In Short: Calaveras Mexican Cantina and Tequila Bar is a fun and vibrant take on Mexican favourites with a menu that embraces a light and fresh approach. Ideal for a relaxed drink and a casual bite, Calaveras is a little taste of Tijuana on Newtown’s King St.
I’ve been lucky enough to take some epic road trips across America’s Tex-Mex heartland, and spent some time south of the border down Mexico way. Stepping into Newtown’s Calaveras Mexican Cantina and Tequila Bar, with the distinctive mix of spices and tequila shots in the air, was like stepping back to a time when I was a little younger, well, a lot younger, and a little less worldly-wise to the ways of the worm at the bottom of the bottle.
Calaveras sits above Newtown’s King St bustle, with a space that feels a little bit fiesta, and at the same time, cosy and inviting. A few of the Coco & Vine team are out on a school night, so it’s a good chance to digest (pun intended) the latest and greatest eats venues we’ve tried that week, as we settle into the Calaveras cantina charisma.
Ever tried Mezcal? You should! It’s a nice change from the traditional tequila-based tipples, and when served Calaveras-style in the Passion in Cancun cocktail, well, let’s just say things at our table got a whole lot livelier. With a healthy dose of Mezcal combined with passionfruit, pineapple juice, and blue curacao, there’s a smokiness from the alcohol that balances the sweet citrus of the juices. The perfect primer for the treats to come.
Oh ceviche…just saying ”ceviche” gets you in a festive mood, doesn’t it? Come on, you try it! See? I can tell you’re a little more chilled already. Good, because this ceviche of lime-cured fish, with a dash of pico de gallo salsa, is a taste of la playa in every juicy bite. The lightness of the fish, dazzled by the zest of the lime, pops and crunches in the mouth on the crispy corn tortilla stage.
Craving more of that nacho crunch, it’s a must that we dip into a bowl of the guacamole. This is no ordinary guac though. Encircled by some of the best dipping chips, in the form of the chili salted totopos (blue corn chips), there’s a very moreish flavour that has the team tactfully distracting each other with conversation while sneaking in a sly dip. The zesty pico de gallo spiked guac is once again light, yet punchy, as it rides atop the divine totopos.
The chicken tostaditas are mounds of marinated chicken strips, with a slash of salsa verde, and topped with crumbly feta. Crispy handmade tortillas as the base, and a colourful flare of guacamole, is a sharing plate made for two.
Onto the tacos you say? Agreed! After all, this is a Mexican restaurant. It would be like dining Italian and no pasta! We order up a taco trio, and start with the Mujier Bonita. Black corn truffle, grilled vegetables, crunchy slaw, and feta await their warm, toasty taco casing. For me, the feta really makes an already lively combination, even more interesting. At the risk of a dated epithet, the word ‘fusion’ really does apply here. It’s that distinctive note of the cheese that catches the palate off guard, but uniquely compliments the more familiar flavours that are the chaser.
Senor Pollo steps in, and he gets noticed. This taco blends spicy chicken chunks with red and white cabbage, coriander, and spicy chili sauce to make sure that you’ll be ordering another round of the Senor’s specialty.
Not to be outdone by the strutting chicken, Calavera’s El Toro charges in with a smoky chorizo, juicy corn for sweetness, and the crunchy slaw, topped with chili and coriander. It’s the spicy, smokiness of the chorizo that leads the stampede of flavours on this plate.
Almost as fun as saying ceviche, enchiladas never disappoint on a night out for Mexican. Enchiladas Rancheros Rojas might sound like the title of a retro spaghetti western, but these corn tortillas, filled with pulled chicken and adorned with sour cream, feta, coriander, and side-kicked with rice, are never heavy. Warm, soft red corn tortillas surround the hearty filling and are the perfect course on this slightly chilly Sydney winter’s eve.
Is there anything better than a brownie? Yes! A brownie on fire, of course, silly. In a halo of blue flame, the Flaming Choc Brownie demands the table’s attention, if not for its entrance, then at least as a fire hazard. Seriously though, if you want to up the ante of any dish, take a match to it. The brownie is moist, rich and not too sweet. The warmth of the orange liqueur fueled flame and the caramelisation it imparts, play well with the accompaniments of vanilla ice cream and berry coulis. It’s a fitting finale to the fiesta at Calaveras.
Calaveras Mexican Cantina and Tequila Bar is all about friends and fun. The relaxed atmosphere, light and accessible menu are a nice change from the heavier style of Mexican fare. Only steps from Newtown Station and perched on one of Sydney’s most engaging streets, count Calaveras in your list when that craving for the flavours of the cantina come calling.
*Coco and Vine dined as guests of Calaveras Mexican Cantina and Tequila Bar.