Mad Mex, Hillarys Boat Harbour

Mad Mex Fresh Mexican Grill is a popular franchise over east and as usual, Perth gets its invitation late into the party. I've come along to Mad Mex's newest store at Hillarys Boat Harbour to meet founder and Head Honcho Clovis Young, learn about Baja ("Bah-ha") Mexican cuisine and get my first taste of Mad Mex. Jac loves Mexican food and is excited to attend with me. Also at Mad Mex this afternoon is fellow Perth food blogger Foodie Cravings and her other half, Burger Boy.

Many Australians probably think of Mexican food as cheese-laden, heavy and certainly not a healthy choice. Baja Mexican cuisine changes that old image of Mexican food, combining the bold flavours of Mexico with the health-consciousness of neighbouring California. Mad Mex's menu has an emphasis on fresh ingredients and is designed to be healthy as well as tasty.

Mad Mex, Hillarys Boat Harbour

Ordering at Mad Mex is a 3-step process:

  1. First, choose your "Mad Mex style": burrito, naked burrito (served in a bowl), soft tacos, crispy tacos, nachos, quesadilla or a Mad Mex specialty - the Grande Melt, a quesadilla with the works, rolled like a burrito and toasted.

  • Then, choose your filling: pollo (freshly grilled chicken), barbacoa (slow roasted beef), carne asada (freshly grilled steak), carnitas (slow roasted pork) or vegetariano (freshly sauteed vegetables). Although fish tacos are a well-known specialty of Baja Mexican cuisine, there's no fish on the menu currently. Would seafood present logistical challenges in this "fast casual" restaurant setup, I wonder?
  • Last, choose fresh salsas: pico de gallo (tomato, mild), chilli corn (medium), Mexican tomatillo (mild), roasted tomato (medium) and picante (habanero chilli, hot).
  • Guacamole is an extra AU$2. There are other side dishes, kids' meals, and churros for dessert.

    The ordering counter at Mad Mex, Hillarys

    The process to get your food is similar to that of Subway. Although this means you can customise your order at every step, personally I'm not a fan of this style of ordering as the choices can be overwhelming and it can be quite intimidating if you're indecisive or unfamiliar with either or both the menu or procedure, especially in a busy, fast-paced, noisy environment. To ensure the process works smoothly with minimal frustration, it's crucial that the staff members assembling the orders are good listeners.

    Staff at Mad Mex

    There are a lot of staff working today. The store has only been open for a few days, so experienced crew from Sydney are here training the new Perth staff, which helps ease the pressure of ordering anxiety a little... on both sides of the counter.

    Filling my soft tacos

    My soft tacos (AU$8.90 for two tacos) are filled generously with chicken that's been marinated in authentic chipotle (a blend of smoky dried jalapeno chill and other spices), black beans, cheese, chilli corn salsa, lettuce, tomato and sour cream, topped with guacamole. The chilli corn salsa is made with fresh sweet corn, pineapple, onion, coriander and jalapenos. The black beans are delicious and quite different to the mushy refried beans I'm used to avoiding at Mexican restaurants.

    Chicken soft tacos

    I could eat my tacos with a fork but I prefer to pick them up with my hands and dive in. The guacamole is delicious but makes the tacos extremely sloppy and I'm sure I've given myself a bright green creamy moustache after my first few greedy bites.

    Chicken soft taco

    Jac's carnitas soft tacos are loaded with pork that's been slow roasted for 6 hours then shredded traditional style, flavoured with garlic, onion, lime and cumin, and bursting with tomato, lettuce, onion, cheese and black beans, topped with lashings of guacamole.

    Slow roasted pork soft tacos

    We also share a chicken quesadilla (AU$9.90), a grilled flour tortilla with grilled seasoned chicken, cheese, capsicum and onion. We try four Mad Mex salsas: guacamole, tomatillo sauce (mild, made with tomatillos, chipotle peppers, citrus and spices), roasted tomato sauce (medium, made with tomato, onions, chile de arbol and coriander) and picante (hot, made with habenero chilli). Note: quesadillas usually include two salsas.

    Chicken quesadilla with salsas. With the guacamole, L to R are: tomatillo, roasted tomato and picante

    The crisp tortilla, tender chicken and chewy melted cheese are delicious. I try all the salsas but my favourites are the guacamole and tomatillo, which I spread in turns on my slice of quesadilla before each bite.

    Chicken quesadilla close-up

    We wash our food down with Jarritos Mexican soda - I choose mandarin and Jac has lime. Other flavours are tamarind and guava. Mad Mex Hillarys will soon be fully licensed so diners will be able enjoy Mexican beers, tequilas and margaritas with their meals.

    Jarritos Mexican Soda - Mandarin and Lime flavours (AU$4.20 each)

    We sit at a table out on the boardwalk and chat with Clovis while we eat. He grew up in California eating Baja Mexican cuisine and when he and his wife moved to Sydney several years ago, they decided to bring Baja Mexican food to Australia. The first Mad Mex opened on Crown Street in Darlinghurst four years ago, serving long queues of diners eager for a taste of gourmet Baja Mexican food. Since then, Mad Mex has opened another nine stores across New South Wales, two in Victoria, one in Queensland and this latest one in Perth, Western Australia.

    Clovis speaks with great passion and pride as he talks about Mad Mex's food. A lot of research has gone into the development of Mad Mex's recipes to ensure the authentic flavours of Mexico and traditional cooking methods are preserved through the combination of fresh locally sourced produce and selected imported ingredients. Clovis tells us his aim is not for Mad Mex to be the biggest franchise, but a brand that is loved and respected for its great-tasting food made always with the freshest produce.

    The most noble food philosophy is meaningless if the food itself doesn't taste good, but I'm pleased to report that everything we try is really delicious. While Clovis speaks I can tell that like me, Foodie Cravings is torn between tucking in and taking notes.

    Taking the healthy food approach even further, Mad Mex has a dynamic nutritional calculator available on their website (which also works on your mobile).

    Clovis Young, founder of Mad Mex.

    We finish our meal with churros and chocolate, freshly deep-fried crispy Mexican doughnuts rolled in cinnamon and sugar, served with warm melted dipping chocolate (two churros per serve, AU$4.50/AU$5.90 with/without chocolate). I don't just dip my churros in the chocolate, I dip my fingers too. Even after all the churros are gone, I keep eating the chocolate. Clearly, I'm not one of the nutritional calculator's devoted users.

    Churros & chocolate

    Mad Mex's logo and decor echo the colours of the Mexican flag. The walls are decorated with Mad Mex's mascot, a masked Lucha Libre wrestler.

    Mad Mex wall

    The Corona bottle lamps and chandelier are eye-catching features in the store.

    Corona bottle chandelier. The mural explains the meaning of "Baja".

    Mad Mex, Hillarys Boat Harbour

    We really enjoyed Mad Mex. Our food was fresh and delicious and it was great having a chat with Clovis.

    I hope Mad Mex Hillarys does well, and its success inspires Clovis to open up more franchises around Perth. Hint: I'd love a Mad Mex in Victoria Park (if any of you guys agree, please feel free add your support in the comments)!

    Mad Mex - warning, their website loads up with auto-play music (can be disabled)
    Hillarys Boat Harbour
    Shop 31 Sorrento Quay Boardwalk (next to Gloria Jean)
    Hillarys WA 6025
    Telephone: (08) 9447 7444
    Open 10am to 10pm daily
    Also in NSW, Vic and Qld (check website for details)
    More on Hillarys Boat Harbour

    Mad Mex on Urbanspoon

    TFP and Jac dined compliments of Mad Mex Hillarys.