nuevo latino los rodriguez

553 Barkly St
Footscray, Victoria, Australia
03 9995 1198
This place used to be a video store. Nestled between Indian eateries and grocery stores, brothers Sal and Juan Rodriguez dared to buck the WeFo trend and open a Latin American restaurant in this drab-looking premises. And what a treat we’ve been given.
Our first visit was on a steaming hot Sunday afternoon in late November, when the restaurant was not long open. The decor was a little haphazard but homely enough. Electric fans tried in vain to help with air circulation. We were virtually the only people in the place. Sal came and welcomed us, bringing sangria and fruit punch to cool us down, with a sampler size of “Latin pho” as he called it: a casserole of vegetables and offal which tasted far better than it looked.
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The stereo was pumping out some good salsa music, so after ordering we got up to practise our newly-learned salsa moves. Sal immediately turned up the music, announcing that they were “chefs by day and salseros by night”. He and brother Juan, the chef, run this place – although their mum was also on the premises and looked pretty much in charge to me.
I got the sense that I was going to like this place, despite its basic look.
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We focused on meat. The twice cooked pork belly came on a bed of fresh salad and a generous dollop of guacamole. The secret, we are told, is that they marinate the meat for at least twenty-four hours in rum. Right. All I know is that it was some of the best pork belly I’ve eaten, and a huge portion too.
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The carne asada was served with a flourish on a steel skewer. Lighted cured in brine, it was delicious, although I would have liked it to be a little more “asada”. The salad was beautifully fresh.
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Sal came and chatted to us, giving us salsa tips alongside the history of the family. Originally from El Salvador, the Rodriguez family migrated to Australia in the eighties and have always lived in the western suburbs. They wanted to bring to West Footscray a taste of home, some real Latin American cooking, live music and a sense of community.
Three months later we finally make it back to Nuevo Latino. It’s another steamy Sunday but we get down there just as the kitchen in closing and the band is packing up. The place is pretty busy this time and the decor has changed, with whitewashed walls, Latin American flags and the leftover balloons and flowers from yesterday’s Valentine’s banquet giving the place a festive feel. There’s nothing for it but to order a margarita.
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We are greeted like old friends, Juan waving madly from the kitchen. Are they mixing us up with somebody else, I wonder? Nope. Sal calls to the DJ to change the music to something more danceable, and calls to us to move the furniture if there isn’t enough room for us to salsa.
I couldn’t help but order the pork belly again. It was too delicious last time. Orlando went with a steak special. This time the meat was beautifully cooked, seared on the outside and perfectly pink on the inside.
We watched the waiter bust a few serious salsa moves with a friend and decided there was no way we’d be dancing this time.
Later Sal came and chatted, telling us all the news. They’d been a late invitee to that weekend’s Footscray Latin Dance festival, but they have been doing their own thing every weekend anyway, showcasing the cruising of different countries with guest chefs, and live music every Sunday. This weekend it was Colombian. Orlando chatted to the guest chef whilst Juan emerged from the kitchen to dance with me.
How can you not love a place like this?
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 Nuevo Latino on Urbanspoon

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po’ boy quarter

295 Smith Street, Fitzroy
https://www.facebook.com/poboymelbourne

Haircuts make me hungry. That’s why I go to a hairdresser on Smith Street: so much to choose from afterwards.

Po’ Boy Quarter on an early Saturday afternoon is pretty empty in the café, but Huey Long’s at the back has a decent crowd.

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I order a deep fried shrimp po’ boy ($11.90) from the food counter and a glass of zinfandel from the bar. I toy with a side of fried green tomatoes or fries, but manage to keep it (relatively) healthy.

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The shrimp po’ boy is delivered to my table in the bar within five minutes: a decent sized bread roll, substantial enough to hold the weight of the food inside. Deep fried spicy crumbed shrimp spill out of the ends; sliced fresh tomato, half a pickled cucumber, and a dollop of fresh slaw adds sharpness and crunch to the creamy mayo coating the bread. All washed down with a glass of decent Californian Zin – perfect Saturday afternoon drinking fodder.

In fact, all the wines by the glass are of US origin – mostly Californian, with a dash or two of Washington added.

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Their weekend brunch menu is served till late afternoon: definitely worth a return visit to check this out.

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misty’s diner

103-105 High Street, Prahran
http://www.mistysdiner.com.au
(03) 95101959

A work get-together brought me to Misty’s Diner, a genuine American diner right next door to a car wash at the bleaker end of Prahran High Street. IMG_0141

A happy buzz, colourful booths and a wall of American junk food greeted me as I walked in from the cold.

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Misty herself is from Phoenix, Arizona. She was tending tables that evening herself, checking on food orders, handing out birthday cakes and getting the drinks in. I asked whether her chilli had capsicum in it, and she answered stoutly. “Absolutely not. I hate capsicum. This is a capsicum-free restaurant.”

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I was immediately interested. I hate capsicum too.

The menu was long and carb-loaded. Starters are a predictable mix of potato skins, corn chips, an onion ring tower and other deep-fried goodness. My gang went straight for the main courses. Burgers were high on the list, but I went with the “Get In My Belly”: personally recommended by Misty herself, it promised the heady combination of sliced smoked pork shoulder, spicy barbecue sauce and home-made coleslaw.

When the food arrived it was certainly on the generous side, and almost impossible to pick up and eat with one’s hands. The burgers were perilously tall and looked pretty good, however there were none of the groans of delight I’d expected.

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My pork shoulder creation was indeed nice enough, but the pork shoulder looked and tasted no different to what you’d get at the supermarket deli counter. The “Po Man’s Cocaine” extra hot sauce I asked for was simply a small bowl of mild sauce with some chilli powder and chilli flakes shaken in. Hardly home-made or authentic.

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A brave soul ordered the Hangover Cure – from its description we couldn’t even tell if it was technically a burger. It was: with mac and cheese, chilli con carne, jalapeños, American bacon and red onions. It was gargantuan as opposed to just huge, and frankly it just looked like a huge mess on a plate. He ate it but he wasn’t overly impressed.

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One lone soldier dared to order a salad. It didn’t look bad, but it’s not what you come here for.

Fries come in full or half sizes which is nice, and you can order them skinny, fat, curly, waffle, with gravy, with cheese, with gravy and cheese…. you get the idea.

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I had mine with chilli, because I could. The chilli was in no way spicy or hot.

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Drinks are the predictable beer/soft drinks/wine list, however when I asked for a glass of shiraz I was told they’d run out. I was offered a glass of sweet shiraz which hardly bore thinking about. I opted for a grenache instead. When it came out it had clearly been poured from a bottle that had been open a couple of weeks. Even the non-wine-drinkers at my table could smell the musty staleness. Freshly poured from a newly-opened bottle it was drinkable enough, but then we weren’t there for the beer (so to speak).

Prices were reasonable – around $13-17 for a burger. Actually, now I’ve written that down, maybe it’s not so great. But the portions are large and the atmosphere is fun. I suppose if you head in during the day you can even get your car washed while you wait.

Will I blaze a trail back there anytime soon? Perhaps not. But it was an OK night.

Misty's Diner on Urbanspoon

big boy bbq

31 Hardware Lane, Melbourne 3000
http://www.bigboybbq.com.au

I’m not a fan of Hardware Lane. It’s the city version of the tourist end of Lygon Street: all pushy door staff and so-so food. But we like Golden Monkey, a rum bar at the top of Hardware Lane that hosts the Melbourne Rum Club, and we also love a good rack of ribs.

And so we found ourselves on Hardware Lane on a busy Saturday night waiting for a table at Big Boy BBQ, “Melbourne’s first dedicated ‘low and slow’ smoked meat experience” in their own words. It’s a smallish place, wih seating for maybe 40 inside and another dozen outside. You order at the counter, your food comes out quickly with no fancy presentation, and drinks options are limited to a small fridge by the check-out. But boy is it worth a visit.

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Big Boy offer sandwiches, ribs and barbeque meat all slow-cooked on the premises and served in generous portions. Sides are all-American diner fare, from deep-fried onion strings and coleslaw to the best smoked beef chilli in Melbourne – maybe even Australia. The platters are favourite though. The Little Girl and Little Boy serve 1-3 (they say), whilst the Big Girl and Big Boy serve up to six. All I can say is everything looked BIG.

We played it safe with a ribs and wings combo: four decent-sized chicken wings and a half-rack of ribs (lamb or pork) with two sides, all sat on a few slices of white bread to soak up excess juices. The wings weren’t bad: we do really good wings at home so we rarely order them when we’re out. These ones were fairly well cooked and seasoned, with a trickle of Big Boy BBQ sauce to keep them moist. I wouldn’t bother with them again, though – in the end they just took up valuable stomach space.

The onion strings were a tasty alternative to fries with the meal, picked up with fingers and dropped into our mouths like noodles. The smoked beef chilli was just the best chilli I have tasted in years, possibly ever: slow-cooked beef with brisket burnt ends, and plenty of bortlotti and kidney beans thrown in. Next time I’ll be super-sizing this particular side order.

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The ribs alone are worth the visit. We chose a half rack of Kansas City style dry rubbed pork, not too wet. There were about a dozen ribs, meat falling off the bone, a little bit spicy but not too hot. Finger-lickin’ good.

Like I said, drinks are limited to a few cans, a few beers and one choice of white wine (750ml bottle) from the fridge, but BYO is welcomed at a dollar a head. Bottomless soft drinks cost $3.40.

Desserts are limited but there’s always pie available.

Big Boy call themselves “slow food, served fast” and it’s true – this is not a place to hang out and make an evening of the dining experience. But if you crave good old American barbecue, this is the place to be. You can always head on over to Golden Monkey afterwards and fill up on Hemingway Daiquiris and Wong Island Iced Teas.

Bring your friends, and your own choice of beer or wine. Call ahead – they will take bookings occasionally. Get down there and feast. You won’t be sorry.

Big Boy BBQ on Urbanspoon