They may be 12,500 kilometres apart, but coastal Mexico and Byron Bay have a number of similarities. There’s a mutual love of the sun and surf, and now, some tasty taquerias.
The Northern Rivers region has the ideal climate for cultivating traditionally Mexican ingredients, too. The warm tropical climate is prime for growing a range of specialty Mexican produce – including jicama (Mexican yam bean), chillies, cream guava and gem corn – and its proximity to the sea means a plentiful supply of super fresh seafood.
Two operators in the Byron Shire, in the suburb of Suffolk Park and nearby Brunswick Heads, are capitalising on these similarities of custom and climate by opening new modern Mexican restaurants. We take a closer look.
Chef Evan White assures that despite its name – shared with a blood-sucking creature of Latin American folklore – Chupacabra is a wholesome taqueria. “[Chupacabra] is offering something a little bit cheeky, but it doesn’t have that demonic edge,” he says.
Folkloric monsters aside, you can expect light and vibrant Mexican fare for breakfast, lunch and dinner, inspired by White’s travels to the coastal regions of Yucatán and Oaxaca in Mexico.
And don’t think he’s dumbing down the flavours to suit Australian palates. “There’s a lot of northern Mexican and Tex-Mex in Australia,” says White. “It’s time for the taco renaissance.”
You’ll certainly find topnotch tacos at Chupacabra; White and his team make their own corn tortillas in-house – he estimates up to 800 each day – from 100 per cent corn flour imported from Mexico (meaning they’re gluten-free). The tortillas are filled with the lighter, brighter flavours of the Yucatán province, characterised by the use of habanero chillis, lime, earthy achiote (a orange-red spice made from annatto seeds and tomatoes) and charred onion.
White currently imports hard-to-find chillies – ancho, guajillo and pasilla – from Mexico, but is in talks with a local farmer to grow specialty Mexican produce. He’s excited for August, when he expects a small crop of the nopales cacti to come his way so he can grill it. “It’s got an asparagus-y texture, and a green bean-y, bright lemony flavour that shines through.”
The 60-seat restaurant is a collaboration between White, his partner Amelia Stokes, the owners of local institution Harvest Newrybar (Brooke Hudson, Kassia Grier, Tristan Grier) and Harvest's general manager, Moira Waterfall. The team hasn’t forgotten about drinks, either – there’s Margaritas on tap and a large range of mezcal and tequila.
Shop 12a/3 Clifford Street, Suffolk Park, Byron Bay
0448 077 401
Tue to Sat 7am–3pm, 5.30pm–10pm
A Restaurant Formerly Known As “Gringos”
Chef Josh Lewis and front-of-house gun Astrid McCormack, the team behind Brunswick Heads’ highly acclaimed Fleet (a Broadsheet favourite), have snapped up what was formerly Gringos – a local kitsch Mexican restaurant, an easy 600-metre walk from their restaurant.
The pair plans to open in early October, which McCormack says gives them plenty of time to think of a restaurant name. “[The name] Fleet was very last minute because we had to decide on so many other things,” she says. For now, the working title will remain Gringos, until they have that “lightning bolt moment”.
Despite having a smaller dining room than 20-seater Fleet – it’s half the size – McCormack says Gringos’s outdoor courtyard will let them cater to roughly double the number of diners, around 40 at a time.
The menu will be “traditional Mexican” and strong on seafood, and McCormack says they’re in talks with restauranteur Palisa Anderson of Sydney’s Boon Cafe and Boon Luck Farm in Byron Bay about growing a range of Mexican chillies for them.
The Fleet team’s new Mexican restaurant is slated to open in the second week of October. Fleet will be temporarily closed for three weeks as the new restaurant gets underway. The former Gringos is located at the corner of Tweed and Fawcett streets, Brunswick Heads.
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