First Look: Café Mexico

Café Mexico is a busy local cantina with a brand-new look and feel.

Shawn Soole in front of his bar at Cafe Mexico

The café’s roots reach back to the 1980s and the original Tex-Mex trend, when owners Brad and Hilda Olberg served their first big burritos, enchiladas and chimichangas here. A fire nearly ended the popular eatery’s 30-year run in 2015, but Café Mexico has literally risen from the ashes to reopen with a new south-of-the-border tapas menu and what manager Shawn Soole describes as one of the largest tequila and mezcal selections in the country.

“We’ve collected so much, so quickly,” says Soole, the local cocktail guru who has set his sights on the premium side of this south-of-the-border beverage. “There’s already 89 agaves and 47 mezcals on the bar. By the end of the year, I hope to have 250.”

Chef Rigo Salas

Since Café Mexico’s original incarnation, Victoria’s taco scene has exploded, with food trucks and downtown eateries offering their west coast take on authentic Mexican tacos. Café Mexico has been redesigned with this popular street food and small plate trend in mind, and chef Rigo Salas is at the helm.

Salas grew up in LA and has roots in Durango, Mexico, so his cooking veers away from old-fashioned American Tex-Mex into more refined “new Mexican” fare. Long-time fans can still order their favourite burritos, enchiladas and chimichangas from the “vintage” menu selections, but the new focus is on sharable plates and local ingredients.

The well-priced tapas ranges from a fresh ceviche of marinated fish and crunchy cabbage to scoop up with tortilla chips; steamed corn masa and vegetable tamales; spicy habanero meatballs made with ground bison and pork and served in a rich tomato ranchero sauce; and a big chili rellano stuffed with cheese, battered and fried until crispy and golden brown.

The interior of Cafe Mexico

We also ordered one of the taco boards, the seared skirt steak arriving in a small cast iron skillet with hot corn tortillas and a variety of additions to wrap up inside: refried beans, salsa, guacamole and Spanish rice. There are other protein choices for this DIY dish (think Shrimp Mojo, Al Pastor Pork, grilled chicken) that are perfect to share or as a main dish.

Sated on starters, we ran out of room to try other mains, like the recommended 7 Mares Paella, a rice dish featuring local seafood and chorizo, or the Ling Cod Veracruz, a BC fish topped with a chunky, fusion-style olive and tomato pico de gallo sauce.

The space at Café Mexico is re-imagined, too. Gone are the brightly painted walls and papier-mâché parrots. Instead, high ceilings and exposed brick walls (thanks to the historic Market Square location) enclose comfortable booths and modern steel stools hugging the long bar with its impressive display of unique Mexican mezcals and tequilas.

The overall vibe is friendly, rustic and casual, with convivial service, perfectly shaken margaritas and a nice neighbourhood buzz. Mexican food—like other ethnic fare—has evolved as Canadians seek more authentic experiences, and after 30 years, Café Mexico is evolving, too.

1425 Store Street (Market Square), Victoria | 778-265-7880 |


  • Photography By Rebecca Wellman. Pictured at top: Cafe Mexico’s Ling Cod Veracruz



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