Hola Lola is the kind of place where you instantly feel right at home. And it's not just the cosy space, reminiscent of a homely kitchen. The reception from owners, husband and wife team Cecilia Barrera and Craig Orr, is always as warm as the empanadas on offer – securing this new Coburg eatery a special place in the hearts of locals who have long awaited its opening.
Hola Lola owners Cecilia Barrera and Craig Orr offer a friendly, family vibe
It was a long journey four years in the making, with 'opening soon' signs in the window piquing the interest of locals thirsty for the promise of a local wine and tapas bar within walking distance. Hola Lola is located on Harding Street, a stretch of road with few shops or cafes between Sydney Road and Nicholson Street in Coburg.
The transformation from a former hairdressing salon to café and bar/restaurant is the realisation of a long-held dream of Cecilia's to own her own establishment. "I had this vision of this small little cantina," she says. "I wanted it to be this boutique, hidden gem. It has that special feeling like you are at home." It is indeed cantina-like – with a smattering of small tables tucked at the rear, and stools at the bar and front window. The couple has also renovated a rear courtyard which includes a children's play area, completing the family-friendly feel.
The tapas-style food is Latin American, a nod to Cecilia's South American roots. Her parents migrated to Australia from El Salvador 35 years ago. "I grew up with this cultural background – the love of food, music, and memories of my mum cooking. I wanted to recreate that feel – that inspired me to open Hola Lola," she says.
Cecilia's mother is part of the dream, hailing from the kitchen where she prepares a selection of Latin American foods influenced by the flavours of El Salvador, Venezuela and Colombia.
The menu, Cecilia says, has been designed to take you from breakfast, to lunch and dinner. It includes the Hola Lola staple, empanadas – a corn-based pastry with a variety of fillings including chicken and delectable chorizo (sourced locally from Johnson Street, Fitzroy). The Arepas – another cornflour-based pastry – with cheese and chorizo is a highlight, while the Tamales combine chicken, pork or chickpeas with vegetables, all wrapped in a banana leaf. Pupusas are a thin corn tortilla from El Salvador and come with pork or cheese fillings.
Cheese arepa with guacamole and beans - one of the many Latin American tapas on offer
Sweets are a thing at Hola Lola and tempt you from the moment you step in the door. Quesadillas, a savoury-style cheesecake, are nearly always on offer alongside Mexican Brownies and Dulce de Leche (caramel-filled pastry) cones. It's a perfect match with for your morning coffee, which is also sourced locally from Cecilia's cousin's importing and roasting business, Grano de Café.