Lady Carolina's Latin Street Kitchen - Brunswick East (Melbourne)

The fun starts as soon as you arrive at Lady Carolina and step through the large turquoise wooden doors that open onto the moody dining area. Complete with neon signs illuminating walls of exposed brick, the casual eatery exudes an air of cool that almost understates the clever, innovative food that is on offer. With warmer weather gracing our city, what you’ll really want to do is pass through the indoor seating to the outside, where you will find Lady Carolina’s Latin Street Kitchen – a vibrant courtyard dedicated to the celebration of Latin street food in all its boldness and glory.

This is a place that will certainly rouse you on those sleepy summer afternoons, whether you’re meeting friends, family or catching up for a cheeky daytime date. Bigger than you’d imagine, it’s filled with communal tables looking into an open kitchen. With soft green turf underfoot, lush greenery and rainbow-coloured umbrellas offset by stylish black seating, you’d be hard-pressed to find an atmosphere closer to the festivity of Latin America anywhere else in Melbourne.

Behind the helm are cooking sensations Paul Wilson and Cameron Denning. Says Denning, “I am so proud and excited to see Lady Carolina’s Street Kitchen serving some of Melbourne’s most delicious Latin street food. I cannot wait to see our Street Kitchen grow into a local dining institution.”

The menu features modern, creative street food inspired by Peruvian, Mexican and Cuban cuisines. The flavours are big, smoky, spicy, sour, fresh and healthy, taking the food here beyond what might be typically expected. With the focus being on authentic Latin American flavours using Australia’s premium fresh produce, this is not fast food but good food served quickly.

Start with a variety of street snacks like calamole (pumpkin guacamole) with blue corn chips [$9] to line the stomach, before moving onto one of the six taquito options at two for $12 a pop.

Vegetarians will delight in the Verduras with its crunchy BBQ broccoli barbacoa and nutty, earthy sesame pipián sauce topped with pumpkin seeds.

Also popular is the Peruvian, with two Alpaca albondigas (meatballs) in a spicy tomatillo verde sauce sprinkled with Parmesan. There are also the Pollo (spiced chicken tinga with black beans and pickles) and Cordero (lamb barbacoa with chickpea and chilmole) to consider though if you really can’t make up your mind, opt for the El Jefe [$25] – a sampler of six taquitos that will keep your tastebuds busy.

Spice-lovers might like to set aside the taquitos and revel instead in the explosive flavours of the Nikkei Dog [$12]. A recent hit at Melbourne's Night Noodle Markets, this Japanese-Peruvian take on a hot dog blends ginger, sesame and Amarillo sauce for a fiery hit, all topped with shreds of nori.

Within the open kitchen, you may catch a glimpse of the Tacos Al Pastor spit slowly turning, releasing aromas reminiscent of a walk down the backstreets of Mexico City. The spit-roasted free range achiote & cumin pork is a must-have, served with fermented pineapple and habanero salsa. You can select from two for $12 or three for $18, while bigger stomachs can go all out with five for $26.

Just for fun, finish with a Paleta Margarita [$18] complete with a Mexican exotic fruit icy pole. Dunk the icy pole into the Cazadores Reposado tequila and orange De Kuyper Curacao mixture for a tangy, sweet and revitalising end to any meal.

Once the food is out of the way, grab a Mexican beer or choose from one of two Agua Frescas on offer. The traditional home-made beverage is designed to refresh or beat the heat of the food and if you’re feeling a little brash, be sure to add pisco, rum, tequila or mezcal to give yourself a bit of a kick.

Hot days call for fruity cocktails and Lady Carolina’s list is sure to contain the perfect partner to help you cool down. Whatever your preference, don’t go past the Desert Storm [$12] – we’ve got it on good authority that the Bacardi dark rum and rosella agave concoction mixed with lime and ginger beer is seriously refreshing.

Dishing up fresh and fast fare, Lady Carolina offers visitors to East Brunswick an exciting take on Latin street food that is genuinely bursting with flavour. Designed to be washed down with a drink or two, the light and bright dishes will set you up for an excellent night out or a great Sunday session. Expect awesome tunes amidst a fantastic atmosphere. It’s the kind of place you won’t want to leave this summer.

Lady Carolina

Address: 175-177 Lygon Street, Brunswick East, VIC
Contact: (03) 9381 0898
Hours: Tues-Thurs, 6pm-11pm; Fri & Sat, 12pm-12am; Sun 12pm-11pm.

Photos by Serena Ho for the AU Review