If there’s a cafe in Melbourne that is a better neighbourhood hangout than La Paloma, I haven’t found it yet. This Brunswick original has been doing its thing for more than a decade, and it’s a very good thing.
La Paloma’s decor channels a corner bar in Buenos Aires, with sky-blue walls, old cafe chairs, mosaic tiles and a terrazzo floor.
Latin flavours dominate the simple menu, too. Fat slices of potato tortilla are served with bread and a salad of olives, cos lettuce and coriander-flecked tomato and cucumber. Empanadas stuffed with minced beef, olives and boiled eggs are as good as any you’ll find in Buenos Aires (I’ve tried).
The lunch staple is the La Paloma roll: a crusty pasta dura panino smeared with cumin-infused guacamole and stuffed with pyrenero (a semi-hard cow cheese from the south Tyrol), pastrami and salad.
Just as authentic as the empanadas are the churros: long, chewy and smothered in creamy dulce de leche imported from Buenos Aires.
A recently installed La Faema E61 brews beans from Bailey Coffee in North Melbourne. Joshua Bailey’s roasts are darker than the Melbourne specialty style, but his coffee is bold and clean. The espresso shots at La Paloma are viscous and creamy, with dark nutty flavours: some of Melbourne’s best old-school short blacks.
The TV on the wall could be tuned to satellite broadcasts of Latin American football if you come at the right time of day, and if there’s no football a turntable on the bar will be spinning something soulful for the room full of regulars.
The football theme features a shrine to Diego Maradona, and La Paloma – who’s name refers to early 20th-century Italian immigrants in Buenos Aires who travelled back and forth between Argentina and Italy – is a draw for Spanish-speaking expats from the northern and southern hemispheres, as well as a cast of Brunswickers who all seem to know one another by name: which doesn’t mean a stranger won’t be welcomed.
Where 259 Albert Street, Brunswick
When Mon–Fri 8am–5.30pm, Sat 9am–5pm