Dusty tin shacks doling out tacos, cold Coronas on the counter, tatty dogs hanging around, the Gulf of California sparkling offshore. It’s a romantic image, but in Adelaide’s affluent eastern ‘burbs, Maiz & Mezcal puts a more upmarket spin on the Mexican street-food concept, injecting a little kitsch into the mix.
Pat the little plastic burro on the footpath, admire the curvaceous Art Deco shopfront, then head inside. Woah, now that's a colour scheme! Like the inside of the sun or some kind of Aztec cactus bloom, it’s all yellow, gold, crimson and mirrors, with solid wooden tables and heavy, high-backed chairs. The abundant wait staff continue the solar-flare effect, with spangly gold cravats, crisp white shirts and winning grins.
Your dusty street visions might be fading, but the food soon puts the ‘street’ back into what you eat. Serves are small(ish) here: like tapas, the idea is to order plenty and share the plates around.
We kick things off with the chilaquiles special - a kind of hand-crafted jumbo nachos topped with shredded chicken and a sultry black salsa made from chillis that the owners, Ivan and Sonia Pichardo, import from Mexico. Light, peppy and crunchy, it's a far cry from the stodgy, cheddar-embalmed '80s-style Mexican interpretations. Salve the spice with imported Mex beers: fragrant Minerva pale ale and light, clear Malverde pilsener. The summery hibiscus juice and the creamy, cold horchata (rice and coconut drink) do an even better job of extinguishing the flames.
The plates continue to arrive: frijoles con queso (bean and pecorino cheese dip); classic cheese quesadillas; and cochinita pibil, moist marinated Mayan pork served in soft tacos and topped with apple vinegar and Spanish onion salsa. (Tip: with most of the dishes here, the heat is in the salsa - ask for it on the side if you're hot and bothered).
And, of course, no south-of-San-Diego sortie would be complete without a margarita or two. These guys have ditched the 7-Eleven slushie format for something far more authentic, concocted with mezcal Don Chuy reposado. Sound a bit Jim-Morrison-in-the-desert? He would have been a fan: the effect is heady at the first sip, and just gets headier.