1. Authentic Mexican meal from El Columpio.
    Photograph: Supplied / El Columpio
  2. Diners huddled around tables at El Columpio.
    Photograph: Supplied / El Columpio
  3. Musician playing accordion at El Columpio.
    Photograph: Supplied / El Columpio
  4. Authentic Mexican meal from El Columpio.
    Photograph: Supplied / El Columpio
  5. Authentic Mexican meal from El Columpio.
    Photograph: Supplied / El Columpio
  • Restaurants | Mexican
  • price 1 of 4
  • Fitzroy
  • Recommended


El Columpio

5 out of 5 stars

For authentic, homestyle Mexican cuisine, El Columpio is one of the most thrilling new spots in Melbourne right now

Sonia Nair

Time Out says

Sparsely decorated with bright pops of colour synonymous with the Mexican flag and jaunty Latin music playing from within its confines, new Johnston Street eatery El Columpio is bringing a slice of homestyle cooking to an oft-underappreciated quarter of Fitzroy. 

Tortas and Tacos has livened up a strip traditionally associated with late-night shenanigans – think live music institution Old Bar and afrobeats club Laundry – but things remain tough for restaurants bold enough to set up shop in a stretch that can only be described as having bad ‘feng shui’. Vegan pinchos bar Follies shuttered after only a year and a half, citing the cost-of-living crisis. Doncaster Chinese vegetarian import Vegie Mum survived a far bit longer, but it too is shutting its doors at the end of this month. But not all is lost for those looking for a bite in the vicinity – not if El Columpio has anything to do with it. 

Established by chef Ricardo Garcia Flores as part of a dream to introduce Melburnians to the family heirloom Mexican dishes he grew up with, El Columpio has a short but sweet menu. If you arrive before midday, you’ll be treated to a breakfast menu that comprises tamales and chilaquiles. Arrive after midday and the menu is identical, no matter if you arrive at 1pm or 8pm – expect the traditional Mexican soup pozole, a selection of tacos and a few sides. Weekend specials round things off – when we visit, it’s tacos de barbacoa estilo Hidalgo, one of the most famous exports of the state north of Mexico City, which sees lamb wrapped in agave leaves and slow-cooked in an underground pit. 

El Columpio’s pozole is a warm and nourishing bowl of chicken and pork soup – we went for the mixed option on our waitstaff’s recommendation. Shot through with the herbiness of oregano and a sumptuous heft courtesy of the hominy kernels, the soup is artfully topped with radish rounds and lettuce, further enhancing its properties as an antidote to fast approaching winter. For some welcome crunch, housemade tostadas drizzled with a sour cream crema are there for some textural contrast between spoonfuls. Don’t forget the squeeze of lime over the pozole. 

The vegetarian taco presents nopales (thick, oval stems of prickly pear cactus) interspersed with mushrooms, tossed in a piquant green tomatillo sauce. Heat-filled without being overwhelming and with a beautiful interplay of textures between the mushrooms and the green bean-like strips of nopales, the taco has an added earthiness from refried beans and diced onions. 

A bowl is typically placed underneath barbacoa to catch its juices, becoming a consommé. Steeped in the deeply savoury flavours of the lamb, the consommé that arrives alongside the tacos de barbacoa estilo Hidalgo is a revelation. Light and thin yet incredibly aromatic, it recalls a Southeast Asian oxtail soup – fresher than the heavier goat or beef stew that typically accompanies birria tacos. As with birria, you dip your taco in the consommé but if you’re a fan of slightly higher-than-usual levels of saltiness, it’s equally a treat drunk like a soup. Spoon up the carrots and chickpeas that have sunk to the bottom, drenched in the umaminess of the broth. 

Hot sauces are a staple at Mexican restaurants but dare I say this as a spice fiend who’s never happy unless her mouth is slightly on fire: El Columpio’s flavours are so delicately well-balanced that a strong hot sauce would potentially drown out the complexity of what’s at play here. 

Whatever you do, don’t skip dessert. Doused in a golden caramel syrup, the flan napolitano is firmer than you’d expect but in an entirely pleasing way – bouncy and bubbly-like. 

El Columpio’s minimalist yet charming interiors – plain white walls, patches of exposed brick – mirror the unpretentious food at the centre of it all. Served up on bright pink and neon green plates, the no-frills presentation belies the depth of flavour and subtle nuance of the dishes on offer. If you’re hankering for Mexican food that extends beyond a-dime-a-dozen iterations of a battered fish taco (as delectable as they are), pay El Columpio a visit. 

Time Out Melbourne never writes starred reviews from hosted experiences – Time Out covers restaurant and bar bills for reviews so that readers can trust our critique.

Strapped for cash? Here's how to get a cheap meal around Melbourne every night of the week.


Level 1/52 Johnston Street
Opening hours:
Tue-Thu 5-9pm, Fri noon-9pm, Sat 10am-9pm, Sun 10am-8pm
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