Before I left Melbourne a few years ago, the modern Mexican movement was evolving rapidly. Restaurants like Blue Corn in St Kilda, were no longer the place to book ahead to get the tastiest Mexican in town, and dare I say it…Taco Bills had long been forgotten, unless you’re a Uni student on the hunt for a new hat. With notable restaurants like Mamasita opening, it was raising the bar to a new expectation of Mexican cuisine for Melbournians. Over three years later and since my return, Melbourne’s in the midst of a taco Food Affair! This newly discovered love for modern Mexican has found its home in Melbourne and looks like it’s here to stay. Restaurants have popped up all over town, where you will find queues spilling out the door – because if you’re hot and you know it, you certainly won’t take a reservation.
I decided to try out Radio Mexico, Carlisle Street, St Kilda – I had heard good things about it from friends and it is only a short stroll from my house.
As I walk down Acland Street, the clattering of the trams and sound of the late afternoon squawking birds that are perched high in the palm trees of St Kilda fill my ears. I love this street. After years of living here, I feel like it belongs to me and holds a special place in my heart. I walk past the cake shops with their floor to ceiling glass displays that are piled high with every baked assortment you could possibly imagine. Below one of the displays, a homeless man sits shaking his cup. Further on, there are buskers belting out a tune that echoes down the street, which as you get closer to Lunar Park is outdone by the screams coming from people riding the old white wooden framed roller coaster. There are many cafes and restaurants with crowds spilling out onto the pavement, backpackers who have been drinking since the early afternoon and of course, a skinny shaved head guy who overdid his tats and piercings in the 80s walking along the street like an extra in a movie.
I turn right down Carlisle Street towards Radio Mexico.
My first impression upon arriving at Radio Mexico is their great selection of indoor and outdoor seating. Being a typical Melbourne November day of unexpected wind and rain, they had the outdoor roll down windows closed, and a blazing open fire making it more than comfortable to dine al fresco. After greeting my friend, we decided to sit inside at the communal table. I love a communal table, especially because I can take a good look at what others are eating and just enjoy the family feel.
The menu is not too extensive or repetitive, which Mexican can sometimes be: the same ingredients served four different ways. They have a selection of botanas, small things to snack and share; pinchos, main meals designed to share; and tacos, their specialty and the dish they seem to pride themselves on. They also have lots of yummy sides to add to your dish and a drinks menu to match. It’s filled with the usual suspects: imported beers, cocktails and of course an entire page dedicated to 100% agave tequila.
After spotting the elotes (corn on the cob) heading to someone else’s table, we couldn’t resist starting with it. The corn is prepared and served ‘street style’. It was super sweet and juicy, coated in a crumbly pungent aged cheese, with notes of char from the grill and drizzled with fresh lime. Messy, but irresistible!
We decided on trying out the tacos. A good choice! Each one was carefully prepared with simplistic fresh ingredients, which as they say, ‘honours home cooking’. I went with the grilled fish with black bean and corn salsa. All of the flavours came through in a balance that was just delightful. The fish was succulent and fresh and with the perfect amount of toppings to satisfy the pallet.
When I think of pork belly, I immediately think of my Mum’s roast pork and my sisters and I fighting over who got the biggest bit of crackling. Such a ridiculous fuss in fact, that Mum used to make us divide it and have a rule that the cutter chose last. By God, you cut it like your life depended on it. At Radio Mexico when ordering the ‘pork belly al postor’, no such argument should occur. For one, I’m thirty something and should not argue over food (although, sadly, it has happened in recent times) and two, the massive piece of crackling you are served is more than sufficient to satisfy your taste buds and so big in fact, I felt a little guilty after my helping! The pork pulled apart oh so perfectly and melted in my mouth like butter. It was served with a pineapple salsa and green rice. A bonus: the pork is free range – Yep, happy pig’s roaming free in a field until their time is up.
I’m not usually a dessert girl. But tonight I decided that it had all been so yummy, why not go one more course. I loooove caramel and pecans, so the ‘Cajeta caramel pecan tart’ – goats milk caramel and toasted pecans – was a no brainer. With huge chunks of pecans and rich caramel in a buttery crust was the perfect way to finish the evening.
I wonder back down Acland towards home. The street has quietened and the waiters are packing up their tables for the night. I think to myself I should start saving for a trip to Mexico. If this is how well they are doing Mexican in Melbourne; it’s definitely time I went to Mexico and tried out the real thing for myself…
A note for Berliners: This scene has also gained momentum in Berlin. You can read about the boom in the ExBerliner February issue ‘Wrappers delight’. My personal favourite (not just for a hint of Mexican, but one of my all time favourite local haunts) is W-imbiss, Kastanienallee, Prezlauerberg. It has an awesome selection of Indian inspired dishes that are all home-made, fresh, healthy and incredibly flavoursome. I promise it won’t let you down. I highly recommend W-imbiss if you haven’t already had the pleasure of experiencing all the delicious dishes it has to offer. Another is Santa Maria , Oranienstrasse, Kreuzberg. It’s tiny and bursting with atmosphere serving up classic street style Mexican. There’s always a wait, but well worth it. P.S. I miss you Berlin.
– By Amy Wilson