Mad Mex Lunch Review
In a fairly uninspirational location- tucked away in a corner of Melbourne central amongst the burger joints and tacky bars with Thursday night drink specials- is this surprising offering. Mad Mex Melbourne Central is the second of a popular Sydney chain store to open in Melbourne, the flagship Victorian store having been on Chapel St in Prahan a little while now, and the latest store has hit the ground running.
We visited shortly after the lunch rush, and the place was still busy and ticking over, with people trickling in steadily to sample the goods. The fair is Baja-Californian, a deliberate distancing from the Tex-Mex that has traditionally saturated the Australian market. The focus is on fresh, punchy flavors rather than the sludgy, starchy and heavily spiced fare many of us grew up on. This is a long way from the dubious pleasures of Old El Paso's refried beans, providing traditional Mexican with enough of a Californian bent to accommodate a plethora of healthy, tasty options.
The versatility attracts a diverse crowd from around the CBD. Vegetarian students relax on low slung chairs while white-collar workers bolt down a burrito between checking their watches and thick neck gym bunnies fresh from a workout take advantage a nutrient and calorie meal calculator provided by the restaurant.
The procedure is casual and fast, combining Baja Cantina style eating with North Californian service; a little like ordering at a Subway. You choose from a range of menu selections, including burritos, soft and crispy tacos, quesadillas and the intimidating Grande Melt. You then move down the line with your server and choose a filling: these include marinated and grilled chicken and steak options, alongside slow roasted beef and pork. There's a vegetarian option as well, with a zesty mixture of eggplant, zucchini, mushroom and fajita mix. Once you've decided on your filling, you move down the line and choose from a range of five salsas, then customize your meal with your choice of salad and vegetable accompaniments, then check out and move into the dining area to eat.
We started with a chicken quesadilla, gently fried and cut into triangle to be enjoyed with a dipping salsa and sour cream. It was nice, but relied heavily on the sauces to really get a flavour kick. Most impressive was the slow-roast pork burrito, a tightly wrapped shell bursting with deliciousness that has to be wrangled with both hands. The pork itself was a highlight, delicately spiced, so that the natural flavours of the meat were brought to the forefront, and the texture softened and broken down with gentle cooking over time, soft and pliable so that it melts in the mouth - a definite highlight.
The sole dessert option is a churro, warm, cylindrical Mexican 'donuts' rolled in cinnamon and sugar and served with hot, melted chocolate dipping sauce. They were fried in rice bran oil, a noticeably lighter, cleaner taste compared to other churros I've eaten, and a welcome respite to the palate after eating a burrito the size of my head.
Ultimately, it's a fast food place, pitched roughly in competition with up-market chains like Nando's and Grill'd, providing fun, casual dining with good food at affordable prices. Nearly everything on the menu is under $11, and you'd be hard pressed to bust your budget here, unless you dip into the range of Mexican beers, sodas, and tequila on offer, I can imagine the place gets quite festive in the evenings, and I can see myself getting my fiesta on here as summer rolls around.
Mad Mex is located at Melbourne Central, CBD and 129/131 Chapel Street, Prahran. Melbourne Central location is open from 11:00am - 7:00pm Sunday and Monday, 11:00am - 8:00pm Tuesday, Wednesday and Saturday and aa:00am - 9:00pm Thursday and Friday. The Prahran location is open from 11:00am until 10:00pm Sunday - Thursday and 11:00am - 11:00pm Friday - Saturday.