Where 238 Union Road, Ascot Vale, 9370 6934
Cards AE MC V eftpos Licensed
Open Wed-Fri, 5-11pm; Sat-Sat, 8.30am-11pm
Cuisine Latin American
Do … Expect to leave full
Don't … Try the margaritas, unless you like them sweet and frozen
Dish … Guanacos carne asada
Vibe … Festive and relaxed, a place where you can settle in
Prices … Entrees, $6.50-$16; mains, $14-$40; desserts, $6
MEAT, GLORIOUS, MEAT; there's plenty of it at this festive, three-month-old Latin American pupuseria (a restaurant selling thick tortilla-like pupusas), with a menu that touches down in El Salvador, Mexico and Peru.
It's the second offering by El Salvadorian Lilian Funes de Murga, the sequel to Los Latinos, Maidstone, which I fell in love with a couple of years ago. ''Stock up,'' I'd warned Murga. ''It's a positive review. I reckon you'll be mobbed.'' It was. But it turned out Murga didn't know what ''stock up'' meant. ''I do now, with all my bones,'' she says, laughing.
The Ascot Vale digs are bigger, with room for 250 people in the two downstairs rooms, one upstairs and big courtyard.
Whether the (delightful, friendly) staff could handle these numbers is another question, but being left to your own devices once the food has landed is part of the Los Latinos charm.
Vibrant walls, colourful artwork and decorative cut-outs create a fun feel, and there is live music some nights.
Back to the meat. The mixed char-grill arrives sizzling on a cast-iron platter, a bumper haul of whole quail, king prawns cooked in their shells, nicely blackened chicken wings, mild chorizo and beef ribs, topped with Argentinian chimichurri (a vinegar, garlic, herb sauce). Dig underneath and you'll find juicy whole mushrooms, capsicum and soft rounds of potato soaking up the juices - outstanding value at $40 and enough to feed two or three.
Pescado del mercado (whole baked baby snapper) is a winner, the flesh sweet and soft, with an OK stuffing of shrimp and coriander and a zesty, lime tomato salsa. It comes with pickled cabbage, fried rice and fried tortillas that puff up into pockets.
Guanacos carne asada is the signature, a dish with ''a little bit of everything'', Murga says. So there are 200 grams of char-grilled scotch fillet topped with an imported
Tex Mex-ish cheese sauce (I'd be interested in trying the house-made version), refried beans, soft corn tortillas (hot and house-made), green salad, paprika fried rice and a chorizo.
Vegetarians, are you still reading? There are things for you, too, but you'll need to construct a meal from the largish entrees and scrummy pupusas: hot, grilled discs of maize flour stuffed with combos of cheese and refried beans and jalapenos and zucchini (and pork), served with pickled cabbage and tomato salsa.
All the dishes have rusticity and homestyle charm and are top value for money. Stock up, Murga. It's likely you'll be mobbed.