Have you ever tried El Salvadorian food? What about Colombian? Peruvian? Chilean? If Latin American food is foreign to you, you are not alone – in fact the dishes of Latin American, excluding the ubiquitous Mexican cuisine, is glaringly underappreciated in Australia. It is on par perhaps with the food of most African nations – a void in the gastronomic annals of our minds. Los Latinos is a Melbourne based restaurant with pan-Latin American cuisine which is hoping to change all this, and also provides some welcome comfort food for homesick Central and South Americans.
To begin with, Los Latinos is primarily a Salvadorian restaurant, run by Lilian Funes de Murga and her family, who migrated from El Salvador more than two decades ago. However, it is billed as a “Pupuseria and Latin American” cafe, and the menu fittingly manages delicious dishes from across the cultural region. And just in case you were wondering, a pupuseria is a place where pupusas are made, and a pupusa is a thick cornflour tortilla originating from El Salvador – they’re delicious!
Arriving at the Maidstone store is nothing special – it’s just another shopfront on a fairly bleak row. However as soon as you enter the fiesta begins; the welcome is warm and homely, the decor as colourfully cheerful as a sunny Salvadorian day. Together with a large group of friends, we order an array of tasty (but decidedly Mexican sounding) starters. Tex Mex Nachos, Corn Chips and Dips and Quesadilla are served, and while mouthwatering, don’t reveal much about the cuisine we have come to taste.
It takes a while, but eventually the mains are served – and this is where Los Latinos comes into its own. The Chilean Pastel de Choclo is a baked mince, sweetcorn and egg casserole, topped with cheese and served in its own tray. The meat is earthy and seasoned, and slightly peppery, but also has a slightly sweet quality – delicious, and addictive. My belly is full by the end of the meal, but yet I want more. The pupusas come in four varieties and are also tasty – a savoury, cheesy, smoky flavour (although at least one variety is stuffed with pork meat).
My friend, a Colombian, ordered the fish special, which came grilled and accompanied with a light, tangy, spicy salsa. The bite I had was cooked to flaky perfection, and just spicy enough for my liking (although my friend assures me that it must be a Salvadorian variation on his favourite dish, because no Colombian mama would use that much chilli!). The Fajitas are large, filling, and equally tasty, while the tacos are smaller in portion than we had expected. All of the dishes are washed down with authentic Latin American imported drinks, such as Inca Cola from Peru and Pony Malta from Colombia. Of course, the popular range of Mexican Jarritos drinks are available.
Los Latinos is recommended for the attentive service, the delicious cuisine, but above all as an educational experience for its new diners. Very few eateries offer the cuisines of Latin America in Australia, and here is one that manages to squeeze in the favourite dishes of about six different nations. You’ll almost certainly come away sated, aware, and if our experience is anything to go by, hooked!
Cost: Starters $10 – 18, Mains $15 – 30
128 Mitchell St, Maidstone; (03) 9318 5289
Wednesday – Sunday: 5pm – 10pm
Breakfast is served on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays from 10am – 2:30pm