There’s a snowy line of salt crystals encircling the rim of my Margarita glass but out beyond the big foldback windows the evening is balmy, a sinking sun daubing the brimming Noosa River with ribbons of orange and gold. On Bandita’s undercover deck, diners lounge on stylish timber-and-rope couches and organise another round of sundowners, relishing the last of the rays.
It’s hard to imagine a setting that’s less like the one where I last saw the handiwork of Jason Jones, Bandita’s chef-owner. That was more than a decade ago at Melbourne’s cult-hit Mamasita, where queues besieged the stairwell and diners were crammed in closer than chargrilled corn kernels.
Jones has been keeping busy in the interim, including a stint in Singapore as culinary director of Super Loco. His first Queensland project, Bandita opened in Noosaville in June. It’s almost a full house when I visit and the flexible interiors take cues from the views. It’s relaxed and beachy, with terracotta tiling, timber tables, white walls and soaring ceilings. There’s a banquette on a side wall and a big communal table by the open kitchen. The couches on the deck, overlooking the water, are reserved for walk-ins, but you can ask to swap when you arrive.
Bandita T-shirt-clad staff bring corn chips to our table in a brown bag along with a guacamole that is zingy with lime. There’s textural contrast and just a suggestion of coriander and tomato; Salsa roja sits alongside. It’s made with local Noosa Red tomatoes, oak-smoked and seasoned with chipotle, brightened with a whack of lime. Elotes, the street-style corn snack arrive next. These are juicy, with a coat of spice, chipotle mayo and aged Oaxaca cheese.
Jones isn’t pushing boundaries at Bandita but everything is fresh and good local producers are dotted through the mix. A crisp tostada comes out loaded with sikil pak, the earthy, crunchy Yucatan dip made from roasted pumpkin seeds. The dip is blobbed with a soured cream from Sunshine Coast’s Maleny Dairies. The menu promises tomatillos. But while there’s a crisp garnish of radish slivers, I can’t discern any tomatillo acidity.
The crudo yellowfin tuna tostada is better balanced – it’s the same golden disc, topped with three triangles of sashimi-grade fish, whipped avocado and green chilli. Fermented chilli soy brings a light buzz and saltiness. Next, strands of pulled pork shoulder fill a soft tortilla that’s amped up with pickled veggies and chilli and crisp, light chicharrones. It’s the star of the night, the contrasting textures, snap of the crackling and brightness of the pickles helping everything to sing.
The wood-fire grill gets a workout in the mains section, with seven barbecue options including Mooloolaba prawns, and hanger steak rubbed with porcini and ancho. The reef fish is local snapper slathered with a Veracruz sauce of olives, capers and herbs. For $16 you can add a DIY taco kit – think corn tortillas and chipotle yoghurt, slaw and pickled veggies.
It’s the sort of lick-your-fingers post-beach eating, accompanied by a Margarita or two, that chimes well with the holiday mood and suits groups. It should keep Bandita busy over summer and beyond.