Sitting amongst the spruikers and competing pasta joints of Lygon Street, slick new Latin-fusion restaurant Popol Nah exudes a certain quiet confidence.
The head chef is the New York-based, Honduran-born Cali Rivera, who hit the ground running when he opened the restaurant within a month of arriving in Melbourne.
He explains that he wants to bring simple, flavourful Latin cooking to Melbourne, something other chefs he’d spoken to said was lacking.
“I had so many of my friends tell me how great Melbourne is,” Rivera says, continuing to explain that there are plenty of Mexican and Spanish restaurants, but not many great South American restaurants yet.
Washed with warm lighting, the mid-sized Lygon Street space features slatted wooden planks, textured white-washed walls, deer antlers hanging from the ceiling, and neat succulents resting on the two large communal tables. There’s also a small, cheery courtyard.
Dinner is the main event, with a great selection of smaller dishes like Argentinian-style baked empanadas, the anafre de chorizo with a rich cheese fondue, or Carribbean fresh shrimp ceviche. Mains are reasonably priced and include a melting-off-the-bone lamb shank served with spicy tomato and fresh chilli on a bed of quinoa and beetroot salad.
A ‘Mezcal #2’ (ginger beer, cassis, candied habanero and tequila’s less famous cousin, mezcal) heads up an impressive cocktail selection.
The breakfast and lunch menus are relatively sparse; the huevos rancheros with a side of freshly toasted corn chips for breakfast and braised pork Cubano for lunch being the standouts.
Open seven days, Popol Nah offers a rousing Latin American food alternative to the inner city, without corny fanfare or obvious menu choices.
171 Lygon Street, Carlton
(03) 9347 3293
Mon to Thurs 10am-10pm