the venue’s homey convivial feel. “It took a minute for people to understand it,” Anthony says of the venue, “then people realised it was more of a date night spot and got really excited”.

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The former Romeo Lane bartender admits to being “painfully geeky” about cocktails and spirits, and the lively spot is a decidedly “cocktail-forward diner”. He has developed a bright and bold cocktail menu with drinks driven by seasonal experimentation that incorporate mostly traditionally made agave spirits.

While there are your classic Margaritas and Palomas, the list also includes the Telenovela, made with the more floral/vegetal Mexican agave spirit raicilla plus amontillado sherry, lemon, strawberry and rose water; the Motel Tan, which mixes mezcal with limoncello, yuzushu, passionfruit and morita chilli (a smoked jalapeno pepper); and the Nighthawk, a coffee-banana-coconut drink that is made using Oaxacan rum.

Everything on the drinks list – from the cocktails to the natural wines, Mexican beers and Jarritos sodas – is curated to match the food’s punchy flavours. Former Frankie’s Tortas and Tacos chef Rick Stone leads the kitchen and mainly uses recipes Anthony has developed based on his travels to Mexico over the past 12 years.

“Our food’s a fun menu of sharing dishes, with a solidly Mexican flavour profile and Mexican ingredients where possible,” says Anthony.

These dishes include charred elote (corn); escabeche (pickles) and a selection of tacos, such as pollo verde (chicken in green salsa); chorizo, potato and quesillo (Oaxacan cheese); and jackfruit in a spicy tomato sauce. For lighter bites, there’s delicate kingfish on a tostadita (toasted tortilla), and for hearty home-style cooking, a Mexican stew called pozole.

The dessert offering is cinnamon pie with carrots cooked in sherry, evaporated milk and piloncillo (cane sugar) with a brûléed orange custard and Cointreau whipped cream.

The menu also features a few riffs on Melbourne staples including stracciatella divorciados, strands of cheese served with spicy salsas and epazote-poached tomato: exactly the kind of “modern Mexican wine bar food” the Bar Tobala kitchen hopes to be known for.

Bar Tobala
237 Melville Road, Pascoe Vale South
0422 482 551

Tue to Thu 5–10pm
Fri & Sat 5–11pm