Over the past decade Ioreth Tudor has co-founded three of Melbourne’s best pizzerias: A Boy Named Sue in St Andrews, Lazerpig in Collingwood and Wolf and Swill in Thornbury.

He sold out of Wolf and Swill last year, around the time it was moving to a larger site directly across High Street. Now he’s a few weeks into a residency at dive bar Nasty’s, less than 50 metres away, showing off a latent talent for Mexican food – tacos in particular. It’s as if Buddy Franklin suddenly appeared in an Olympic swimming pool.

“I’ve been wanting to do tacos for 10 years now,” Tudor says.

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The pop-up, Pinche Cantina, will bloom into a food-driven cocktail bar in Reservoir, near La Pinta before the year ends. Don’t wait for that, though.

Tudor’s not a trained chef but with the help of cookbooks, Mexican friends and Youtube, he’s cooking just like one. Friend and career chef Catriona Freeman (former sous chef at Bistro Elba and Patsy’s) is in Nasty’s tiny subway-tiled kitchen with him, while his smiley partner, Lisa Galloro, delivers food to the tables.

The single-page A5 menu changes weekly but typically includes a few snacks (house-made tortilla chips with guac, and grilled elotes with manchego), plus three meat and three veg tacos. Unlike most of Melbourne’s Mexican restaurants, which use tortillas made at La Tortilleria, Pinche’s spongy bois are made on site daily.

“I didn’t want my tortillas to taste like everyone else’s,” Tudor says. “It’s a lot of effort … but I feel like a freshly made one that’s been pressed and cared for, the flavour and texture is so much better. It holds better, it’s a bit thicker, it doesn’t dry out or crack – there’s nothing worse than a taco that breaks halfway through.”

This thoughtful foundation helps toppings like cochinita pibil (slow-cooked pork), birria (slow-cooked beef) and house-made vegan chorizo with nopales (cactus) shine. On other days it might be grilled Oaxacan-style cheese with zucchini; or celeriac, parsnip and cabbage with chipotle mayo. In true Mexican fashion, every order is accompanied by a communal caddy of various house-made salsas so you can adjust the heat and herby, floral aspects to your liking.

Tudor sources whole pigs from Barongarook Pork near Colac and butchers them in-house for the sake of quality and economy. His beef braising cuts come from former dairy cows at regenerative operation Lakey Farm in Sunbury – this time for the sake of animal welfare and the environment. Before they meet a taco, both meats spend time in a cabinet smoker standing in Nasty’s back alleyway, acquiring an even more pungent smokiness than you’d expect at an American barbeque joint.

Good as these meaty tacos are, they mightn’t be the main event for everyone. That award surely goes to the tacos dorados languishing at the bottom of the menu. The rolled and deep-fried taquitos, filled with velvety Dutch cream potato, herbs and queso fresco, are pinche good and demand a crisp beer or wine from Nasty’s front bar.

Pinche?

“If you watch Narcos or one of those Mexican gangster shows or even Taco Chronicles, they all use the word ‘pinche’,” Tudor says. “It’s a little naughty. It’s used similarly to the way we use ‘fucking’ in English. It accentuates things. So you say something is ‘pinche’ amazing. Or if you’re mad at someone you say, ‘pinche cabrón’. I’ve just always loved the word.”

Pinche Cantina
Inside Nasty’s, 806 High Street, Thornbury
No phone

Hours (Nasty’s)
Tue to Sun 4pm–1am

Hours (Pinche Cantina)
Tue to Sat 5pm–late

instagram.com/pinche_cantina_