Riding Sydney’s Wave of New Mexican Restaurants

Sydney Mexican restaurants Gitano

Sydney is experiencing a wave of new and different Mexican restaurants, with the opening of Gitano, Ricos Tacos and La Prima in the last year. Compared to many of its existing Mexican restaurants, these new venues are authentic and less cheesy (literally, real Mexican food doesn’t feature much cheese).

While Sydney has had a handful of longstanding traditional Mexican restaurants, many others only served Tex-Mex or Mexican with an Australian twist. One new Mexican restaurant on the Sydney scene is Gitano, which opened in May 2024 and is an outpost of the original venue in Tulum.

Gitano’s general manager, Francisco Rosales, says it’s not just the Mexican dining scene in Sydney that’s transformed in the last decade, but also the demand from more food-knowledgeable diners.

Sydney Mexican restaurants Ricos Tacos
Image: Ricos Tacos

“What people used to know about Mexican cuisine was limited to the Tex-Mex burritos, quesadillas, nachos and bad tequila, made popular by the Mexican American culture,” says Rosales. “Through the years, the exposure of traditional flavours, like ceviche, street food-style tacos and original agave started captivating Sydney foodies.”

Toby Wilson, founder of Ricos Tacos, a food truck that took up permanent residence in The Norfolk Hotel in Redfern in 2023, says another element contributing to Sydney’s changing Mexican dining scene is the increased accessibility of certain foods.

“The availability of ingredients like fried chillies, masa, fresh tortillas and tomatillos is much greater now than it was when I opened my first taco joint eight years ago,” says Wilson.

Sydney Mexican restaurants Gitano
Image: Gitano

Gitano too is focused on using authentic Mexican ingredients, including grass-fed beef tallow, ghee and imported dried chillies from Mexico. The restaurant’s Mexican-born and raised head chef Alvaro ‘Clark’ Valenzuela learnt cooking traditions from his family and through extensive research travels in Mexico.

“Chef Alvaro’s menu respects ancestral tradition and showcases flavours from different regions in Mexico,” says Rosales.

The same is true of the menu at La Prima, a 30-person restaurant and bar hidden in El Primo Sanchez, which opened in 2023. Designed by head chef Alejandro Huerta, it includes guacamole with fermented green tomato, pink ling with baja base and Blackmore Wagyu with salsa roja de miso, burnt onions and shiso.

The look and feel of these new Mexican restaurants are also a departure from most of Sydney’s existing. At La Prima, you’ll find candlelight and guests gathered around a communal wooden table. Stefano Catino, director of hospitality at Public Group, behind La Prima says the inspiration came from a visit to Oaxaca a few years ago.

“One night, we stumbled across a hidden speakeasy with a guitarist, a bar brimming with mezcal and the warm glow of lit candles,” he says. “There were about 20 to 30 people crammed in the room, drinking and singing along. There was just something about it – it was unlike any other bar experience I’ve had […],” says Catino.

La Prima Sydney
Image: La Prima

Like the flagship Gitano in Tulum, the Double Bay iteration will morph into a bar and lounge later into the evening. It has a 3am liquor license and 200-patron capacity.

So, what’s ahead for Sydney’s Mexican dining scene? If new venue Cancun Boat Club, which opened in May 2024, is anything to go by, it might be more of a blend of the two styles of Mexican venues: the Tex-Mex and authentic.

“In the last 10 years, we’ve gone from the only real option being Old El Paso, cheap Tex-Mex and Montezumas, to having an absolute plethora of authentic, refined and regional Mexican restaurants to choose from,” says Pablo Galindo, co-founder of Milpa Collective, the hospitality group behind Cancun Boat Club.

”At Cancun Boat Club, we thought it’s time to come full circle and bring back a more relaxed style of border-town Mexican and American, but done with absolute quality and care.”

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