Tequila and mezcal are both made by distilling agave, but there are a couple of significant differences between the two spirits. Mezcal is made by harvesting one of 50-plus species of agave, which is then wood-roasted, crushed and distilled in small batches, taking up to 30 days to produce. Usually rich and smoky (but not always), it’s Mexico’s answer to single-malt whisky.

In contrast, tequila is made only with a single species of agave: blue. While the spirit’s history goes back much further, the majority of tequila is now produced by cooking agave in modern steam ovens. The results are distilled, then bottled unaged (blanco), rested on oak for less than a year (reposado) or between one and three years (añejo).

These are just the basics. As with any spirits, there’s an enormous amount of variety out there, which the staff at these bars will only be too happy to talk you through. So whether you’re looking for a topnotch Margarita or Paloma, or something to savour and sip neat, there’s a spot here for you.

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Best Mexican Restaurants in Sydney

Cantina Ok!

Word of warning: don't bother bringing a large group to this tiny mezcal-centric laneway bar – even if it were completely empty, you probably wouldn't fit. It's by the team behind Tio's Cerveceria. The friendly, knowledgeable staff here will help you navigate the cracking cocktail list with confidence (and you might even end up ordering Sydney's best Margarita).

Council Place, Sydney

Tequila Mockingbird

Grilled meats, vegan desserts and street eats at a Latin American local.

6 Heeley Street, Paddington

Tio’s Cerveceria

At this shrine to beer and tequila, the popcorn is free, the music is loud and the Margaritas are strong and smooth.

4 14 Foster Street, Surry Hills

Esteban

A moody Mexican laneway diner in an old CBD printing shop. The upstairs restaurant serves tacos al pastor, a one-kilogram Wagyu rib eye and a sweet potato dessert. Downstairs there's a bar with more than 200 mezcals and tequilas.

1 Temperance Lane, Sydney

Carbon Mexican Wood Fire

This spot offers a hint of the flavours you might find on Mexico's Caribbean coast. It's all about boutique tequila and DIY tacos: you select all of the fillings you want and assemble the taco yourself. It's so simple – but so fun and practical. We wish it was more commonplace around town.

288 Bondi Road, Bondi
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Sonora

You won't find any sugar skulls or sombreros here. This eatery and mezcal bar is inspired by the coastal state of the same name and the executive chef's heritage, flour tortillas are preferred – and they're used to make Wagyu burritos.

37 Bayswater Road, Potts Point

Bad Hombres

This Mexican diner's menu is entirely plant-based, and it's all the better for it. If you're a veg-lover and a fan of Mexican flavours, this is the spot for you. When your tortilla's loaded with charred cauliflower, guacamole and pickles, you won't even noticed meat's gone.

40 Reservoir Street, Surry Hills

Don Pedros

Down this historic backstreet venue, you'll find a SoCal take on Mexican cuisine. Enter for soft shell crab tacos, and slow-cooked pork ribs. And a pre- and post-dinner shot of tequila is heavily encouraged by the team.

1 Victoria Street, Paddington
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Chica Bonita

This rustic little bolthole, hidden in a Manly back alley, is one of the seaside suburb's most popular and enduring eateries. We can see why. The laid-back atmosphere belies just how seriously this team take their food.

Shop 9 A/B 9 The Corso, Manly

El Loco

This Merivale bar is home to the tacos secretos – a sort of lucky dip for tacos, where the filling is a surprise until it reaches to your table. Secretos or not, each taco is around $7. We recommend the DIY platters, which are better value for money (and more fun). Try fillings such as baked eggplant and soy-chilli bean sauce or sirloin steak and chimichurri.

64 Foveaux Street, Surry Hills

Barrio Cellar

Late-night Mexican and beats from Barrio Chino. Come here for tacos, tequila and lots of dancing.

58 Elizabeth Street, Sydney

El Topo Cantina

Looking at it, this might not seem like a good-times Mexican bar and diner, with over forty different tequilas – proficiently deployed across an array of great cocktails – but don't judge this book by its cover. It's utterly unique, and delicious.

6 Homepride Avenue, Warwick Farm

Mejico

A crisp share menu and hundreds of tequila options. And the guacamole gets made right at your table.

105 Pitt Street, Sydney

Chula

At this Mexican restaurant (from the former owners of Barrio Chino), there's a particular emphasis on seafood. Pink scallop tostadas, raw prawns sliced like sashimi and de-boned snapper have all starred in the past.

Shop 7 33 Bayswater Road, Kings Cross

Cartel

This is a buzzing South American-inspired cocktail bar and diner by the teams behind Gin Lane and Eastside Bar & Grill. Expect ingredients such as spiced worm salt and grasshoppers, Margarita "trees", and more than 100 types of mezcal and tequila.

2 Kensington Street, Chippendale