252 Swanston St Melbourne, VIC 3000
|Opening hours||Tues–Thurs & Sat-Sun 6pm–1am; Fri 5pm-1am|
|Features||Cheap Eats, Bar, Vegetarian friendly, Gluten-free options, Outdoor seating|
|Prices||Cheap (mains under $20)|
|Payments||eftpos, AMEX, Cash, Visa, Mastercard|
|Phone||03 9654 4417|
Surely Melbourne is ready to relax about Mexican food. There are now enough Mexican restaurants for the cuisine to have escaped the frenzy of ''exciting trend'' and become just one more way to feed ourselves. Sure, we may still need to ask what sope, epazote and huitlacoche mean (they're a thick corn tortilla, a herb, and an edible fungus that grows on corn), but we're down with the basics and as likely to hanker for tacos as for pasta or tapas.
Mesa Verde opened in March on the top floor of Curtin House. It's dimly lit and feels like fun, with intricately carved cow skulls, hefty timber furniture, waiters in cool livery, a frighteningly comprehensive wall of tequila, and great city views from the women's toilets. There's a dining area, but DJ sets and the darkness make Mesa Verde feel like a bar with food rather than a restaurant with rocking drinks.
The spaghetti-western culture mash extends to a nimble Mexicano menu that's more concerned with keeping the good times rolling than it is with authenticity. The food is super-tasty though, infused with energetic south-of-the-border riffs.
There's usually a sope, pre-grilled then deep-fried to order and topped with something yummy, maybe vinegared chicken escabeche and quince mayo, or parsnip, wild mushroom and nettles.
An ox tongue taco with sauce gribiche (a cooked-egg mayonnaise) is a neat example of the laid-back approach to the culinary canon. Other good dishes include a watermelon, beetroot and pomegranate seed salad that's a ravishing array of red; and pork belly with good crackle, slathered with pineapple and coriander salsa. The pork came with plantain, that chalky cousin of banana. Little seen in Melbourne, I always order it when I come upon it.
For dessert: an excellent caramel-tinged pineapple cake and churros (skinny doughnuts) that I begged myself to stop eating to the last bite.
It would be a shame not to have a cocktail when the bartenders go to so much trouble, setting jalapenos on fire to make burnt-chilli salt for margaritas and other cool stuff that's in my notes - if only I could read them. What did stick was how easy it was to enjoy being at Mesa Verde. It's upbeat and tasty to boot, so zoom me to the sixth floor and colour me happy.