Words and pictures by Susie Krieble
The Grand Arcade on Willis St is a miscellaneous collection of all the things that you might at some stage need or want, but have other places to get it. There is however, one exception: Puro Chile. A place where you will always need and want its goods, and definitely can not source them elsewhere (unless, perhaps, you go to Chile, even then getting the whole package you do here is doubtful).
Puro Chile is owned by two chefs, Rodrigo and Luis, who hail from Chile and perfected the from-scratch making of empanadas, traditional sandwiches, and baked goods in their home country working for 11 years in hospitality, and 3 ½ years chef training. Every time I go, me and all the other customers are greeted with a big hola! and a genuine pleased-to-see-you smile. You can eat in or out, but I prefer to eat in to watch the awesome staff do their thing, and listen to great Chilean music.
The sandwiches are literally (depending where you go I guess) as cheap as chips ranging between $11 and $13 – which includes a beverage – and you can choose between slow cooked beef or chicken in any of the six meat offerings, and there’s two choices for the vegetarians. Like the empanadas, the sandwiches are crafted from only handmade components. We tried three upon the recommendation of Rodrigo and as you’ve probably guessed by now, we were not disappointed.
Luco (with beef)
Named after an ex-president, whose favourite sandwich was purportedly beef and cheese, this sandwich was a revelation. While many forms of beef and cheese exist – here it is presented at its ultimate. The beef had a remarkable deep flavour and the no frills cheese was its perfect partner. My friend who isn’t used to forming very specific comments on food just kept saying “yum, it’s just really yum”. A very good summary for a dish that doesn’t need much other explanation aside from a picture (see: melty cheese).
Chacarero (with chicken)
Slightly more complex than the Luco, the chacarero is choc-full of a more moreish than usual aioli, the crunchy spice of jalapenos, juicy green beans and the mellow burst of tomato to enhance the flavour of the perfectly cooked chicken. One word bandied about to describe this particular sandwich was ‘juicy’ (to which I then imagined a sandwich wearing a Juicy Couture tracksuit) which was helped by the delightfully uncommon addition of green beans. I also later learned that chacarero comes from the Spanish chacra which means ranch or farm (hence the green beans?), and that this sandwich is extremely popular overseas.
Vegetarian (7b, with avocado)
Filled with mildly spicy chilli beans, this was a much more interesting sandwich than your standard vegetarian fare. The creamy/crunchy/fresh combo was executed really well, it had a dreamy filling to bread ratio and, as described in more detail below, was cleanly edible with two hands given the malleable freshness of the bread.
A notable remark goes to what no sandwich would exist without: the bread. This is home-baked, uber fresh, and was perfectly grilled. The juiciness of each of the sarnies didn’t meet its demise on the bread - the base was sturdy enough to support all the ingredients when you picked it up, and the top was perfectly malleable so it actually hugged the fillings to protect both a) the roof of your mouth, and b) the heartbreak that is an erupting sandwich.
A telling sign that a place is good (thanks dad for this tip), is when the bulk of the regulars are from the country the cuisine is from. Many of the exchanges at Puro Chile are in Spanish and I can only imagine that they are there for a delicious authentic reminder of their home, and a hankering to have a burst of cheerfulness in the middle of their workday.
*When Susie's not out slaying sandwiches, you'll find her snacking her way through Wellington's CBD with her camera and writing about it, you can check it out over here