Don Pedros is a contemporary Mexican and Southern Californian-style cantina in the heart of Byron Bay that serves all the famed favourites from these regions, as well as a great range of tequilas.
The venue has a welcoming feel, and like cantinas of Latin America, there is a fun and funky vibe. Its decor is fresh, bright and modern with Latin-themed textiles and wall motifs but, importantly, with well positioned lighting so the bright atmosphere is still comfortable.
The menu has all the Mexican favourites; the nachos are house made and the freshness translates to great texture and flavour for a simple chip. There are great choices in the $8 tacos: the prawn, iceberg, lime mayo and pico de gallo is a personal favourite. The lamb shoulder, slaw and chimichurri taco, as well as the pulled pork belly, slaw and chipotle mayo tacos were also devoured with much relish at our table.
We took our children, and from their very enthusiastic response I’d say it’s a very safe bet, but whilst the cantina is family-friendly the rest of the restaurants visitors were adults that night, seemingly enjoying their cocktails and margaritas (we arrived, purely by chance, during the $10 margarita happy hour, so we enjoyed our margaritas just that little bit more!). There’s a bit of music pumping in the background, and the whole place has an upbeat vibe – so don’t ask for a quiet candlelit table in the corner!
There is a very good range of share plates, including tasty delights such as barramundi ceviche or jalapeños poppers, or you can just grab a taco platter or plate of Latin flavoured pork spare ribs with slaw.
For dessert our children loved the churros, served piled on a plate with dulce de leche, which were crisp outside and soft inside, and the Nutella quesadilla, with warm filling oozing into the mouth on each bite.
Cantina in Spanish translates as ‘bar’ more than café, and Don Pedros has a great cocktail list put together by bar manager/ restaurant manager Tomas Mandelli, a mixologist from Sydney who’s brought his secret recipes with him. I found the ‘classic’ margarita a little sweeter than I make mine – I think the ‘Tommy’ is more my style – but if you’re starting to get fussy over exactly how you want your tequila then Tomas is your man. Up to six people can sit and eat at the bar, which is a great place to get a very close view of the tequila bottles!
I discovered that the 23 different sorts of tequila and mezcal on the menu are, in fact, just a sample of what’s available. ‘There wasn’t enough space on the menu’, says Tomas, pointing to the extra rows of bottles on shelves behind the bar. ‘When customers come and want to sit at the bar, that’s when I come into my own’, he says, ‘I like to find out about the sort of flavour profiles they like, and find them something that they’ll really love’.
Don Pedros has a very similar and popular Sydney restaurant run by Chef Juan Alvarez, and co-owner Emma Morris, which they opened in January 2020, but with Juan stranded in Mexico by COVID it was Emma who brought Tomas up from Sydney to get their second restaurant off the ground. ‘I’ve had other restaurants before,’ says Emma, ‘but starting our Sydney restaurant during COVID was a real challenge, especially as it wasn’t suited to takeaway. The way the customers in Paddington stuck by us made all the difference – it’s important for customers to feel looked after.’
The staff certainly take care to make the footpath seating comfortable too, even on these chillier nights, with outdoor blankets, drop sheets and heaters – so if the weather’s a bit a cold it’s fine to sit outside, and of course there’s always the tequila to heat you up.
Don Pedros is on the healthy end of the Mexican restaurant scale. ‘The So-Cal (Southern Californian) Mexican style menu is much healthier than Tex-Mex, for example,’ says Emma. ‘We use a lot of raw ingredients, and cook all of our meats and proteins overnight, so you don‘t need to lather it in hot sauce to get flavour. We get flavour from the meat itself and the prep – slow and slow is the way we go.’
Emma says that the popular Sydney dishes are also proving a winner up here. ‘Every Tuesday it’s been a tradition to offer the $5 taco and beer special, and try all the tacos. Everyone in Sydney loves the soft-shell crab, and when we offered that for the first time in Byron last week we found that, once again, it was the top seller. We also do something different with our Fajitas platters; traditionally they are beef and chicken but we add prawns and fish (barramundi) to that, and also we have a vegetarian version of that. Also, most of our meals can be converted to gluten free, like the corn tacos, and most of the proteins don’t use flours so it’s easy to come with a group, there’s no need to worry about vegetarians and gluten-intolerant people enjoying themselves’.
As a family with a vegetarian, a gluten free person and children who have been spoilt for choice in restaurants we can sometimes be hard to please as a family, but we had a fun night at Don Pedros, just reminding me that sharing with friends and family is a warm-hearted way to celebrate life together.
Don Pedros Cantina
8 Fletcher St Byron Bay