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Published July 12th 2013
South of the American border
After Lucky Lupitas opened in Bedford Park last year, Adelaide became feverish for a new breed of Mexican and Latin American restaurants that had been lacking for far too long. In the past it would be the norm for me to pass them by since the majority of them offered only stereotypical representations of the cuisine. However after having had the opportunity to taste the authenticity of Lucky Lupitas, my tastebuds had awakened to a new and exciting sensation which kept me yearning for more. Needless to say the mushrooming of another new Mexican/Latin American restaurant in Adelaide generated a source of enthusiasm for me. On hearing that Lucky Lupitas had opened up a sister restaurant on Francis Street, just off Rundle Mall, we decided to pay a visit. With a name like United Latino Cocina (ULC) it was anticipated that this kitchen would offer a cornucopia of Latin pleasures.
Celebrated chef Greggory Hill (who co-owns Lucky Lupitas) was heading the kitchen team when we arrived. Having been heralded as an early pioneer of Nuevo Latino cuisine in Washington, where he was based six years ago, it must be said that he is now doing the same in Adelaide.
With plenty of bench seating in the modern, funky interior it is unlikely that at United Latino Cocina one has to queue for a table, unlike its sister restaurant. A large creative light fixture over the communal dining area casts a dim yellow glow throughout and regrettably does little merit for the appearance of the food served nor my photographs. Had temperatures been warmer, sitting outside at one of the tables set along Francis laneway would have allowed for better sight appreciation of the food in the light of day.
A bright and cheerful staff member suggested the breakfast quesadilla for the young children at our table. This seems to be one of few items at United Latino Cocina that does not utilise some sort of chilli as an ingredient. However, with the children not keen on eating, it was decided a few items from both the regular and daily changing menu were to be ordered to share amongst our group.
First to arrive was the tostada. With its topping of braised pork, habanero, salsa, black bean mash, crema, avocado, dry cheese and cilantro, this crispy tortilla was crunchy, creamy and packed with flavour. It was agreed the braised pork could easily be mistaken for fish given its resemblance in taste and texture to canned tuna.
The fish taco is a popular item at United Latino Cocina and it was easy to see why. Fingers of crispy snapper with layers of shredded lettuce, pickled jalapeno, grilled pineapple salsa, mayonnaise and slaw had all the elements that made for the perfect blend of salty, sweet, tart and spicy.
Next to arrive were the lamb shins. Slipping effortlessly off the bone, the ancho braised lamb shins were meltingly tender. The heat from the serrano mash was a pleasant surprise. Paired with turmeric tomatoes, the lamb shins are ideal comfort food to warm the soul during the cold winter months.
Arroz con pollo was the last dish to grace our table. The cumin roasted, de-boned chicken leg was succulent and the annatto rice with its pretty yellow hue had a pleasant, mild, peppery flavour. A refreshing orange and basil salad with lemon yoghurt made for a nice accompaniment.
Had we succumbed to a Mexican beer or one of the many South American sodas to quell the heat, we would have rounded our Latino lunch session completely. My companions who always like a challenge with fiery chillies could not resist the various hot sauces to sweat it out.
United Latino Cocina serves genuine Latin American food with bold flavours. Thanks must go to Lucky Lupitas and chef Greggory Hill for giving Adeladians their due share of good Mexicana fare. Having set the standard, I am sure other Mexican and Latin American eateries in Adelaide will have to push up their game if they wish to compete in this area.