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12° & CLOUDY ON THURSDAY 14 NOVEMBER IN MELBOURNE
By Elizabeth Maidment
June 18, 2019
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Taquito

Carlton's temple of tacos, tequila and handmade tortillas.
By Elizabeth Maidment
June 18, 2019
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BOOK A TABLE

From Tex-Mex eateries to underground mezcal bars, Melbourne has no shortage of Mexican spots. This temple of tacos and tequila, however, has opened in a historically Italian area: Carlton.

Setting up shop on Drummond Street, Taquito is small. But small is the name of the game here — literally. "Taquita means little taco, but in an affectionate way," says owner and manager Alex Villareal. "It's a term of endearment."

While Taquito's name and space are small, its food is big on flavour. Out the back of the quaint restaurant, you'll find an outdoor area filled with chilli plants and other spices — which, naturally, feature throughout their menu. "We have habanero and cayenne chillies that have been used in our drinks and salsas," says Villereal. "And the big nopal cactus in the dining room is looking like it will have a couple of prickly pears soon, too, which we'll use in our menu".

Most menu elements are also prepared in-house, including the tortillas, which is a bit of a rarity in Australia. "Back home in Mexico you could always tell if a taqueria or a restaurant was good because its tortillas were fresh and handmade," says Villereal. "But it is one of the things we miss most about Mexico."

According to Villereal, handmade tortillas help elevate the flavour and texture of the fillings. At Taquita, the corn flatbreads are hand-pressed and cooked on a custom charcoal grill, then topped with the likes of fire-roasted, peppery pumpkin matched with velvety avocado and tri-tip steak with fiery salsa and a heaping of rich cheese. You can match them with corn chips (also made in-house) drizzled in hot cheddar, chilli and peppers and radish, sorrel and whipped tofu dip.

Still hungry? Look to the bar's cinnamon churros. They arrive with hot chocolate atole (a maize-based drink or dipping sauce), which will (most likely) be downed as quickly as a shot of tequila — another thing that Taquito brings to the table.

Alongside a selection of wines and craft beers, Taquito has a lengthy lineup of tequila and mezcal, which feature in all five of its signature cocktails. Order the High Ball — with Trombo tequila, ginger, lemon and plum — if you're looking for something refreshing, or the charred jalapeño-spiked tommy's margarita if you want something with more of a kick.

The bar itself has a homely feel — you'll be eating and drinking surrounded by cacti and Mexican trinkets —  a vibe Villareal wanted to capture not just in the design, but also in the home-style food and drinks. "I'm originally from Mexico City and have been living in Melbourne for over twelve years," says Villareal. "I have always wanted to find a place that represented Mexican cuisine with food that reminded me of home."

Villereal also has big plans for the future of Taquito, too — he's hoping to add on a small brewery, a bottle shop full of Mexican specialities and a margarita on tap.

Images: Julia Sansone.

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