Boon Café at Jarern Chai, Los Villanos, Mary's

Los Villanos, Brisbane

Los Villanos, Brisbane

Our restaurant critics' picks of the latest and best eats around the country this week, including Boon Café at Jarern Chai, Los Villanos, and Mary's.

SYDNEY
Boon Café at Jarern Chai
We're hard-pressed to say no to any sandwich that comes with crunchy pork rinds, so we were always going to fall hard for the star sanga on the menu at Boon, which takes traditional elements of a nam prik - the spicy relish (a northern-style smoked-eggplant base in this instance) and the boiled eggs, vegetables and scratchins you'd normally dip in it - and bundles them between slices of Brickfields sourdough. We first reported on the plans the Chat Thai team were hatching for Boon and the grocery that houses it, Jarern Chai, back in the first half of last year, so it's been a long time coming. (Hell, they've opened Samosorn and Assámm since.) But it's been worth waiting for. The stuff in the glassed-in coolroom is top-hole, whether it's figs and plums, or fresh bamboo shoots, bitter-melon vines and pennywort leaves, the grocery has all your Thai papaya-shredder, fish sauce and toothpaste needs covered, and the café rocks. Hit it for crab congee and Penny Fours pastries at breakfast, one of those killer Thai sandwiches at lunch, a full Isaan menu (hello ant-egg salad) at dinner or Single Origin coffee and cold-pressed juice any old time. And, yes, the freshly made coconut milk is on its way. A boon indeed. Jarern Chai, 1/425 Pitt St, Sydney, NSW, (02) 9281 2114. PAT NOURSE

BRISBANE
Los Villanos 
Moody red bulbs now rim the arched mirror frames, fairy lights twinkle, and in the corner there's what looks like a Day of the Dead shrine to musical shape-shifters Mariachi El Bronx. If operator Jamie Webb's Brisbane bar-restaurant empire ever falters, he could perhaps consider a career consulting on speedy restaurant makeovers. Sure, the bones of the site's endearing former occupant, Cabiria, are still visible, but as the Tecate levels in your salt-rimmed tinnie drop, it gradually matters less. Attack a plato grande board, bearing a hefty helping of Pedro's grandmother's jalapeño-spiked pork ribs and you may even find yourself shamefacedly asking Cabiria who? Here it's as much about the friendly bar staff and fun times as it is about the cantina-inspired food. But Brisbane's biggest cache of tequila and the likes of some punchy Los Villanos pork tacos - crowned with queso fresco and amped up with help-yourself habanero sauce - or perhaps a chorizo quesadilla doused with chipotle are a couple of decent reasons to drop by and say hola. Want more? You'll find the same snacks hitting the table in the city at Sonny's House of Blues, Webb's louche new '80s-styled Brisbane dive bar and live-music venue in the alley round the corner from Jamie's Italian on Edward Street. The Barracks, 6/61 Petrie Tce, Qld, (07) 3368 2666. Sonny's House of Blues, Rowes La, off Edward St, Brisbane, Qld. FIONA DONNELLY

PERTH
Mary's
The most exciting thing to happen to Perth dining in 2015? It's a big call - not least because we're barely one month into the new year - but for those who prefer their dining rooms low on pomp and their menus high in deliciousness, this newcomer ticks plenty of boxes. A word of warning, though: don't go looking for Mary's on Google Maps - this isn't a new restaurant, but rather the night-time nom de guerre of Mary Street Bakery, only with different food, booze and staff (to complete the illusion, guests also enter the restaurant via a different door in the evening). For Mary's opening menu, former Greenhouse chefs Simon Kruger and Nick Malanczak have reached deep into their Asian bag of tricks, surfacing with the likes of Japanese-spiced fried chicken skin, outstanding steak tartare with smoked oyster cream and crunchy wings injected with Kewpie and mentaiko. It's bold, daring stuff, but like the offer of outré vino and house-infused soju, suits Mary's freewheeling spirit perfectly. Go. Go now. Mary's, 509 Beaufort St (entry via Mary St), Highgate, WA, 0429 944 861. MAX VEENHUYZEN

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