The best Mexican food in Melbourne

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The best Mexican food in Melbourne

Veggie Enchiladas
Words By Billy Burgess

The best Mexican food in Melbourne tells us that see, no matter what form they take, nachos shouldn’t be viewed as classic Mexican fare.

So the story goes, nachos were invented during World War II by Ignacio Anaya, the maître d’ at a restaurant in Piedras Negras, just across the border from Eagle Pass, Texas.

The reason for their invention is simple: with a lack of ingredients available, Ignacio hastily threw something together in order to satisfy a bunch of visiting Americans. So yes, technically they are a Mexican invention, but you know how most foreigners assume Foster’s is the preeminent Australian beer? Well it’s a similar thing with nachos.

The outgrowth of carefully prepared pub nachos is a by-product of the overhaul in Melbourne’s Mexican dining options over the last decade. Though, there remain some key inconsistencies in many locals’ understanding of Mexican food. The object of this article isn’t to trample on anyone’s meal enjoyment with know-it-all declarations, but rather to shine a light on the origins of a few foods that’ve long been regarded as Mexican staples.


These days you’ll find nachos at plenty of gas stations and cinemas in Mexico, but perhaps the closest equivalent as far as authentic Mexican cuisine goes are chilaquiles. Usually eaten for breakfast, chilaquiles consist of a base of lightly fried tortilla strips covered in salsa or mole, pulled chicken and cheese. There are some obvious similarities to nachos, but this probably has more to do with the recent diversification of nachos than a fundamental connection.


Perhaps second to nachos in the most recognised Mexican food race is tacos. For those who grew up in the ‘90s, your first encounter with tacos was undoubtedly those crispy, U-shaped things that stand up on your plate and can cause a lot of grief when clutched too firmly. While they’re most likely of Mexican origin, hard shell tacos gained global notoriety courtesy of Californian businessman Glen Bell and his fast-food chain, Taco Bell. The taco boom of the last few years, however, has entirely revolved around soft shell tacos – open corn or wheat tortillas topped with any number of ingredients including seafood, meat or vegetables, lettuce, tomato, salsa, queso fresco and avocado.

Contrary to nachos, tacos are widely available and much venerated items within Mexico. It’s important to note, though, that just like in China, India or even the USA, there’s no one definitive style of Mexican food. The country’s produce is incredibly diverse – Mexico’s been ranked as one of the world’s key biodiversity hot spots – which means the composition of tacos differs depending on where you are. Perhaps the most famous and adored variety is the fish taco. Fish tacos are enormously popular in Los Angeles, which could be due to their having emerged from Ensenada – a West coast Mexican city roughly 100km south of California.


Another archetypal Mexican food in the eyes and appetites of Australians is the burrito. Burritos are said to have originated in Northern Mexico where they’re still commonly available and usually consist of a wheat flour tortilla with a filling of meat and refried beans. However, the variation we’re most acquainted with – that which you’ll find at fast food joints like Mad Mex and Guzman y Gomez, for example – is the Mission burrito. They get their name from San Francisco’s Mission District where they came to prominence in the 1960s, and where there remain several dozen taquerias specialising in burritos. Mission burritos are enormous cylindrical tortillas filled with rice, beans, meat or veg, plus cheese, salsa and guacamole, and they’re usually wrapped in aluminium foil. Delicious and ridiculously filling, yes, but not what you’d receive upon ordering a burrito in Mexico.

These days it requires very little effort to track down quality Mexican food in Melbourne (on either side of the river). And while we’ve happily embraced the move away from fatty, greasy nachos and hazardous hard shell tacos, a whole world of indigenous Mexican foods have yet to appear on our food scene. Thankfully, it seems the Mexican re-evolution of the last few years is no fad, and is actually just the beginning of an increasingly diverse dining experience.

If you’re a lover of nachos, there ain’t nothing wrong with that. But it’s always worth looking further afield to broaden your palate.