The Yarra Valley and Dandenong Ranges are an easy fun packed day trip from Melbourne. Just an hour east of the Melbourne CBD there’s plenty to do and in the case of the Dandenongs, they’re also easy to get to via public transport.
Cafes in the Dandenong Ranges have been traditionally known for their high teas and pub style fare. With its ever increasing popularity as a tourist destination and also an area of Melbourne that is expanding residentially, there’s a new wave of places to eat in the Dandenong ranges that are just as good as, if not better than their Melbourne counterparts.
Meet Maria Cafe, Upwey. A Mexican inspired cafe in the foothills of the Dandenong mountain ranges that is redefining good food in the hills.
Maria Cafe : The Menu
Owners Josh and Omar are no strangers to owning cafes in the Dandenongs. Maria’s sister cafe Lorna operates just down the road in nearby Ferntree Gully serving brunch favourites such as Josh’s grandma’s famous crumpets.
Maria is a homage to Omar’s grandmother and his Mexican heritage. The all day menu features classics such as brisket tacos, tostados and churros (served with a delicious waffle twist).
It wouldn’t be a great Mt Dandenong cafe without great coffee. Maria Cafe have got this covered, serving Industry beans with a rotation of single origin coffees too. It’s a hot day so we order an iced coffee ($6.00) and herbal tea ($4.50).
The drinks menu is diverse, featuring smoothies, coffee, herbal teas and Jarritos Mexican soft drinks. Maria Cafe is licensed, so you can even sip on a glass of wine, beer or enjoy a seasonal cocktail whilst you lunch.
READ | Love wine? Why not take a day trip to the nearby Yarra Valley Wine region?
Omar takes the time to explain the menu to us. I’m familiar with jamon from travelling in Spain, but learn that oaxaca cheese is similar to mozarella and Bunuelos taquitos are small tacos that are fried.
Armed with this knowledge we select the Huevos Rotos (fried eggs with chorizo ragu, jamon, potatoes, fried bread, sautéed spinach, avocado lime crema, tomato salad, marinated feta, olive oil) and the Brisket Taco ( corn tortilla, pulled beef brisket, sweet potato, refried black beans, oaxaca cheese, guacamole, corn, salsa verde).
Huevos Rotos ($19.00) literally translates to ‘broken eggs’ in English. Served in a skillet the dish is a combination of rich hearty flavours (like the chorizo ragu) melded with the light and fresh (avocado lime crema and the tomato side salad).
The side salad is beautifully presented on a small dish that I initially mistook for a small tortilla! The marinated fetta cuts through the heaviness of the jamon and potatoes making it a lovely balanced meal.
If you’re for lunch in the Dandenongs, this filling dish will most definitely keep you going until dinner or fill your belly after exploring great Dandenong ranges attractions like the nearby 1000 steps.
READ | Looking for things to do in the Dandenong Ranges? You’ll love nearby Puffing Billy Steam Railway.
I love a good slow cooked brisket, so I couldn’t go past the Brisket Tacos ($17.00)
The lightly fried corn tortilla base is cooked to perfection – not too crisp. The tacos are layered so you can get the perfect combination of flavours on your fork.
The brisket falls apart on your fork, but the real surprise is the layer of sweet potato that provides a sweet contrast to the salty beef and hearty refried beans below.
The menu at Maria Cafe is designed with balance and contrast in mind. The fresh salsa verde is abundant and provides a lovely fresh contrast to the heavier brisket.
Maria Cafe features a mostly savoury offering, however a few sweet treats punctuate the menu. There’s a Berry Smoothie Bowl ($17.00), a sweet Pina Colada Taco ($19.50) and Pina Colada and Strawberry Smoothies ($9.50) on offer, however its the Churros Waffle ($18.50 for the full serve or $10.50 for the little) that catches my eye.
I’ll admit I didn’t join the churros craze, at least not the traditional style. I find the oily flavour a little overwhelming.
Churros waffles however have the delicious rich flavour of a churro combined with the density and sweetness of a waffle. Coated with cinnamon sugar they also have the most delicious crunch before you reach the moist centre.
Chocolate fudge sauce is thoughtfully served in a small jug to the side (there’s no risk of needing to ask for more) so you can either pour or dip.
The waffle is adorned with strawberry sauce, swirls of mascarpone, fresh strawberries and sugared hazelnuts that provide a delicious crunch.
A cool scoop of ice cream provides a delicious contrast to the sweetness of the waffle.
Maria Cafe: Styling & Dining Style
As soon as you walk into Maria Cafe it’s hard to feel like you’re not at home. The cafe features white, pink and pastels combined with natural woods and lots of plants.
There are just two small steps to reach the main dining interior dining area, however these is also curb side seating if accessibility is an issue.
The cafe is naturally divided into three main spaces and the middle space that features an open fireplace with a large dining room style table is particularly welcoming.
Table groupings cater for people dropping in for a quite coffee and bite at the front bench, to small groups or even larger functions indoor or out.
The exterior decked dining area is well shaded by stylish striped umbrellas. The white cladding and nautical ‘Maria’ sign gives a Hamptons vibe
The courtyard is the perfect setting for a long brunch or even just a few mimosas on a warm day.
Maria Cafe also hosts functions and the courtyard would make the perfect spot for a gathering.
Maria is a pet friendly cafe. Shaded tables are available on the footpath, with water bowls freshly topped up for four legged friends.
There’s plenty of room for prams in both the internal and external seating areas making Maria a popular Mt Dandenong cafe with mums groups.
On your way out, you’ll pass the very tempting cakes display. The Maria Cranberry Oat and Lindt cookie ($5.50) is their signature. It’s big enough to share and best served heated.
If you’re looking for a delicious cafe in the Dandenong Ranges, Melbourne that places great emphasis on fantastic coffee, fresh food and a warm atmosphere, then Maria Cafe might just be your next local.
It’s the perfect little stop on your Dandenong ranges day trip and an excellent example of how Dandenong ranges tourism and Dandenong Ranges food is really rivalling what can be found in the city.
So if you are visiting the Dandenong hills, or are even a local, why not venture into the foothills of Upwey and add a little Mexican flair into your brunch date!
Maria Cafe: Key Information
We were guests of Maria Cafe however all opinions and views are our own.