Margaritas, a mariachi band and a Naked Lady in each hand... what more could you ask for on a Wednesday night? Overtaking Spice Cellar's spot on Elizabeth Street is Barrio Chino's new venture – Barrio Cellar: a late night Mexican cantina bar that trades until 3am.
“Are you going to search me,” the giggling girl at the table next to us asks. Wearing rubber gloves, we're about to dive into a Tortita Ahogada ($12), the messiest dish in the cantina.
The vibrant Mexican Day of the Dead decorations beckon from outside on Darling Street by day, but it’s by night when the colourful Cantina Bar really comes alive. You know our modus operandi: we usually like to pull up a stool at the bar, but at this gig, the rest of the room rocks with intimate high timber tables and stools, so take your premium place anywhere.
“This really has the feel of Cuba,” confided my BFF (BAR FLY friend) “and I’ve been four times.” From the moment you walk past the palm trees and down the stairs, you’ll be swathed in a happy place. Round leather upholstery and old rock and roll encourage making new friends.
With walls of photos showing anyone who’s anyone in the jazz world, you might be scratching your head as to why The Basement has gone all Mexican, giving Attila Yilmaz’s popular pop-up permanent digs. Half way through a Mariachi Monday night, I’m convinced this pairing will breathe new life into Sydney’s world music scene.
The pub where you can meet your Prince has made a permanent change from pizzas and Thai to Mexican: Executive Chef Dan Hong’s (Merivale) pop-up ‘El Loco’ Mexican menu is here to stay. Skip the stuffier upstairs and head straight down to the Mexican-themed beer garden with yuccas, palm trees, bamboo awnings and party lights with bar boys sporting sombreros, and girls done up Frida Kahlo-style with flowers in their hair.
Pounding avocados tableside, our Peruvian guacamole girl unleashes a smile so devastating, it’s almost enough to make me love this joint. I’m not alone: it’s jumping, and nearly every table avails themselves of her signature Market Fresh Guacamole ($9) with plantain chips. As a chilli fanatic, I was smitten with Mexican Chilli Beer ($10) – a great drinking companion to the equally feisty (though definitely messy) Glazed Pork Ribs ($34).
For years we whined about not having any decent Mexican restaurants in Sydney, and now we’re going to whine about eating too much of it? Not this little black duck! While I have bemoaned the near ubiquitous soft shell taco taking over pubs, I am a real fan of the pliable beauties here.
GET READY AMIGOS! El Loco is on the move again – this time for the month of March. “El Loco at The House went gangbusters this summer, with Dan Hong creating over 2000 tacos a day throughout the month of January and we can only imagine the anticipation El Loco at Slip Inn will bring with the courtyard being transformed into a Mexican festival; guests can expect the award winning favourites of El Loco including the Jalapeño Martini, in a whole new setting," Slip Inn Licensee Elise Reynolds shared with BAR FLY.
First things first: there are Crickets ($6) on the menu. They’re crunchy, dry and salty, and unless you’re Mexican, they’re nothing but a novelty wrapped up in bravado (and garlic). Let’s move on. The food here is serious - it's definitely not your typical Tex-Mex joint. The Tacos ($5) are probably the best in town. The cactus tacos with cabbage and roast pepper and tamarind mayo are to die for.