500 Victoria Street
North Melbourne, VIC 3051
They say hindsight is 20:20, and it’s only now that I’ve gone back to working full time that I realise that I took my time off from employment for granted. Instead of lying at home like a sack of dog food when I’m not looking for work, I could’ve taken the time to really de-stress and enjoy myself. On the plus side though, post-work dinners have regained their shine, and it was with great anticipation that I stepped into El Sabor, a-hankerin’ for a good Mexican meal.
I felt instantly toastier when I walked through the door; the luridly orange walls reminded me incessantly of all things warm, and the decorations of a summer festival. The restaurant was mostly filled with happy locals who braved the moody Melbourne weather to get their fiesta fix.
Having travelled extensively around Mexico, the owner of El Sabor, Dhi, knows what’s up with Mexican food. There is incredible passion for bringing a real taste of Mexico to Melbourne, and the food Dhi serves is what he loves to eat himself. Considering the fact that we could not stop salivating at the smell of the enchiladas at the next table, he is on to something good.
To start off, our stomachs were warmed with a bowl of traditional Pozole – not yet on the menu, but keep an eye out as the weather cools! Despite looking thin and unremarkable, the soup was a chorus of bold flavours that expanded on the palate in a burst of warmth, having been bravely seasoned with the heat of 2 types of chilli.
Hidden beneath the surface was a jumble of chewy hominy kernels that soaked up the broth, and shredded pieces of slow-cooked chicken and pork. This is the ultimate in comfort food that brings frozen fingers and toes back to life.
We were served some Tres Salsas con Totopos ($10) in conjunction with the soup. Chris loved the ripe sweetness of the salsa, and the cooling of the sour cream, swirled into his pozole. I on the other hand lavished my attention on the generously zesty guacamole.
The plate of Calamari Fritos ($15) was tantalisingly shallow-fried in a batter glowing with spice, and the calamari itself was the most tender I’ve ever had; it all but disintegrated on the tongue. Unfortunately the overall effect is a little dull, even with the addition of aioli and guacamole. After all, how can anything measure up to a spicy bowl of pozole?
The Tamales de Pollo ($18, 3pcs) on the other hand were anything but boring, despite its demure appearance.
The first thing that’ll tip you off is the smoky aroma exuding from the corn husk. Peel that back and you’ll find a soft corn dumpling stuffed full of spicy pulled chicken. All permeated with the smouldering aroma of corn on a grill. The condiments on the side were served in the colours of the Mexican Flag. Contrived? Maybe. But it is infinitely endearing.
I love a good chicken wing, and its extra nice when they’re rubbed with spices and scorched with grill marks, like these Alitas ($10, half dozen) were. Each piece was succulent and smoky, and cut through with a cool drizzle of sharp jalapeno mayo.
I tend to judge a book by its cover, and a Mexican restaurant by its tacos, so this is what I had been looking forward to the most. The Pescado Taco ($12, 2pcs) consisted of large pieces of white fish in a sheer coating of corn-based batter, wrapped in a fragrant tortilla with the simple accompaniments of guacamole, chipotle mayo, and lettuce. The result was a light but moreish taco that I found thoroughly enjoyable.
Meanwhile, the Res Taco ($12, 2pcs) was the warm, earthy counterpart to the freshness of the fish. The giant wad of pulled beef was juicy and spicy, generously flavoured with chilli and cumin. Just make sure you eat this one first though, as the gravy does soak through the tortilla.
Aside from dessert tequilas and cocktails, the menu contained three sweet options: crème caramel, corn cake, and Churros ($15, 5pcs). Whilst churros would normally be my last resort, I am so glad I wasn’t the one making decisions for once. The fingers of pastry were briefly fried for a crisp exterior and a gooey centre, but their full potential was not unleashed until it was dipped into the chocolate sauce. Consisting of a mix of Mexican chocolate, dark chocolate, and a slick of cream, the sauce tasted of nothing but sugar for a second or two, before the soft explosion of cocoa hit. It was a perfect balance of sweet and bitter, its creamy richness heated by the coating of powdered cinnamon on the churros.
In the end, El Sabor made good on its promise of delicious and authentic Mexican food, and I had serious food envy over the saucy enchiladas at the next table. And the best bit? They do deliveries within about a 7km radius, and Dhi told me for a fact that they often deliver to the staff and patients at my hospital. Now there’s a good option for lunch.
Rating: 14.5/20 – hospital fiesta.
This rating reflects my personal experience at the time of visit.
Sweet and Sour Fork dined as a guest of El Sabor.