Say it now: El Atino & Co. Not El Latino, though it’s a logical mistake, given the cafe and grocery store specialises in foods from Latin America.
“Australians in general have this idea of Latin America as a very homogenous region,” says co-owner Alfredo Pimienta. “There’s no such thing as Latin American food, as one cuisine – there’s Mexican, Argentinian, Peruvian, Colombian. Some of them are very different.”
Pimienta (a Mexican) and his brother-in-law, chef Martin Zozaya (an Argentinian), are out to improve our understanding of the region with El Atino. The name is a nonsensical play-on-words with a Spanish verb meaning, “to hit the bullseye”.
The duo met 20 years ago in Mexico City, where Zozaya was studying at a culinary school. Since then he’s cooked at restaurants in Buenos Aires, Madrid and Barcelona, but moved to Melbourne at Pimienta’s request. Pimienta has been here for the past 11 years, working in finance.
Inside the spacious site designed by Büro Architects, the duo has assembled a large grocery section, where El Cielo tortillas sit alongside fluorescent Inca Kola soft drink from Peru, manioc flour from Brazil and tinned chipotle chillies from Mexico.
El Atino imports (or makes) many of these products itself, which explains the reasonable prices. There are also fridges full of vacuum-packed meals, which Zozaya cooks on site.
At the cafe’s chipboard-clad stools and primary-colour chairs, you can deliberate over dishes including maize porridge; a dulce de leche jaffle; pisco-cured salmon; and sous-vide beef with chimichurri. There’s also the requisite avo on toast, because (fun fact) avocado is native to Central America.
It’s all mixed up, with no dividing sections or notes. “It’s up to us to communicate everything,” Pimienta says. From December they’ll take this further, running cooking classes in the kitchen up the back. The intention is to popularise authentic ingredients, even if the dishes themselves are pretty untraditional.
So will we ever see cuy (guinea pig, a Peruvian specialty) on the menu? “I think we’re a few decades away from that one,” Pimienta says, laughing. “We know we have years and years and years of products to come. We’re really happy about that.”
El Atino & Co
366 Bridge Road, Richmond
(03) 8529 4222
Tue to Sat 7am‒3.30pm
Hours (food store)
Tue to Sat 7am‒6pm