25th January 2017
174 Smith Street
Collingwood, VIC 3066
Mamasita was the restaurant that introduced Melbourne to ‘real’ Mexican food. Although there are other authentic Mexican restaurants that have been around for longer, Mamasita was the one that really put Mexican on the map. But unlike other wildly successful restaurants, the people behind Mamasita didn’t immediately set about expanding their empire (I’m looking at you, Chin Chin!). But finally, almost a whole 7 years later, we were finally blessed with Hotel Jesus (AYYYYY-MEN!).
Unlike the sleek and sexy Mamasita, Hotel Jesus has gone the opposite route with a restaurant that is part Mexican tostaderia, part Americana diner. The entire space is plastered wall to wall with tiles in a truly garish diner-style; not even the bar was spared. The furniture is deliberately chosen to look as vibrant and as cheap as possible, and there is neon galore. The result is revoltingly tacky, yet the charm of the place is undeniable – the interior designers should be congratulated.
The ordering system can be a little confusing for those not familiar with it, but it’s really just a standard tick-sheet menu – you mark your choices on the slip of paper, give it to your waitron, and order your drinks at the same time. The service was quite haphazard, and whilst most servers were friendly, some all but dumped your food onto the table. Props to our waitress though; not only was she bubbly and helpful, she also had the most awesome Matilda tattoo on her arm!
It was a warm day – perfect for a glass of Horchata ($7.5). This was a lighter version than some of the others I’ve had, and the lower degree of sweetness was wonderfully refreshing in the hot weather.
The Chicken Cesar ($7) is definitely not what you’d expect from the name. I mean yes, you have the julienned lettuce and thinly sliced spring onions in a light ranch-styled dressing, but instead of grilled chicken or croutons, the salad was piled onto an entire piece of crispy chicken skin. Although this was unusual, it was good stuff for sure.
We actually ordered the Beans ($6) at the end, wanting something a bit heftier to finish our meal with. Though simple, I thought this was pretty wonderful. The beans were blended into a creamy slurry, then drizzled with puddles of chilli oil and gratings of salty queso. This was incredibly addictive and almost big enough for a meal on its own. The only thing I didn’t like was the crackers, which were so dry that they almost tasted stale.
I have a confession – the Porktopus Tostada ($9.5) was ordered simply by merit of its awesome name. The house-made corn chip was topped with a combination of tender marinated octopus pieces, and pork rinds sprinkled with chilli. This was a fresh bite, but I have to admit it lacked the oomph that the tacos had (spoiler alert!).
Speaking of tacos, I always find it hard to go past anything with fish in it, which made my first choice of the Seafood Taco ($6) pretty unsurprising. This was pretty great stuff; the crispy fingers of white fish were heaped high with tangy pickled cabbage, all wrapped in a soft, fragrant tortilla. My only complaint is that this could’ve used some sauce, as it was just a smidge on the dry side.
The Suadero Taco ($5) was a taco in its simplest form, and it was lovely. The beef was slow-cooked to render it juicy and fatty, then garnished simply with diced onions and coriander. Have this one with a squeeze of lime and some chilli sauce.
If you ask me however, the Green Chorizo Taco ($5) was the undisputed winner for the night. Green chorizo is traditionally not put into a casing, so this rich, spicy sausage was served crumbled over the tortilla, along with shreds of caramelised onion, and potato chips (yes you read right!) for a bit more substance. This was street food pure and simple, and I loved every bite of it.
And finally, the Al Pastor Taco ($5). The combination of grilled pork and juicy pineapple worked surprisingly well together, and it tasted like a holiday in a tortilla.
Ok so Hotel Jesus isn’t perfect; the service is a bit awful, and although the prices seem good on first glance, the portions were actually disappointingly small. But despite that, I was so incredibly taken with the food and the atmosphere that I am now jonesing for a taco date, where Chris buys me half a dozen tacos and I stuff my face. I may not be a catch, but the tacos are Hotel Jesus sure are.
Rating: 15/20 – holy grail.
This rating reflects my personal experience at the time of visit.