Mesa Verde

There are FAR TOO MANY STAIRS to get up to Mesa Verde. It’s right at the top of Curtain House, basically hovering just next to Rooftop Bar, and I was very pooped and very thirsty by the time I reached the seventh dang floor. “Why didn’t you just take the lift Hayley.” DO YOU KNOW HOW MANY PEOPLE WERE TRYING TO GET INTO THE LIFT?! Impatience won out over laziness, at least I slightly worked for my tacos.

Yes, tacos! Mesa Verde is, like basically everywhere in Melbourne, devoted to Mexican food. Now, I’m at a point where I’m pretty suspicious of the Mex-food bandwagon, a lot of it is very samey from venue to venue, and the feeling I often have is that there’s not a lot of thought gone into it and most of the time it just tastes like variations of Chipotle. But Mesa Verde’s iteration seems thoughtful, and enthusiastic, and most importantly everything tastes pretty darn great.

Tacos! There’s two vegetarian options, firstly the grilled house-made queso with pumpkin and zucchini, and second the black beans with toasted pepita salsa and cotija cheese. Firstly, they feel properly filling and decadent enough to warrant their $7-8 price tags (which very few Melb tacos do), and are fancy enough in terms of ingredients to not come across as basic, but also don’t feel like they’re reinventing the wheel for the sake of it.

Chilaquiles, which the menu describes as “just like nachos”, are comprise of salsa verde, beans and mozzarella on top of corn chips. They pretty much are nachos! I’m not quite certain why they need the name change particularly since traditional chilaquiles, after a google, appear to be far more about having your tortilla chips or fried strips swim in a big pool of salsas or mole with egg, pulled chicken or refried beans. This seems a smidge like being a little pretentious for the sake of it. They’re great nachos, call them nachos!

I was also witness to seeing one of the varieties of queso fundido brought to the table, which was a LITERAL dish of melted, gooey cheese, served with little rounds of warm tortillas. It was stretchy cheesey glory that was a wonder to witness. Sadly, it was not vegetarian-friendly (although everyone got VERY EXCITED about the fact it also contained chorizo and tequila, very “what a time to be alive” for meat-eaters I imagine), but the other two options available are apparently vegetarian! I am intrigued by the one that involves nopales (cactus) and pickled mushrooms, because GOODNESS. Enough for a return visit alone food-wise, clearly.

Yet while the food at Mesa Verde is pretty solidly delicious, it takes a firm backseat to the cocktail menu. This is a place worthy of going to just to DRINK.

I knew I was going to order the Cheat Bureau as soon as I clocked its ingredients – Lapsang tea-infused bourbon, pear Calvados, with date and maple syrup – because SERIOUSLY look at that combination, like I wasn’t going to want to discover what that tasted like. And it all, somewhat surprisingly, works extraordinarily well – the honeyed fruit of the Calvados holds most sway, but the Lapsang adds a smoky tenor to things, while the sweetness of the date and maple floats along the top of your mouthful. Very complimentary, very very clever.

The Costa is one of four negronis available at Mesa Verde, and is composed of Le Venenosa Raicilla, Campari, sweet vermouth and an orange twist, served in a heavy whisky glass with one round ice block keeping everything chill. Like all good negronis the alcohol hits you like an aromatic truck – it’s a hefty drink, all swirling with citric notes, and is enough to get heady and lost in. A proper lingering beverage to savour.

Lastly, I had a Neill’s Julep – Whitley Neil gin, rhubarb bitters, mint with a plum pisco float – because I do get this strange rush of nostalgia when it comes to mint juleps as their crushed ice base makes me think of slushies. This one wasn’t as hedonistically overwhelming a drink as the other two, which arrested all senses, but was an enjoyable one nevertheless – I particularly enjoyed the tartness of the rhubarb rubbing up against the gin.

Sure, the cocktail menu at Mesa Verde may take the slight overenthusiastic pretension present in their food menu and ramp it up to the nth degree, and you may pay handsomely for it, but for me it mostly worked to provide an extremely happy time. I honestly can’t wait for the next chance to drag friends who haven’t been there before – I need to see the looks on their faces upon first sip of a Costa.

Mesa Verde

Level 6, Curtain House

252 Swanston Street, Melbourne CBD

Ph: 9654 4417

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