In case you hadn't noticed there's a Mexican wave sweeping Melbourne. These places are crazy popular and Melbourne diners have a penchant for all things Mexican.
Why Mexican? Maybe because Mexican is fun and festive and colourful. (We could do at times with a little Mexican sun). And because the ingredients are fresh and flavours are big and "punchy". And maybe because this is one of the few areas Melbourne hasn't excelled in - and now there's a wave of decent Mexican restaurants opening all over.
Some recent Mexican experiences I have enjoyed recently are -
Fonda Mexican - Richmond
Fonda Mexican is an impressive and affordable Mexican restaurant in Richmond that brings as much cool as it does colour. This is not kitch Mexican for so many years served up by dodgy restaurant chains with cheap plastic fittings and one dimensional cuisine. This is a simple but imaginative offering that is tastefully done.
The building is classical architecture and the ambience enhanced by polished floor, coloured walls and retro tiles, large windows looking into Swan Street, some chic lighting including a funky red chandelier, and high ceilings.
Fonda Mexican is a place to come for the ambience as much as the food. Even on a weeknight I was amazed as Fonda Mexican began to fill before 6pm and had a convivial yet cosy feel. After all a fonda is a family home turned local restaurant. Dining extends to the street as well as an area out the back.
Walk in and the staff greet you and ask you to order at the counter when you're ready. I'm happy as I take the opportunity for a brief chat. Straight away you realise Fonda Mexican is casual and a place to relax.
Chef Ravi Presser has teamed with Mexican cooking sensation Lupita Manzo to create a menu of authentic Mexican flavours using Australia's premium fresh produce.
The menu is simple but interesting. When it comes to Mexican cuisine the trend is for fresh ingredients (when should it not be?). The Mexican street food Antojiyos were delightful with succulent fresh corn on the cob slightly charred and with chipotle aoli, ricotta salata, and lime. I always love it when Mexican restaurants supply lime not just lemon.
Street snacks also include Chipotle fat chips and Chicarons pork scratchings and guacamole.
What to have, Burritos v Quesadilla? I was told the Quesadilla's were wonderful and cheesy but I opted for the Chopped Beef Burrito with beef and pork burger, black beans, salsa roja, and chipotle aoli. I was taken with the thick fresh burrito that arrived and the quality of the salsa. I was also taken with the flavour combination with the crunch of the onion and the excellence of the beef, along with the softness of avocado and black beans. All with a bit of kick (which I like).
Next time I would like to try the Chicken Burrito or indeed the Kangaroo Burrito, and the Fish Tacos.
Drinks are lively and include home made Mexican beverages and 100% Agave Tequilas.
Fonda Mexican is a great place to meet with friends for excellent Mexican cuisine and a funky ambience.
Touche Hombre - CBD
Touche Hombre is a chic newly opened Melbourne Mexican restaurant in Londsdale Street (cnr Tattersalls Lane). It hums with a packed house (even on a week night) and the winning combination of amazing food, a sense of fun, hip hop, a dim ambience and striking neon signs (designed for the restaurant).
Touche Hombre is a restaurant that's more like a club than a formal dining experience. The crowd is mainly young professionals who undo the button and shed the tie to let loose at Touche. This Melbourne food blog reviewer checked out this restaurant for dinner.
Given there is a wave of Mexican restaurants opening in Melbourne following the success of Mamasita, there’s a need to standout. Touche Hombre stands out because of its chic fitout, great ambience and excellent food. It’s a place that exudes a sense of fun and celebration – which is very Mexican, right?
The concept of Touche Hombre has been carefully managed by a crack team headed by owner Davis Yu, the young early 20’s guy who revolutionised iconic Lynch’s in Toorak and upgraded it to the successful Millswyn. Speaking with Davis Yu you realise he is full of flair and imagination, a passion for the industry, and business savvy. He is a charismatic figure in this viby restaurant.
The fitout of Touche Hombre is not overstated but you realise it hasn’t been done on the cheap. The tables are amazing and feature sturdy timber from Princess Pier. There’s so much history in these tables, as Princess Pier was a waterfront pier built 90 years ago playing a key role in Melbourne’s multicultural history. It was the scene of troops leaving and arriving during the First and Second World Wars and the arrival of so many immigrants to Australia. The significance is not lost here on the fact an Asian guy is running a pumping Mexican restaurant in Melbourne. That’s what makes this city so great.
There’s exposed brick, a wall with Mexican black and white themes and photos with a neon sign saying “Tequila”. There’s another neon sign near the bar with the quirky “Who You Gonna Call” Ghostbusters theme. Arcade game machines bring an 80s touch. Red candles illuminate the tables. The timber from the bar came from an old bridge. Naked bulbs hang down from the ceiling.
The food at Touche Hombre is exciting and reflects influences on Mexican as well asUSA twists on Mexican cuisine. For example a breakfast taco (omelette, salchicas, egmont cheese, beans, avocado, salsa, and fried onions with habanero cream). This to be eaten as a lunch or dinner option is a great concept. Other highlights include the Corn with paprika and cheese – with the right amount of blackened bliss. The soft shell crab taco with corn cream, pea shoots, lime and mint, is moorish.
The Ceviche has a great profile of flavours including diced mulloway, mussels, cilantro, chilli, red onion, tomato and guacamole with tortilla chips. The De Pollo spiced chicken with mango jam and toasted sesame and chiotle mayo was sublime.
My favourite is the fatty lamb ribs with merquen, cilantro, lemon and honey. Not politically correct but can’t get enough.
Touché Hombre prides itself on creative cocktails and fine drinking tequilas (not all are slammers). Margarita’s are served in a large Chicken jug.
Desserts here are also imaginative in visual appeal as well as taste. The Chocolate and Chilli peanut cookie is sublime, as is the Strawberry and pistachio parfait and the Rice pudding and cinnamon parfait.
Mamasita - CBD
Mamasita is a Mexican sensation off Collins Street. The name Mamasita means “hot babe” in Spanish. And dare I say it lives up to its name! It has become hugely popular because it delivers a creative refreshing and authentic expression of Mexican food. People are prepared to line up for an eternity on occasions to get in to this place. The wait is worth it!
Mamasita is a taqueria or taco shop and tequila bar. The fare is simple but creative and flavourful. It’s different. Mamasita brings the bedazzlement of the Mexican sun to Melbourne!
If you can get a table that’s great! Another great experience is to pull up a stool at the bar and watch the largely South American staff at work. Even lunchtimes are packed so I was happy to get a stool. Bedazzled by the open kitchen! Or grab a spot out by the windows overlooking Collins St.
I briefly checked out the menu while the music playing Spanish beats resounded in my head… What to order? The waiter tells me he can order for me – I just said get me a selection of tacos. The tortillas for the tacos are hand made. I could have gone for the slow cooked chicken mole and cactus salad. Or the now famous corn cob covered in cheese.
But as it is known as a taco shop I was keen for the selection of tacos. I was bedazzled by the fish tacos. Oh fish tacos! A standout on my trip to Mexico. In Mexico you can get fresh tasty cheap fish tacos on the streets. Consume with a slice of lime and it’s so good! Mamasita brings this street experience to the sophistication of Collins St.
The prawn tacos were fantastic. Bite into big juicy prawns and don’t forget a squeeze of lime and some chilli.
Incredibly I heard about the opening of Pacos Tacos before it opened. Rarely had their been such build up and speculation as to what was to replace the Movida Terraza when it closed. New restaurant openings in Melbourne are just about the biggest news in the country! This was to be a bright new concept!
So I made the pilgrimage from my office in Swanston Street to salubrious 500 Bourke one lunchtime. From several trips to USA and Mexico I've felt the Melbourne scene has lacked in the area of Mexican cuisine - until recently! Pacos Tacos rekindled for me some memorable meals I'd experienced in downtown Ensenada in Baji California Mexico. I still recall those amazing fish tacos from street stalls in such an eclectic city.
I also recall amazing Mexican cuisine in places like San Clemente in USA where awesome salsa is placed on your table when you arrive at the restaurant as a given. Where the salsa was so good I just wanted to consume bowls of it all night without looking at the rest of the menu (well, not quite).
Pacos Tacos illicits sweet memories for me of these kind of experiences in Mexican food heartlands. Here we have super fresh tacos at reasonable prices. At Pacos Tacos all tacos are $6 - very reasonable! The sort of place you want to come with friends on a sunny day and enjoy the ambience while ordering a selection of fresh tasty and imaginative Mexican delights! And maybe some sangria. It brings a sense of fun without the full fine dining experience (already covered at other Movida destinations).
The tacos selection is excellent! Tough choosing between the beef tacos and pork tacos, and even vegetarian tacos. I loved the duck tacos and the prawn tacos - very tasty and served with lime (like in Mexico). I'm not familiar with duck tacos as a traditional tacos offering, but found this to be an awesome addition. Loved the lime marinated red onion with the roasted duck. Fresh fish or prawns in a taco is always great! Loved the kick of salsa verde with the prawn tacos. The salsa and chips was also fresh and reasonably priced. And the nachos a winner!
I loved the ambience of Pacos Tacos! Queues at the counter lengthened as the keen lined up at lunchtime. I asked the guy at the counter where to sit, and he said "just wherever you can sit or stand". Yes, stand! Although there are several tables, finding a seat can be an undertaking. People were squeezing in to a communal table. People standing at the bar. People nestling on a ledge near garden pieces. The place was packed!
Service is a feature with staff clearing tables and being attentive (even though you order at the counter).
Love the colourful decor including the bright yellow cage like structure and the colourful chairs.