La Latina review

Co-owner Rafael Barrozzi at La Latina in Chatswood.
Co-owner Rafael Barrozzi at La Latina in Chatswood.  Photo: James Brickwood

82 Archer St Chatswood, NSW 2067

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Opening hours Tues-Fri 11am-7pm; Sat 10am-7pm; Sun 10am-3pm
Features Cheap and cheerful, Food shop, Vegetarian friendly, Family friendly, Breakfast-brunch, Gluten-free options
Prices Cheap (mains under $20)
Phone 0478 123 742

There's a diner who regularly drops by La Latina in Chatswood, even though it takes 90 minutes to get there.

Sure, he could ditch the long commute and produce the menu at home – the eatery even sells the pantry items needed.

But he keeps turning up at La Latina. "I want the whole experience," the regular tells owner Rafael Barrozzi, who has even encouraged his customer to just cook at home to save the long-distance public transport hassles. 

La Latina canteen may feel like a Latin American supermarket, but it offers much more.
La Latina canteen may feel like a Latin American supermarket, but it offers much more. Photo: James Brickwood

La Latina's superfan is right about the "whole experience". The canteen may feel like a Latin American supermarket (you'll find sweet Argentinean alfajores or papa criolla potatoes in the fridge), but it offers much more.

Yes, it's a good spot to score plaintains, deep-fried until they're shot through with caramel sweetness, or settle in with an empanada hiding a jackpot of melted cheese and guava, but it's also a drop-in centre for anyone curious about Latin America.

Like another regular, who had Colombian travel plans. "He spent eight months coming in every second day to try all the dishes and speak Spanish," says Barrozzi, who often spent about 45 minutes helping him flex his vocab. "He's in Colombia now, we exchanged numbers and he's doing great." 

Trio of arepas from left: pabellon, domino and vegan.
Trio of arepas from left: pabellon, domino and vegan. Photo: James Brickwood

He's probably good at ordering arepas in Spanish, too, as they're a specialty here. "Colombians say they're from Colombia, and Venezuelans say they're from Venezuela," says Barrozzi. "But they're traditional to both countries."

The menu diplomatically describes them as the "Latin-American sandwich", constructed from "hand-made corn pockets".

Barrozzi and co-owner Gionela Zottola have Venezuelan roots and when they took over La Latina last April, the menu leaned Colombian.

Oblea with Colombian dulce de leche.
Oblea with Colombian dulce de leche. Photo: James Brickwood

But instead of getting territorial, they broadened the eatery's scope: adding gateway dishes for people less familiar with empanadas and patacones – hence the loaded fries (given a regional remix, with guacamole, black beans and pico de gallo) and burrito bowls. There's even an empanada resembling a Hawaiian pizza.

To be extra inclusive, they offered more meat-free options, such as the appealing domino arepa, stuffed with fresco cheese, spiced beans and rich plaintains.

The menu even makes things easy for the commitment-phobic: the trio of mini arepas allows for convenient sampling of various flavours, from the bean-and-guacamole vegan filling to the shredded beef cooked for hours in a vegetable-rich salsa. 

Sweet corn bread with queso.
Sweet corn bread with queso. Photo: James Brickwood

Several menu items have dual citizenship: the brilliant corn bread, grilled and enveloped with crisp slabs of salty, creamy cheese, has one name in Colombia (arepas de choclo) and another in Venezuela (cachapas), but is a menu highlight in any language. 

"We regularly have people from Mexico, Peru, Argentina, Ecuador," says Barrozzi. He is keen to make La Latina a showcase of the region, even if certain staples point to a particular place: see the Colombian hot chocolate served with a salty cheese that's "like haloumi, but on steroids".

Or juice blitzed from Colombian lulo fruit: it tastes like a cross between a green tomato and kiwifruit and is a popular item, no matter where you're from. 

Lulo (left) and soursop juices.
Lulo (left) and soursop juices. Photo: James Brickwood

La Latina's wall is scrawled with the following message in Spanish: "Today is a perfect day to start living your dreams." It reflects co-owner Zottola's lifelong ambition to open a restaurant and today is the perfect day to try La Latina, if you haven't already.

The low-down

La Latina

Vibe A welcoming Latin American canteen, with an inclusive approach to its menu and many pantry items that will help you channel the region at home.

Go-to dish Sweet corn bread with Pecorino Fresco cheese.

Cost About $50 for two.