Tucked in next door to the incandescent yellow of Chemist Warehouse is the newest edition to Chapel Street’s late night bite circuit. Zambrero’s second Melbourne store has been open for two weeks and already it’s settling in nicely to the party end of South Yarra. Plus it’s open until 1am, so you can crawl in between stints at Revs.
In 2005, Dr Sam Prince decided the food on his university’s campus was, unsurprisingly, subpar. With a Mexican mother and a history of slaving away in restaurants to get through school, Prince decided to open what would become the first Zambrero’s on campus. Eight years later, and South Yarra is now the twenty-sixth franchised store to pop up across the country. The reason for the chain’s rapid success is no big mystery, especially once you taste the food. It’s Mexican at its most humble; soft tortillas, fresh salsas, slow cooked meats and a choice of five different sauces to either spice it up or cool it down.
The South Yarra store is so new it shines. The serving bar runs down one side of the simply decorated interior, displaying the salsas, meats and vegetables – all prepared daily on site. The colourful menu presents all the Mexican favourites: nachos, quesadillas, big burritos, smaller burritos, burritos without the tortilla, soft tacos, hard tacos, and something not so typical; a taco with a hard shell wrapped in a soft shell for those of you who can’t decide. The ordering system is one of customisation à la Subway; choose your meats, your vegies, your salsa and your sauces.
Sticking with a traditional chicken burrito with all the fixings, the food was even better than I suspected. The tortilla was soft, but miraculously not soggy, even at the last inch. The chicken was moist (apologies for the word, but it was) and flavoured perfectly. The rice was perfectly cooked, and there wasn’t too much, as there often is when people are trying to stuff burritos full. And they’re not lying about making the salsa on site; the ingredients haven’t had time to blend into one indistinguishable red mush. The tomato tastes like tomato, the onion like onion. Guacamole can make or break a Mexican meal, and Zambrero’s recipe is one I want. And the best thing about the entire experience: at the end of it all I felt pleasantly full, and not in an ‘Oh God my poor arteries’ kinda way.
Eating at Zambrero’s also means you’re doing a good deed. Dr Prince the heart surgeon isn’t just content with saving the world one bypass at a time, he’s a fierce charity warrior, and he’s using Zambrero to help feed the world with the amazing Plate4Plate scheme. Every time you buy a meal there, Zambrero, in association with Action Against Hunger, supplies a meal to someone in need. Will maybe even help ease the guilt of spending a night at Revolvers. Maybe.
BY KATE MCCARTEN