It’s tequila time – Gold Coast icon Mexicali opens striking rooftop bar in Bulimba

If you took a survey of Brisbane foodies and asked them which Gold Coast restaurant or bar they’d most love to see expand to Brisbane, there’s a high chance Mexicali Bar Y Taqueria would rank at the top. The widely beloved coastal Mexican-inspired hot spot has long been a buzzing nexus for Nobby Beach noshers, and now the taco-tossing outfit has come to north.

Mar 08, 2024, updated Mar 08, 2024

Last week Mexicali celebrated the opening of its new Bulimba location – a colourful rooftop bar and eatery serving bang-on Baja-style fish tacos, exquisite elotes and a range of mighty fine margs. Take a look inside …

This April, Mexicali will celebrate ten years of operation. That’s a lot of tacos and margaritas. It takes a lot of hard work to reach this kind of milestone in hospitality, but having a killer concept from the beginning goes a long way, too.

Co-founder Luke Johnson cut his teeth in Adelaide and Fremantle’s dining scenes before opening Mexicali in Nobby Beach back in 2014. Shaped by a love for the cuisine and culture of coastal Mexico and California, the venue quickly found a following amongst Gold Coast’s foodies – its abode in a converted 70s-era three-bedroom apartment near the Gold Coast Highway became a beloved haunt of many, helping kick off the coast’s ongoing love affair with Mexican cuisine and enduring over the past decade as a consistent, yet constantly innovating dining spot.

To hear Luke tell it, recent years have seen a spike Mexicali’s customer base coming from Brisbane – a steady stream of fans frequently flocking south for a fix of the taqueria’s fare. Between bites of Baja-style fish tacos and sips of tequila-laced cocktails, these northern blow-ins would often loudly clamour for a Brisbane-based Mexicali outpost to call their own.

But even before hordes of Brisbaneites started regularly getting in his ear about Brisbane’s potential, Luke was already contemplating a northward expansion.

“[Expanding to Brisbane] was something that we’ve seriously looked at and have been considering for years,” Luke reveals. “There’s a lot going on up here, which is really cool to see. It is one of those emerging cities that I believe is going to rival Melbourne, Sydney and Adelaide – if it’s not already, it’s going to be very soon.”

Luke hopes Mexicali can play a part of Brisbane’s ongoing evolution. Last week, the team lifted the curtain on its brand-new (and long-anticipated) location in Bulimba – an eye-catching open-air rooftop venue on Oxford Street offering glimpses of the city skyline to the southwest.

Perched one floor above street level, the design of Mexicali’s oasis is equally as eye-catching as the views it boasts. Compared to the timber-heavy bones of its Nobby Beach sibling, Mexicali Bulimba’s blank-canvas site offered Luke and his team the opportunity to run wild with a bespoke fit-out, one which has nailed the concept’s established coastal Mexican-inspired aesthetic.

“There’s similar branding and we’ve got similar colour schemes across both locations, but there was an opportunity here to use a bunch of different textures,” says Luke, pointing out Mexicali Bulimba’s greater use of stone and tile, hand-painted murals and the playful blue-and-white colour scheme evident across the venue’s tables and floor.

Mexicali’s 100-odd seats are spread across long timber tables, blue-hued banquettes, cosy booths and a strip of stools looking out over the street. Aside from the view, the bar is the venue’s clear focal point, with back-lit shelves of tequila and mezcal visible alongside a split-flap display offering snippets of sage wisdom like, ‘know when to give up and have a margarita’ (hint taken). In great news for fans of a sun-soaked sipping sessions, the venue is equipped with an operable roof and blinds that retract when the weather is on-point.

If you’re one of the many Brisbane locals that scheduled in regular visits to Mexicali Nobby Beach, you’ll be pleased to hear that the menu you love has been transported north in its entirety. So too has Mexicali’s ethos, which is predicated on only using the best ingredients – be it 100-percent nixtamal corn tortillas or free-range, antibiotic- and hormone-free meats.

The menu starts with seafood – a Poseidon’s bounty featuring the likes of freshly shucked oysters with xnipek (a spicy Mexican mignonette) and blue-swimmer-crab tostadas, as well as crispy fried fish-filled pescadillas and Moreton Bay bug tacos. Further along, you’ll find snacks like Mexicali’s hugely popular elotes (grilled street-style corn coated in chipotle mayonesa, queso and smoked spice), pineapple-cut chilli-salt squid and chicken drumettes coated in agave syrup.

Then, it’s all about tacos. Mexicali’s signature Baja-style battered coral trout taco with pineapple chutney and chipotle mayo, al pastor tacos with grilled marinated Bangalow pork shoulder, beef birria quesatacos, slow-cooked Cape Grim pulled-beef tacos, and grilled halloumi and black-bean tacos are stand-out selections. If you’re feeding a few, share plates like nachos, quesadillas and Cape Grim rump cap with chimichurri will certainly please a crowd.

While the venue settles in, the Mexicali crew will be sticking with the classics. But don’t expect that to be the case forever – Luke is eager to nudge the offering in fun new directions, giving his chefs carte blanche to experiment. “We definitely want to do the traditional things, but we’re also really keen to push the envelope in the other direction – really good items that are going to push the Mexican space in Brisbane further,” Luke tells us.

Mexicali’s bar program is famed for being anchored by a solid range of 100-percent blue-agave tequila and loads of mezcal. This curated collection filters into a range of eight signature margaritas, but those eager to stray away from Margaritaville should look to Mexicali’s paloma (which is invigorated by a prickly pear and clementine-infused tequila float) or the Mexicola, which boasts a reposado tequila, Coca-Cola, fresh lime and creamy Cocowhip on top.

There’s also plenty of cervezas and sangria for those unfamiliar with tequila and mezcal, but those curious to expand their palate needn’t be shy about asking the bar team for its expert guidance.

“We know a lot about nearly all of the tequilas and mezcals that we do have, and we put extensive training into all of them,” says Luke. “It’s something that our team prides itself on – knowing everything about what we serve, from the brands and the varietals, to what region they’re from and whether it’s highland or lowland.”

Mexicali Bulimba is now open to the public – operating hours and contact details can be found in the Stumble Guide.

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