Turn up the heat with our guide to Melbourne’s hottest Mexican joints, from lively cantinas to late-night mezcal bars – and everything in between.
The best Mexican restaurants in Melbourne
Melbourne’s hottest Mex of the minute comes courtesy of Mamasita’s Matt Lane and Nick Peters, with Guadalajara-born chef Yasser Garcia heading the open kitchen. First things first: this Smith Street newcomer is designed to be fast and fabulous, so don’t expect sterling table service. Heck, in the dining dead zone between lunch and dinner you’ll be lucky to get any service at all. Instead, peruse the laminated picture menu, then tick off a selection of $4 tacos, crunchy tostadas and punchy ceviches. Top picks include the tuna tostada (ruby-red sashimi tuna with a dab of ponzu and wasabi), or the volcano, a golden basket of fried cheese filled with mushrooms, corn and huitlacoche (aka ‘corn smut’, a jet-black fungus with an earthy, funky flavour). To drink, knock back jalapeno-spiked tequila and pineapple slushies, or lip-tingling micheladas. PSA: the sun-drenched, white-tiled space is eye-wateringly bright; best wear your shades if you’re nursing a hangover.
It’s hard to beat the buzz of Los Hermanos in Brunswick. Meaning ‘the Brothers’, this good-times taqueria is filled with rainbow-hued flags and tightly packed tables. A short and sharp menu dishes out soft tacos with beer-braised lamb or maize-battered fish, and flautas, slender tortilla cigars filled with poblano chilli mash and topped with a mop of iceberg lettuce, queso fresco and tomatillo salsa. You’re either going to love the DIY guacamole or wish the kitchen had just mashed it all together for you. Call us lazy, but we lean towards the latter. There’s no such debate on the Margarita front – these salt-rimmed stunners strike the perfect balance between sour, sweet and downright boozy.
With its primary-bright paint job and Frida Kahlo murals, La Tortilleria is a lush oasis in an otherwise drab patch of Kensington. Since launching in 2013, they’ve cemented their role as Melbourne’s premier tortilla makers, so even if you haven’t made the trek to Kensington, chances are you’ll have sampled some of their goods around town (Fonda and Mesa Verde use the crew’s authentic corn tortillas). Come straight to the source for a dirt-cheap feast of awesome guac with housemade corn chips, zippy barramundi ceviche piled onto tostadas, and tacos with fried fish or chunky beef and chorizo. In proper Mexican fashion, they double-layer their tortillas for extra stability. Plus, these bad boys are gluten-free, and vegan cheese is available, so everyone can join in the fun.
It’s a testament to Mamasita’s staying power that people still patiently queue on the staircase each night, almost seven years after this Collins Street crowd-pleaser first opened its doors. After all that time, we’re still digging the lengua tacos of meltingly soft ox tongue and arbol salsa, the braised goat tostadas, and the oft-imitated street corn slathered with chipotle mayo, salty queso and lime. The drinks offering has always been strong (back in the day, the tamarind Margaritas were worth the wait alone), but lately they’ve also lifted their mezcal game, with an enviable line-up of the smoky agave spirit. Order a mezcal flight to get your night off to a flying start.
Before the Balleau brothers were satisfying Melbourne’s late-night hunger for burgers and brisket at Le Bon Ton, the New Mexico-born duo were flinging tacos at Chingon. The rooftop restaurant is still one of the city’s untapped gems, decked out with fairy lights, pot plants and rough-hewn picnic tables. On summer nights, there are few better places to kick back with a Paloma cocktail and a plate of tacos. The short and sharp menu features six tacos, a trio of dips, and fire-roasted corn, along with a neat selection of tequila cocktails, beer and wine. Chingon’s handmade tortillas are sturdier than most, filled with trad combinations such as achiote pork and pineapple, grilled fish, or garlicky prawns.
South of the border, the standout is Radio Mexico. Pull up a rickety chair on the footpath or slip into the thatched-roof cantina for top-notch tacos, enchiladas and quesadillas. At $7.50 a pop, these are some of Melbourne’s pricier tacos, but you’re paying for generous, inventive toppings, such as the guajillo-marinated tofu with sweet-sour hibiscus flowers, or barbecued pork belly with pineapple and crackling. If you like your taco with a bit of old-school crunch, order the costras: crisp tortillas with a grilled cheese crust loaded with slow-cooked pork and slaw. Extra love goes into the drinks, too, like the Herradura Margaritas with freshly pressed lime juice, and the West Wins Gin-spiked lemonade. North of the border, there’s an equally buzzy outpost in Northcote.
After tackling the six flights of stairs at Curtin House (or waiting an eternity for the maddening elevator), you’ve well and truly earned a Mexi-accented feast at Mesa Verde. Slake that thirst with a smoky mezcal Negroni or cleansing lavender soda while you decide what to order. Here, the too-salty tacos take a back seat to knockout dishes such as the chilaquiles, a terracotta pot brimming with corn chips, black beans, melted cheese and guacamole. Add pulled pork and you’ve covered all your food groups. The fall-apart beef short ribs with creamed corn are also worth a nudge, so too the doughnuts with mezcal-laced chocolate sauce.
Melbourne’s first mezcaleria has a down-and-dirty dive bar vibe that we can’t get enough of. Lined with vintage Mexican film posters and oversized candles, this dim den has become a favourite with the hospo crowd. Follow their late-night lead and sip shots of tequila or mezcal with a side of sangrita (chilli-tomato juice), or the classic Tommy’s Drank of tequila, agave and lime. Tacos come two to a serve, bearing garlic octopus or chipotle sweet potato, perhaps, and the kitchen serves a booze-sponging range of snacks such as popcorn chicken and cheesy empanadas until 3am.
This homey Mexican haunt on Johnston Street boasts some of the most authentic taco fillings we came across in our travels. Skip the ho-hum sopes (masa parcels with black beans and salsa) in favour of tacos of cochinita pibil(annatto-spiced pork cooked in banana leaves) and earthy, soulful nopales (grilled cactus in a rich molé sauce). The best way to tackle Los Amates is with a troupe, so you can order the Los Tacos, a DIY line-up of those flavour-packed fillings, corn tortillas and saucy accompaniments. Cross your fingers that the La Magdalena cocktail special is on: this jazzed-up Paloma with cucumber, mint and cloves takes the tequila-grapefruit classic to the next level.
Smack-bang in the centre of the city’s legal district, open-air cantina Paco’s Tacos draws the suited set for Mexi snacks and sneaky Margaritas in the sun. It’s from the team behind MoVida, and it should surprise absolutely no one to learn that the croquetas are the standout here: all golden crust and oozy béchamel, studded with corn kernels and jalapeno and dolloped with chipotle alioli. On the taco front, go for the crisp calamari numbers with jalapeño-lime ali oli and the spiced brisket with nubs of pickled cactus. They only use a single taco here, so things can get messy, fast… Although the dine-and-dash city crowd doesn’t seem to mind. There’s now an outpost at Eastland in Ringwood, too.