I was lucky enough to have dinner with Deb of Bear Head Soup who, aside from being an absolute sweetheart, is a fellow Mesoamerican food tragic. We thought we would duck the crowds by meeting at 6.30 pm on a Wednesday but even then the little place was packed. Service is slow but don't hold that against them - they are absolutely snowed under!
Los Latinos serves food from across Central and South America with drinks to match. We chose Guava and Grape ("uva", related the Latin for eggs, from whence comes "ovary" - sorry, frustrated linguist here) varieties of Jarritos soft drink which is served in all good Mexian taquerias in the States. They were teeth-achingly sweet but good.
We waited and waited and were just planning our escape to plan B (Hung Vuong) when the food finally began to arrive. First we had one of the specials of the day, arepas, a Columbian version of El Salvadorean pupusas. These stuffed pancake-like snacks differ in that they are made with different sorts of flour. Both snacks use corn flour but the masa (flour) for arepas is not treated with lime as is masa harina (sounds scary, is actually totally natural - lime is an alkaline mineral substance that encourages the skins to separate from the kernels.). The flour or masarepa for these had a slightly coarser texture, not unlike a thick-grained polenta. They were stuffed with a stretchy white cheese and were absolutely delicious. The sauce on the side was a tangy green tomatillo salsa that complemented the rich yet simple cheese perfectly.
This was so incredibly yummy. Little disks of authentic chorizo, fried so their edges began to curl up, in a rich tomato, capsicum and onion sauce. This is the best chorizo I have had since first having it in London many years ago. It came with two home-made tortillas which I have to say I found somewhat thick and stodgy, but I think they were meant to be thick like that for dipping.
Chicken tacos, $10.50
We went for the chicken tacos too, three tacos a steal at $10.50. These were good with tender chopped chicken, a simple tomato and onion salsa and a spoonful of benign guacamole in a home-made tortilla (thankfully much thinner than those served with the chorizo). They came with a mild chilli sauce and a very smoky chipotle BBQ-style sauce. The tacos were good but I think Los Latinos has more exciting things on the menu.
My friend K with whom I had travelled in the States had eaten pupusas the night after I left and she had raved about them. I had sighed and thought there was no chance I could try these little babies until I was next in the States, and then as if by magic the review appeared in Age revealing that there was a pupuseria not just in Melbourne but right near me! These are so, so yummy. They are stuffed pancakes similar to the arepas but made with masa harina, the same dough used to make tortillas and tamales. These were stuffed with a little mashed beans and tangy cheese. They came with a super-tangy slaw and a little pot of mild chilli sauce. Fantastic!!
I can't wait to back there with the family; kids would love the arepas and pupusas in particular. Be patient with the service if they are busy. They are applying for a liquor licence. It is so great to see the bright little shopfront among all the other "dead" shops in the strip and I can only hope this trend will continue across Melbourne, that niche restaurants can find a foothold in these dying strips where there must be cheaper rent, simultaneously revitalising them.
Thank you Anonymous (commenter on Pho Tam) for suggesting Los Latinos! I love getting all your tips and suggestions for reviews or dishes to try. Keep them coming!
128 Mitchell St, Maidstone (map)
Phone: 9318 5289
Hours: Wed-Thurs 5pm-9pm, Fri 5pm-10pm, Sat noon-10pm, Sun noon-9pm
Door: Moderate-sized "lip"/small step to enter.
Layout: Small but could accommodate if not a busy time.