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FOOD & DRINK

The Best Mexican Restaurants and Bars in Sydney

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

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

THE BEST MEXICAN RESTAURANTS AND BARS IN SYDNEY

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

The arrival of lots of great Mexican food in the last few years was a welcome one for many a Sydneysider in search of a fresh, tasty and spicy bite to eat. Freshly steamed tamales, traditional spices and soft hand-pressed tacos have replaced the crunch of Old El Paso's hardshell stand-and-stuffs, while bartenders all over the city are whipping up innovative cocktails with the world's best mezcals. Here are our picks for the best Mexican restaurants and bars in Sydney.

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    Cantina OK!

    Despite what you might have thought as a bright-eyed 18 year old, there’s more to Mexican booze than tequila and Coronas. If you’re looking for a mezcal education, your journey should begin and end (at least in Sydney) at Cantina OK! — a 20-person bar with absolutely no seating. The owners (who are also responsible for Tio’s Cerveceria) went out on a road trip around Mexico, picking up some 140 bottles of mezcal, tequila, raicilla (an agave distilled spirit from Jalisco) and sotol (non-agave distilled spirit from northern Mexico). They brought it all back and set up a quaint, relaxed bar honouring the style, history and colours of Mexico. Stop by for a damn good margarita (with both mezcal and tequila) or a produce-driven weekly special. Recent concoctions have included a rosemary mezcal, rockmelon and sour plum mix, the Cowboy Coffee (chocolate tequila with espresso, star anise, cinnamon and pasilla bitters) and the Miami Rice — starring two different mezcals, plum puree, lime, white grapefruit and rice and barley syrup over shaved ice.

    Image: Kimberley Low

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  • 9
    Chica Bonita CBD — CLOSED

    In a high-ceilinged, heritage-listed building on Clarence Street, you’ll find Chica Bonita CBD, a laidback restaurant of earthy tones, potted succulents and 100 seats for you to settle into for a feast. It’s a slightly more refined version of sister venue Chica Bonita Manly, serving up those legendary fish tacos and jalapeño margaritas, plus a little something extra. Try the baby corn with fermented chilli mayo, queso fresco and cacao, and the tostado loaded with chilli soy-cured tuna, sesame chipotle mayo, puffed rice and flaky skipjack tuna that’s been dried, fermented and smoked. To share, there’s mole pork belly with fermented kale or the enoki pipian — a thick chilli sauce dish made of enoki mushroom, tomatillo, red macadamia, wasabi and wattle seed.

    Image: Kitti Gould

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  • 8
    Rosa Cienfuegos Tamaleria & Mexican Deli

    You might have come across Rosa Cienfuegos slinging tacos at her fairly regular pop-ups at breweries around the Inner West — including Sauce, Grifter and Young Henrys) — but you can also try her authentic Mexican cooking every weekend at this deli-shop in Dulwich Hill. Hailing from Mexico city, Cienfuegos serves up signature Mexico City and Oaxaca-style hot tamales (with fillings like chicken with mole sauce, pineapple pork in green sauce and the vegetarian poblano chillies with cheese) and street-style tacos topped with slow-cooked brisket, lamb barbacoa, marinated pulled pork and a spicy cactus salad. Plus a few other dishes and specials depending on what’s inspiring the chef that week. In keeping with the corner deli vibes, you can also pick up homemade salsas, sauces, specialty Mexican ingredients and DIY kits for at-home cooking.

    Image: Trent van der Jagt

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  • 7

    If you’re a fan of tequila and don’t already know about Tio’s, get ready — it’s about to become your new favourite haunt. The bar does five or six mixed tequila drinks, including a sour with grapefruit and mezcal; a classic margarita; and another called Roberto’s Especial, with fresh apple juice, cucumber and three herbs. The longstanding Surry Hills’ favourite has a super laidback feel to it. The decor is appropriately kitsch, including cute owls, Virgin Marys and a giant crab, and the long tables have a fun, food hall vibe to them. To fit with that, Tio’s upped its food offering late last year, adding guacamole, chicharrones (pork crackling) and a selection of Latin fried pizzas to its repertoire, alongside the always popular free popcorn.

    Image: Nikki To

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  • 6
    Chula

    Chula showcases the fresher, more vibrant side of Mexican food. The elegantly designed eatery is filled with terracotta tones and wicker furniture. Tacos and quesadillas are made with proper chewy corn tortillas and stuffed with the likes of cactus, mushrooms, chilli and garlic grilled prawns, Mexican truffle and achiote pulled pork. In regards to dessert, all you need to know is that they do a churros ice-cream sandwich with salted caramel ice-cream and a sticky cajeta sauce, a Mexican caramel made from goat’s milk. The venue also has a sizeable bar, which has been elaborately decorated like a shrine to the spirits — quite literally. If you’re struggling to choose between the spicy green chilli margarita and the sour, blood orange version, por que no los dos?

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  • 5
    Pazar Food Collective

    You’d have no idea Pazar was even there if it wasn’t for the pink neon sign. From the outside, it looks like an old, derelict garage, but on the inside, it’s a modern gem serving up an eclectic mash-up of Mexican and Turkish fare, which people from all over Sydney pack out almost every night of the week. Some of our top picks include the maple-smoked labneh with spiced apricot mostarda and sesame and pepita chiltepin salsa; the watermelon and Oaxacan cheese drizzled with a jalapeño agave dressing, chilli lime salt and spiced peanuts; and a whole ember-blackened pumpkin with pepita chimichurri, feta and toasted almonds. For dessert, there’s a tres leches cake with habanero caramel and a raspberry, mezcal and lime sauce.

    Image: Kitti Gould

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  • 4
    Barrio Cellar

    A red neon sign declaring “everything with tequila” beckons you off the street and downstairs into a dark basement space with hanging wire lamps, potted succulents, booth seating and a cluster of chandeliers above one long table. You’ve found Barrio Cellar. Pick your margarita (Tommy’s, watermelon, stealth or spiced mezcal), a flight of Herradura tequilas, or make your cerveza a michelada — an ice cold beer served with lime, chilli, Barrio’s salsas and clamato. There are plenty of small bites, tacos, quesadillas, nachos, burritos, bowls and salads. But the real treat is in the daily chef’s specials and a deep dive into the bar stocked with tequila from all over Mexico.

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  • 3
    George Hotel Waterloo

    Head to mainstay Waterloo pub The George and you’ll find cacti in the courtyard, a glowing al pastor fountain, a pond filled with eels and a kitchen turning out tacos and tostadas instead of the pub’s old American-style barbecue. At the centre of the food offering is Toby ‘The Taco King’ Wilson and the al pastor — a Mexican specialty that’s based on the Lebanese immigrant version of shawarma spit-grilled meat. The pork coming off the al pastor is served atop hand-pressed tortillas with onion and salsa. Other specialties include spicy kingfish ceviche tostada, quesadillas with chorizo and thick churros served with dulce de leche. The cocktail list has a distinctly South American edge. There’s the Mexican French Martini made with tequila, the Brazilian-style caipirinha and the michelada.

    Image: Kimberley Low

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  • 2
    Sonora Mexican

    The latest addition to Sydney’s Mexican dining scene comes from the team behind Bondi mainstays Taqiza and Carbon, and Mexican-born chef Juan Carlos (Three Blue Ducks). While predominantly Mexican, the menu also boasts plenty of international flavours and ingredients, such as burrata, wagyu pastrami (in a burrito) and wattleseed. Though not the only thing worth trying (check out the ocean trout tartare with avocado mousse and lime sour cream), tacos are the central focus here, with fillings like grilled octopus and smoked capsicum sauce, lamb with cumin cream and quail with pumpkin purée. As in Mexico, every table gets complimentary salsas for topping those tacos with, too, which come in three varieties: chipotle hibiscus, basil salsa verde and hazelnut macha.

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  • 1

    The bright red exterior of Surry Hills’ Bad Hombres signals to the artsy vibe of the industrial fit-out you’ll find inside, where a bustling kitchen is pumping out 100 percent vegan, mostly gluten free Mexican fare. Kick things off with tortilla chips dipped in roast jalapeño guacamole and the king mushroom ceviche with corn, sweet potato and chilli. Try a couple of crispy eggplant tacos with pineapple habanero salsa and miso caramel, and tuck into some sharing plates of seasoned cauliflower, mole enchiladas or Mexican-style stir-fried oyster mushrooms. Pair it all with a pét-nat or skin contact wine, a lychee paloma or the peach and pink grapefruit white sangria.

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Top images: Chica Bonita by Kitti Gould

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