MELBOURNE | I first noticed Bar Tobalá while heading to the airport this time last year. A sign on the door, led me to check out their Instagram page, featuring a “coming soon” post, and a “thank you for your patience” post a few month later. Opening a new hospo business is never quick or easy, but in January this year, enough had clicked into place to allow the venue to open. Just don’t ask where the outdoor sign is.
I finally got around to visiting Bar Tobalá last week, and I was rewarded with some of the tastiest Mexican food I’ve had the pleasure of eating in Melbourne. Bartender Anthony Jayasekera, who owns and runs the venue with his wife Frankie Jayasekera describes Bar Tobalá as “American diner meets roadside taco stand”, and that’s apt.
The layout ( there’s lots of booths and bar stools) the music, the warm and friendly service, and the general feel of venue all touch upon aspects of the kinds of places that inspired Bar Tobalá that visited on my recent US road trip.
On the drinks menu you’ll find house cocktails, Mexican beers, and local wines. The cocktails, which are mostly centred around mezcal and tequila, are outstanding. The classics are all available, but Anthony’s experimental creations are where the real fun lies. ‘Motel Tan’ is all kinds of fun, made with mezcal, limoncello, yuzushu, passionfruit and morita chilli. My favourite, ‘Part Time Friend’, is a must try. Ginger, lemon, and Amaro Lucano combine with Alma Tepec for a cocktail that’s sweet, spicy, and sour.
Alma Tepec is a Oaxacan ancestral chili liqueur handmade from smoke-dried pasilla mixe, and is one of the most unique liqueurs I’ve had in a while. It’s worth trying on its own as well as in the ‘Part Time Friend’.
Moving on to food, and head chef Rick Stone (ex Frankie’s Tortas and Tacos) cooks up dishes based on his own experience with Mexican food, and Anthony’s many trips to Mexico. The elotes (street corn) are a must order, piled with cotija cheese and Tajin seasoning. Tacos, of which there are a few, use ever so slightly charred house-made corn tortillas. The Guajillo short rib taco, has the perfect balance of heat and flavour.
Whatever you do, be sure to try the red pork tamale, which reminded me of the carne adovada I enjoyed in New Mexico just a few months ago. It began life as a Día de los Muertos special and was so popular that it’s made it over to the main menu. A savoury masa tamal filled with pork neck slow cooked in an adobo of morita, guajillo and New Mexico red chiles is served in a bright red tomato and vinegar sauce filled with habanero and a little Arbol. Unapologetically bold and spicy, but balanced.
For something lighter, try the lightly cured kingfish ceviche tostaditas, dressed with a spicy herbed black garlic crema, cucumber, watermelon radish & popcorn shoots.
237 Melville Road
Pascoe Vale South
Tue – Thu: 5:00pm to 10:00pm
Fri – Sat: 5:00pm to 11:00pm