It seems us Aussies have developed a serious obsession with all south of the border flavours, from fajitas to burritos, nachos to tacos and of course, tequila. Luckily, the sombrero-wearing chefs got the memo and a Mexican wave of authentic taco and tequila joints have opened in recent years, bringing their fresh flavours to our shores. But where to find the best? In no particular order, these are the ultimate sangria, salsa and ceviche eateries in Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane and Perth.
Méjico, Sydney, mejico.com.au
This inner city eatery does a kick-ass salsa line in upscale Mexican. All concrete floors and emblazoned walls, it says hola to Mexico via vines of chilli hanging from the ceiling. Their market-to-table food philosophy translates to seasonally driven south-of-the-border eats. It's well-equipped with crowd-pleasers like raw ceviche, five-inch tacos (taco size matters), achiote chicken, yucatan fish and vegetable paella. Or opt in for the 'signature selection' including smashed-at-your-table guacamole, corn lollipops, lamb adobo and churros for dessert. If you like your spice, take the 'how hot are you challenge?' and ramp up things to the max three chilli hotness.
Barrio Chino, Sydney, barriochino.com.au
Barrio Chino in Kings Cross takes a no-holds-barred approach to authentic mex grub. Take a pew at the long communal table for social-style salsa, chips and dip. Tacos reign supreme here, from crispy prawn to meat-lovers carne (grilled rump) to vego-friendly frijoles (black bean) and traditional carnitas (smoky jalapeño-apple braised crispy pork, chargrilled pineapple, tomatilla salsa and cilantro). For a drinking game everyone will win, order the watermelon margarita jug. Making an honest call about their clientele, Barrio Chino also offer a late-night specific menu leading with a 'drunken feed' of barrio Tex-Mex nachos. Amen to that.
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Mexicano, Sydney, mexicano.com.au
In Sydney's northern beaches, Narrabeen is not generally considered a foodie mecca, but Mexicano flips that script, serving up some of Sydney's best south-of-the-border eats in a surfside cantina. The menu ups the ante on Mexican street eats, from the tostada of grilled achiote chicken to the Spencer Gulf prawn ceviche, to the fish tacos, triple cheese quesadillas and slow-cooked beef brisket. They make their tortillas in-house fresh daily with an old-school tortilla press. Save room for dessert - it would be rude not to have at least one salted caramel and ancho chilli truffle, right?
Izote, Sydney, izotemexican.com.au
This understated Mexican restaurant on King Street, Newtown, dishes up traditional Mex flavours with a hot tamale twist. All the usual suspects are on the menu, from guacamole (two types), nachos (four), tamales, corn chips, burritos, fajitas, enchiladas, quesadillas and tostadas, but they take it bespoke with traditional plates like mole poblano and chile verde. The mole poblano is chicken cooked in a unique chilli chocolate sauce and the chile verde is pork cooked with green tomatillo and ground spices. Salsa and guac hot off the press each day? BYO vino and your appetite.
Mamasita, Melbourne, mamasita.com.au
Situated in chic Collins St, Mamasita sees queues of well-heeled quesadilla hunters stream out the door for their modern take on tacos. The menu is aimed at transporting diners direct to Mexico without leaving the cosy confines of their hometown, with the mouth-watering food designed to share, 'family style'. Word on the street is the fish tacos are a must, along with the chargrilled corn (served cob, cup or soup style), plus the sticky duck ribs with chipotle, sesame and lime. Still hungry? Get involved with the quesadilla dulce; a plantain quesadilla with almonds, chocolate, dulce de leche and vanilla bean ice-cream. No reservations for less than eight people: find seven friends fast.
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Fonda, Chapel St Melbourne, fondamexican.com.au
With a mantra of cooked-with-love Mexican street eats, the four locations of this tasty tortilla chain means Melburnians can get their Mex and margarita fix all over town. The Chapel St location is the self-described rascally charming younger brother of the four and with a menu kicking off with frozen margaritas, they speak the truth. Burritos are fresh off the press with base tortillas made to order and taco tortillas also made daily from fresh corn just like the Aztecs ate 'em. Don't miss the DIY tostadas board of tortilla chips, braised beef or pulled pork, guacamole, Fonda salsa, pickled carrot and onion, chipotle aioli and pico de gallo (fresh tomato salad).
Touché Hombre, Melbourne, touchehombre.com.au
Mexican dude food is on the menu at this so-hip-it-hurts taqueria in Lonsdale Street. Graffitied walls, tequila shots and sweat beats make Touché Hombre good times in a taco shell. The menu caters to the nine-to-five working luncher with a fast lunch combo of two tacos, grilled corn and an ice-cream sandwich, while the taco-loving evening diner has a menu of nine to choose from. The standout is the fish taco 2.0, which subs out fish and subs in soft shell crab paired with cucumber, jalapeño and freeze-dried kernels. They also keep it real with 'fatty lamb' and proper nachos covered with all the good stuff like cheese, salsa, avocado cream, chipotle mayo and spring onion. Solid tequila work is wrapped up next door at sidebar Burro Teca, where anything margarita goes.
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Sin Vida, Brisbane, sinvida.com.au
The Day of the Dead has been a fixture on the Mexican festival calendar since the Aztecs were ruling south of the border, and the newest Mexican restaurant on the Brissie block, Sin Vida, pays due respect. The festival emblem, a skull, features heavily in the Sin Vida space but the scares stop there, with the menu offering a full-flavoured, tastebud-pleasing trip through Mexico. Start with the guacamole and Sin Vida corn chips, move onto the pumpkin, poblano pepper, raisin, coriander and jalapeño cream soft corn tacos, then take things further with the chorizo quesadilla, followed by an inventive off-piste chilli-braised goat, green rice and tomatillo relish plate. Finish the feast with a Day of the Dead cake, a Mexican chocolate concoction with agave and café XO cream. The tequila offering is equally impressive, with drops ranging from young (aged 0-2 months) to old (aged 36+ months).
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El Publico, Perth, elpublico.com.au
In city-side Highgate sits Mexican tapas favourite El Publico. A cleverly articulated authentic menu fit for a Mexican fiesta, the team encourages you to go native and 'eat with your fingers'. Share plates are the go-to here, with standout selections like the street corn (a straight 10 out of 10 on the taste scale), the octopus a la plancha papas serano (octopus with potatoes), fried chickpeas with mole salt, four taco choices and the sweet corn sundae to finish. Worth booking a plane ticket to Perth for.
La Cholita, Perth, facebook.com/lacholitanorthbridge
In buzzy 'hood Northbridge sits this little taco engine La Cholita: high quality Mex flavours without the high prices. The tacos and tequila come cheap, with $2 tacos served up on Sundays with drinks orders and $5 Monday nights. Spicy duck taquitos kick off the flavour-filled menu, followed up with tacos (go for the Baja fish version) and quesadillas (try the three cheese with a healthy kick of jalapeño). Or go large and order the whole market fish with guajillo sauce and salsa. Dial the hot spice down with a cocktail of the week: our pick is the Malavida, a blend of tequila, pineapple, mint, coriander and of course, more jalapeño.
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