The Mad Mex experience is almost as fun as pronouncing Mexico (a la Peggy in King of the Hill), 'Mehico'. Waiting for you as you enter this buzzing Space Of Spice, like a crime scene line up of welcoming faces, is a cheery, cheeky, attentive staff, that always look more like they're hanging out together and having a great time than merely sludging away working for the man. They always have a joke and that kind, open, playful Mexican energy that makes you just want to kick back with them, Corona in hand, hammock style. Deft hands control separate sections as they prepare your order in front of you in a speed that, if I am to judge by my marvellous Mexican travels, is anything but Mexican. This is Pure InYourFace Flaming Punk Rock for the mouth, and this, is how it's done.
The style here is Baja Mexican, which betrays its situation next to California in a philosophy of cooking that is light, zesty and spice fuelled, a clean taste of fresh, dynamic flavour undercuts all of the simple and stunning ingredients. Unlike most Mexican restaurants, which can be heavy on the grilled cheese, sour cream and Carbed Fatty style of cooking, this stuff salsa dances across your twirling tongue and into your taken heart. The Burritos, Tacos, Nachos and Quesadillas are all of impeccable quality, thin and chewy or thin and crispy, in true Mexican style, and never too thick, ropey, doughy or floury. Premium cuts of roast meat are slow cooked for 6 hours, releasing a richness and depth of flavour you don't find easily in food this fast. Even the salsa and guacamole are made fresh every day, they are positively giddy with limed and spiced TomatoedAvocadoishness, creamy in a natural and clean way, leaving you with none of that gluggy feeling you get after most guacamole. Make no mistake, Mad Mex said Peace to Grease, and made Mexy, Sexy.
Burritos are something I have only recently taken a bit of a grunting to. Before I discovered Mad Mex I used to go to Bondi Beach Burrito, I still enjoy the flavours they serve, but it's no where near as clean, sharp or dynamic as this cranking kitchen. My former problem with burritos was that the soft encasing always tasted too floury, like something still raw in your mouth. The burrito skin here is so good it's probably been to see Cindy Crawford's dermatologist. Light and translucent, it has a sticky, chewy consistency to it, and despite its scintillating sheerness, it commands its heaving burrito bounty in a firm, soft tortilla embrace, that once bitten or sliced into, unleashes a Mexican Wave of Peppered-Green-Onion-Salsa-Hot-Hot-Hot-Cheese-Rice-Sour-Cream-Bean-So-So-Blackened delight.
It's a mad mess of mental flavour that takes up residence in your ravenous mouth. The rice is clean and soft, small and mushy textured in gentle white (although Joelle says she prefers the rice 'dirtier') against the nuttiness and smokiness of the blackened beans, it all weaves into and out of the pico de gallo salsa, with shards of raw cheese and a little spiking of grounding sour cream, all beautifully slathered with some of the zestiest, most limed guacamole I have had. This stuff will make a complete and utter GuacHead out of you, most guacamoles are cut with too much dairy to thicken the flavour of the avocado, which is more expensive to use. This guac is almost all avocado, but perfectly balanced with lashings of limed sharpness and tartness so that the creaminess of it doesn't overpower the other flavours. It tastes as pure as a solitary yodel breaking a virgin dawn.
Have your burrito vegetarian with black bean and guacamole, or Barbacoa - spicy slow roasted beef with ChipotleGarlicCuminTomatilloishness, or Carnitas (slow roasted pork with GarlicOnionLimeCumin, salivatingly swineiferous), or Pollo (grilled chicken, hormone, steroid and chemical free) or perhaps Signor would prefer Carne Asada (grilled medium rare steak with citrus, garlic and spices). Cheeses Christ. Fajita Burritos are also up for grabs, as are soft or crispy tacos, nachos and CrispyGooeyDeepRichCheeseToPlease quesadillas. Finish with a splash of the salsa that describes you best, from mild, medium to hot (picante!), and your tum will say a silent, gastric Hola to satisfying deliciousness. In the interest of Fitting Into My Jeans, I alternate the vegetarian or chicken burrito with the naked version, pictured below. I never feel like I am missing out when I order it all scantily clad, it's as delicious in non burrito form and is the cheapest, healthiest Non-Japanese alternative I can find for a quick lunch or dinner when cooking is the last thing on my mind. Mark my words, you never leave Mad Mex hungry (although that didn't stop us popping next door for some of Joy's famous cookies).
It was never going to be Mexican food if it didn't come with a chaser. Corona, Bohemia, Imperial, Pure Blonde and Boaaaaags, maaate, are all up for grabs. There are saltless and salted Margaritas on the alcoholic rocks, and tequila shots doused with 100% Agave, and for those of you who aren't natural mathematicians, you can't get more than that! Tequila Herradura is Mexico's preferred shot, and you can try it here for $10. The menu describes it as aged 11 months, with 'subtle balance of wood and spice', but I still can't experience Tequila as anything other than a pit stop on the way to VomitsVille.
The corona chandelier is probably my favourite Sydney dining fixture, making this a great place to stop the Bandwagon and get off it. I definitely hope they don't hold AA meetings here. Clean, slick, packed, busy, fresh, friendly, funky and cheap as (tortilla) chips ($13 will get you very full). Mad Mex is a favourite with Dan and I. Joelle thought this the best burrito she has had in Sydney, and Erin liked it so much that she dropped her North Shore Ice Queen Cool and ended up with little burritoish bits on her happy, sated face. Mexican is probably becoming the new Japanese, in addition to Bondi Beach Burrito (great for quirkier combos like TofuPumpkinRoastedMushrooms, drinks and beach side burritoing, good but pricer) and Cafe Pacifico in East Sydney, there is Agave, a new Mexican dining spot in Surry Hills. It's a welcome heat wave that's blowing in from Central America, and Mad Mex is brilliantly dishing it up in a very Sydney Style, with lots of exquisite, simple ingredients, freshly prepared and lightly cooked. If you're trashing it up late night around Oxford St, you're far better to drop into Mad Mex than to the skanky kebab/pizza joints that abound, your arteries will appreciate the good turn.
Mad Mex happens at 241-247, Crown Street, Darlinghurst (also a Macquarie Center outlet), phone: 9331 7788. From 11.30 am til 10 pm M - Th, and 11.30 am til 11 pm F-Sun.
It describes itself as 'fighting for flavour' and 'defender of freshness', what worthier causes could there be? Mad Mex, it's more Urban than Elaine's Sombrero.
God, I miss Seinfeld.