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FOOD & DRINK

The Best Mexican Restaurants and Bars in Melbourne

Head to these spots for seriously good tacos, rare mezcals and many, many margaritas.
By Libby Curran
February 19, 2020
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The Best Mexican Restaurants and Bars in Melbourne

Head to these spots for seriously good tacos, rare mezcals and many, many margaritas.
By Libby Curran
February 19, 2020
  shares

THE BEST MEXICAN RESTAURANTS AND BARS IN MELBOURNE

Head to these spots for seriously good tacos, rare mezcals and many, many margaritas.

The Mexican craze might have taken a little longer than most to hit Aussie shores, but by guacamole are we glad it finally did. We've swapped the hard-shell tacos and questionable margaritas for a slew of top-notch eateries with menus inspired by real Mexican flavours and back bars filled with great mezcal. From cheerful street food spots where the tacos and tinnies flow freely, to more refined restaurants with banquet menus designed for lingering, our city's got a fiesta for just about every occasion. So take a trip with our pick of Melbourne's best Mexican eateries.

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    What this Smith Street kiosk lacks in size, it makes up for in Mexican flavour, from the menu right through to the unpretentious streetside setting. Frankie’s is a laidback, paper plate affair, with just a handful of plastic dine-in seats and a fuss-free food offering that’s pure lunchtime gold. You’ll find three varieties of taco — perhaps the classic al pastor pork with pineapple — alongside a trio of ‘tortas’ (Mexican baguette sandwiches) stuffed with the likes of asada mushrooms, or crumbed Milanese-style beef. Neither tequila nor beer gets a look-in here, but there is a daytime-appropriate offering of Jarritos Mexican sodas, and cold brew and filter from Abbotsford’s Blume Coffee.

    Image: Tracey Ah-kee

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    Benzina Cantina

    Inspired by the owner’s passion for tacos and motorbikes, this modern Mexican haunt sits adjacent to a bike workshop on Preston’s High Street. Crafted from repurposed shipping containers, it’s working an easygoing industrial vibe as the backdrop to a colourful, crowd-pleasing menu. Here, classic dishes get the new-school treatment, across plates like handmade beef and bean gorditas, and feta-topped cactus salad. Tacos boast some serious flair — opt for creations like the lamb slow-cooked in beer and matched with a ‘drunken’ red sauce, or local chorizo fried with potatoes, onion and queso de Oaxaca. There’s an ever-growing selection of tequila and mezcal, though that watermelon margarita is always a good match to a session on Benzina’s rooftop terrace.

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    With a moniker that translates to an affectionate term meaning ‘little taco’, this pint-sized Carlton bar and eatery sure lives up to its name. Tacos are the undisputed stars of the show at Taquito, where each tortilla is handmade from scratch and only top-notch seasonal ingredients make the menu. Those golden flatbreads come topped with the likes of carne asada and salsa roja or crispy fish with a Mexican tartare, and the chef’s choice taco flights are a clear win for the indecisive. Dig deeper into the menu to feast on considered plates like tuna ceviche, prawn sopes and Oaxacan cheese-stuffed chilli, matched to a concise but knowledgeable agave lineup. There’s even a slew of crafty house cocktails for the fiesta-inclined.

    Image: Julia Sansone

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    The Happy Mexican

    It’s only new, but this colourful Collingwood Mexican joint is already pulling in the regulars, earning brownie points for its cheery fit-out, region-hopping menu and $10 Friday margaritas. Take a seat beneath the piñatas and tuck into a mixed six-taco platter, a Sinaloa-style pork burrito stuffed with herbed rice and chipotle mayo, or maybe one of the crisp baguette tortas (Mexican sandwiches) with crumbed steak, refried beans and salad. Meanwhile, the bar offering a small but considered, with some top-quality fair-trade mezcal and tequila making it into the house cocktails. And you won’t find a much better excuse to ditch the midweek kitchen slog than The Happy Mexican’s half-price tacos, up for grabs each Tuesday.

    Image: Tracey Ah-kee

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    Bodega Underground

    Tucked away in a cosy basement space on Little Bourke Street lies this late-night mezcal bar and taqueria slinging good times and ripper tacos right through until 3am. The menu’s entirely gluten free and boasts vegan options aplenty — kick off your fiesta with the likes of prawn ceviche or some chilli and lime salted fried chicken, before moving onto tacos loaded with combinations like spicy chorizo and braised pork. Also a fitting match to late-night visits is the sprawling collection of agave, with curated flights for those looking to explore. And for a daytime Mexican fix, try Bodega’s bottomless ‘Mexi-brunch’ offering five lively courses and 90 minutes of free-flowing cocktails every Saturday and Sunday.

    Image: Jean-Louis Carvalho

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    Hotel Jesus

    Loud and lively in both spirits and looks, Collingwood’s Hotel Jesus comes from the same minds behind CBD mainstay Mamasita, though marches to a very different tune. A no-frills, high-energy space, it takes its cues from the neighbourhood taquerias of Mexico, celebrating produce-driven plates and classic flavours, albeit with a few modern reworkings. Rock in for lively tacos, prawn ceviche and maybe some agave chilli chicken wings, matched to memorable extras like a meat floss-topped caesar salad. Tuesdays see taco prices slashed by $2, and when the daily happy hour (5–6pm) rolls around, half-price beers and sangria are cause for extra celebration.

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    Making its home six storeys up within Swanston Street’s Curtin House, Mesa Verde is reimagining classic Mexican flavours with a touch of contemporary Melbourne flair. The space itself works a grown-up vibe, serving up a crafty, refined menu to match. You’ll spy snacks like blistered padrón peppers teamed with smoked sea salt and lime, and crispy chimichurri lamb ribs, while tacos feature the likes of soft shell crab with iceberg and caesar dressing. Throw in share plates like fried green tomatoes and achiote chicken quesadillas, and a $60 a head ‘feed me’ menu, and you’ve got yourself a good excuse for a full-blown feast. Don’t miss the truly impressive assortment of tequila and mezcal, or the 15-strong margarita list.

    Image: Brook James

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    La Tortilleria

    That this family-run tortilleria supplies many of the city’s other Mexican eateries with its award-winning freshly-pressed flatbreads, should give you some idea of the quality fare it’s dishing up. At the onsite eatery, those stone-ground corn tortillas are showcased across an upbeat menu of quesadillas, ceviche dishes, chilaquiles and tacos — perhaps topped with free-range pork carnitas, or slow-cooked beef cheeks with green tomatillo salsa. The bar’s slinging a tight, but informed list of tequila and mezcal, alongside imported cervezas, jugs of booze-free aguas frescas and classic agave cocktails. And if you swing by on a Tuesday, you’ll find a trio of tacos for $12, washed down with $5 house beers and wines.

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    Mamasita

    An oldie but a goodie, Mamasita is one of the OG players in Melbourne’s Mexican wave, first opening its doors way back in 2010. That famous front staircase has seen many a lengthy queue as people scramble to get their fix of modern Latin American fare. The menu here’s a broad-ranging one, with snacks like tostaditas and crispy school prawns sitting alongside refined tacos and a handful of heartier shares. Think, chargrilled beef short rib with an arbol chilli chimichurri, or a whole baby snapper teamed with rice and tortillas. What’s more, the obsession with agave spirits here is clear with just one glance at the drinks list, which is loaded with tequila, mezcal and tasting flights.

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    With a solid eight years under its belt, this colourful St Kilda gem is one of Melbourne’s go-tos for fast, fun Mexican street food. The kitchen’s honouring traditional flavours, while the cheery corner space has those festive feels sorted. This one’s a menu primed for both snacking and feasting, running from tacos — maybe the baja fish number or one starring slow-cooked pibil pork — through to heartier plates like mezcal-marinated beef enchiladas and chipotle tamarind pork ribs. To match, you’ll spy a mix of local crafties and imported brews, alongside five different margarita varieties. The signature blend of popcorn-infused tequila, Cointreau and lime with a jalapeño popcorn float is where the party’s at.

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    A long-time favourite for tequila-fuelled taco feasts with the crew, Brunswick’s Los Hermanos has been kicking on strong for years. The buzzy, backstreet haunt is rocking a rustic space and an authentic menu to match, generously priced and primed for good times. Tacos are the hero, running to satisfying combinations like slow-cooked chipotle chicken and potatoes with green tomatillo salsa, and field mushrooms matched with grilled manchego and sour cream. The agave collection’s a cracker and staff are always happy to serve you a little side of knowledge with your drink. Though a range of crisp beers and tequila-driven cocktails also gets a pretty solid work out once those tacos are flying from the kitchen.

    Image: Leah Hulst

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Top image: Frankie’s Tortas and Tacos by Tracey Ah-kee.

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