Remember when Mexican food was a box of hard-shelled tacos, a block of cheddar and a packet of spice mix?

We've moved on from those days. Not only are Melbourne's next-generation cantinas importing the obscure chillies, types of corn and other ingredients required to make authentic Mexican food, they have the drinks to match. So do it like the Mexicans do: order a few rounds of tacos or tostadas, and match with a michelada, tequila or mezcal.

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Mamasita

Restaurant

There were many Mexican restaurants before this one, but owners Nick Peters and Matt Lane were the first restaurateurs to bring a faithful representation of Mexican food to Melbourne. This "hot babe" has been around since 2010, and there are still queues on the stairs for its elotes (grilled corn) and flavoursome tacos.

Level 1 11 Collins Street, Melbourne

Hotel Jesus

Restaurant

Venue number two from the Mamasita crew introduced a careful element of kitsch but lost none of the attention to detail that made its older sibling such a hit. Take a seat at the bar, order a frosty Michelada and snack on some huitalacoche (corn fungus) tacos. Even if you've been to Mexico, you won't find the experience lacking.

174 Smith Street, Collingwood

La Tortilleria

Restaurant

If Mexicans had one complaint about Mamasita and Hotel Jesus, it might be that the two restaurants elevate tacos – traditionally a humble food – into something too constructed and cheffy. La Tortilleria is more like what you'd find in Los Angeles or Mexico itself: a basic sort of place, where house-made tortillas come on colourful plastic plates and it's up to diners to customise with the salsas as they see fit.

72 Stubbs Street, Kensington
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Bodriggy Brewing Co

Bar

This mammoth brewery in Abbotsford is also a great spot for Mexican cuisine (with some Peruvian influences). Order one of the cocktails on tap, then settle in for dishes such as jalapenos stuffed with smoked swordfish or anticuchos – a sort of Peruvian satay or shish kebab, which combines beef heart and grilled potato.

245 Johnston Street, Abbotsford

Radio Mexico

Restaurant

This spot just off St Kilda Beach is one of Melbourne's original Mexican restaurants, and it's still one of its best. That's thanks to an uncompromising commitment to quality ingredients. The drinks list, which includes a handful of Margaritas, complements the fun, shareable food.

11-13 Carlisle Street, St Kilda

Los Hermanos Mexican Taqueria

Restaurant

Half restaurant, half bar and always a party. Owner Bruno Carreto was born in Mexico and did a stint in a taqueria there before opening Los Hermanos. As you'd expect, the tacos and gorditas are the real deal. Don't forget to choose a tequila or mezcal from the blackboard.

339 Victoria Street, Brunswick

El Sabor

Restaurant

Melbourne's other big tortilla-maker, El Cielo, is behind this lively cantina. Like La Tortilleria, it sticks to doing things simply, without cutting corners. But it's also an excellent place to try dishes relatively uncommon in Melbourne, such as tamales, tortilla soup and molletes.

500 Victoria St, North Melbourne

Little Hop

Bar

Los Hermanos moved into this bar a while back and never left. It's a simple kind of place, with just two beers on tap and tunes spinning away on the turntables behind the bar. Local hospitality workers like to stick their heads in for a quick chat and a taco before their shift. It’s open until 1am on weekends, so many return for wind-down drink after work too.

277 Brunswick Street, Fitzroy

Bodega Underground

Restaurant

This dim, characterful basement serves a wide range of proper tacos until 3am every night of the week. Do you even need to know more? Okay: there are 70 mezcals and 20 tequilas on the back bar.

55 Little Bourke Street, Melbourne

Taquito

Restaurant

This Mexican eatery makes its own tortillas and grows its own chillies and herbs. To drink, there’s wine on tap or you can buy mezcal from the in-house bottle shop.

350 Drummond Street, Carlton
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Hot Lips Hacienda

Restaurant

This relatively new restaurant has been eagerly taken up by Highett locals, who no longer have to schlep to St Kilda or the CBD for real Mexican food. Three native chefs are in the kitchen here, making tacos, quesadillas and a wicked lamb barbacoa.

2 Railway Parade, Highett

The Happy Mexican

Restaurant

This small, modestly decorated restaurant sits on a stretch of road best known for horrendous traffic. Yet the food is entirely legit. Go for the excellent, generously stacked tacos: with pork al pastor and charred pineapple; slow cooked beef; and deep-fried flathead with cabbage slaw and chipotle mayo. Wash it all down with a Mexican beer or a classic Margarita.

106 Hoddle Street, Abbotsford

Hello José

Restaurant

After a holiday to Mexico, housemates Scott Witham and Andrew Wilson brought Tulum beach back home to Melbourne. Their taqueria and bar is in part a tribute to José, a local beach bar owner Witham met in Tulum. The “tacky disco” décor is reminiscent of the seaside bars they frequented together, and Wilson hand-presses tortillas each day.

85 Peel Street, West Melbourne

Mesa Verde

Restaurant

This bar inside Curtin House is focused on drinks first and foremost (tequila, naturally), but the food's no B-team. Tacos include pork belly with charred pineapple; black bean and chimmichurri; and Baja fish and cabbage. There's also larger mains such as lamb ribs and southern fried chicken, plus sides and desserts.

Level 6, Curtin House 252 Swanston Street, Melbourne

The Black Toro

Restaurant

Garen Maskal and his cousins, Aret and Sasoon Arzadian, are best known for their modern Armenian restaurant, Sezar. But at the Black Toro, they prove they're not one-trick ponies. The menu here isn't especially authentic – e.g. fried chicken ribs with chipotle mayo – but it's not thoughtless fusion, either. Visit for creative spins on quesadillas, "tlayudas" (Mexican pizza, in effect) and achiote chicken.

79 Kingsway, Glen Waverley

Tres a Cinco

Restaurant

This lively cantina is all about home-style Mexican. Expect beef tacos exactly how they're served in Mexico, prawn-and-chorizo tamales and a jiggly chocolate flan. Plus: eight different Margaritas and hard-to-find agave spirits.

3-5 Hosier Lane, Melbourne

Village Cantina

Restaurant

This bright, buttercup-yellow restaurant is inspired by owner Rob Wilson's travels through Central America. Entrees lean North American and include jalapeno poppers and chilli fries. Things get more serious at mains, where tacos, quesadillas, burritos and nachos are made with La Tortilleria tortillas.

30 Ballarat Street, Yarraville

Superchido

Restaurant

This colourful Seddon diner plates up a pan-Mexican menu of favourites. There's tacos al pastor (and plenty of other regional styles), Mexico City-style street snacks and a front bar stacked with stacked with mezcals and tequilas.

82 Charles Street, Seddon

Mission District

Restaurant

This “Cali-style” Mexican joint does hulking pork-carnitas burritos, saucy queso tacos and house-made horchata. You can’t miss it: there’s a glowing, burrito-worshipping neon sign.

76 Glen Eira Road, Ripponlea

Frankie's Tortas and Tacos

Restaurant

This taco and torta (sandwich) stand in Collingwood is a fun and fairly unique proposition in a city where tacos are less often seen in their natural environment: the street. Step up for al pastor (pork) carved straight from the spit, or breaded beef milanesa or asada mushroom grilled to order. There are a couple of tables to eat at, or you can whisk your lunch away.

384 Smith Street, Collingwood

Fonda Mexican Richmond

Restaurant

Fonda, or “La Fonda” refers to a hotel or a small house in Mexico that does food. Fonda serves that Mexican hospitality across seven locations. And while it’s never claimed to do traditional Mexican street food, it has you covered for a quick, filling Mexican-inspired lunch made with quality ingredients.

248 Swan Street, Richmond
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