Looking for Fantastic Latin food across the United States for a project for my Spanish class
So I totally messed up the first time when I posted this. Initially I was going to post the same message in different sub forums, but I totally can see how that could be considered spam, so I apologies for the first 2 posts!
Anyway, I decided to undertake a project for my Spanish class where I would travel to different states and cities across the United States and sample different restaurants that were Latin in nature. Because my class this semester is online, my professor said to absolutely go for it. My Plan was to go from Charleston South Carolina, to Los Angeles looking for different latin restaurants.
First I thought that Yelp would be my best bet, but then I remembered the Chow community and I was hoping I could get some help before venturing off into the wild. Below is my potential route:
1. CHARLESTON, SOUTH CAROLINA
2. WASHINGTON, DC
3. NEW YORK, NEW YORK
4. CLEVELAND, OHIO
5. CHICAGO, ILLINOIS
6. ST.LOUIS, MISSOURI
7. TULSA, OKLAHOMA
8. AUSTIN, TEXAS
9. DENVER, COLORODO
10. MOAB, UTAH
11. LAS VEGAS NEVADA
12. LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA
If anyone had suggestions of where to go that would be amazing. Weather Spanish, or Brazilian, or Argentinian, pretty much anything that is Latin in dynamic, I would love your suggestions. Hole in the walls would be amazing too!
Thanks a lot!
While you are en route from DC to NYC, I'd suggest a stop in Philly. It's home base for Jose Garces--Amada, Tinto, Distrito, Chifa and others.
Also Alma de Cuba, Cuba Libre for Cuban. For Brazilian, there's Chifa in the city, and many other good options in the neighborhoods in the Northeast and the burbs.
There are dozens more. If you're interested in stopping in Philly--not even a detour from DC to NYC--post on the Philly board. I'm sure you'll get enough recommendations for a week of eating.
Jose Andres, a top Spanish chef, has several restaurants in the DC area.
NYC has attracted immigrants from all over Latin America. Historically there has been a lot of travel back and forth between Puerto Rico and NYC. For example Bernstein's West Side Story. Daisy Martinez, who has several TV shows on Latino cooking, and a book, is from NYC. Early in Chow history, there was talk about the Arepas Lady, a street vendor of arepas, a Columbian corncake. There have been several Throwdown episodes featuring NYC Hispanic specialties.
Some parts of New England have an old Portuguese heritage, and some western suburbs of Boston have high Brazilian concentrations.
Chicago has several neighborhoods with high Mexican concentrations. Rick Bayless has several restaurants in Chicago.
San Antonio, Texas, is the birthplace, so to speak, of chili. And Tex-Mex cooking can be found all over the state.
Hispanic influences in Utah do not seem to be very great. New Mexico has much deeper Mexican roots.
Los Angeles has both an old Mexican heritage and several waves of newer immigrations.
So you are just going to write a fantasy report as if you had eaten at restaurants in these places?
In Austin, TX:
Have a stop by at one of my favorite places, Costa Del Sol. It is a Salvadoran resto that sells pupusas and tamales salvadoreños. They have platano frito and yuca frita also. The pupusas are wonderful, and the tamales are light and fluffy, wrapped in banana leaves, and stuff with meat of choice (chicken or pork), potatoes and garbanzos.
Also, I love the food truck La Fogata (MX). They have enchiladas potosinas. For these, the masa has been moistened with ground chile in liquid, giving the tortillas a beautiful orange color and a special flavor. They are stuffed with either melting cheese or ground beef, pan fried, topped with queso fresco and avocado slices, and a dash of crema. So delicious.
Visit El Pollo Rico (MX) for Monterrey style pollos asados. So delicious that I eat the softer bones of this chicken. Better than finger licking, I am talking bone chomping. A whole or half chicken comes as a meal with tortillas, rice, beans, a lime, red salsa, and this amazing spicy green mayonnaise-esque salsa verde that is like creamy green chile fire.
Go to Dos Batos (MX) for Monterrey style wood fired beef flour tortilla tacos. They are giant. I prefer La Pirata, which has melty cheese and avocado. The beef is smokey and simply seasoned with salt and pepper, but comes with a nice red salsa to spice it up. Served with elote con crema and beans, each just a penny to add to your meal.
in los angeles, there is are three restaurants with the same name (operated by different members of the same family) that specialize in seafood served in the style of Nayarit and Sinaloa.
ONLY go to the one that is located on Imperial Hwy near Yukon in inglewood. ONLY go when Sergio is cooking there.
the name is Mariscos Chente.
they all close early.
call before your go to make sure that sergio will be the one cooking when you get there.
Rick Bayless' restaurants are top tier examples of Mexican cuisine, from his high-end Topolobampo, to his more everyday fare at Xoco. The neighborhoods of Chicago, however, have many gems of Mexican cuisine from regions unrepresented in other metropolises in the rest of the country. The chef at Fonda del Sol has her grandmothers recipe for sweet and light tortillas to go with her otherworldly salsas. El Barco Mariscos specializes in Mexican seafood dishes. Mexican food is such an intrinsic part of Chicago cuisine that natives even have their own version of tamales which you can buy from many fast food shops (or the occasional itinerant vendor who caters to bar hoppers).
Of course Puerto Ricans have made their own unique contribution to Chicago gastronomy with the jibarito: a sandwich made of roasted pork, garlic sauce and cheese sandwich between fried plantains. El Borinquen makes a good version as well as terrific pastelitos.
NEW YORK, NY
Where does one start in NYC? For me, it'd be a start with cuchifritos: deep-fried snacks one finds in Puerto Rican neighborhoods throughout the city. While bacalaitos, papas rellenas and pastelitos might be traditional, I can hardly resist the deepfried costillas de cerdo along with crispy shards of chicharon.
Dominicans have certainly made their impression on New York and wherever you find mofongo, you can be certain there will be good Dominican cooking. Albert's Mofongo House would likely be the prime destination in this case. La Fonda Boricua would be the place to go for the PR version of mofongo, though you can check out El Malecon if you want another Dominican option that also sells killer Dominican roast chicken.
Speaking of roast chicken, Peruvian chicken has become a very special treat for many people in the city. Pio Pio Chicken is my personal haunt.
Jackson Heights and Elmhurst in Queens can provide you with an even richer array of foods from Columbian arepas to Uruguayan empanadas to Salvadoran pupusas and more.
Are you in Charleston? That's the only reason I could think of to choose Charleston as your starting point. Raleigh/Durham would be a good stop on your way up to DC- Gourmet did an article on Durham's taqueria scene a few years ago. Alternately, you could go to Myrtle Beach- there are tons and tons of taquerias there. There's a free Spanish language paper called Enlace that you can pick up that will have ads for lots of these places- it also covers parts of eastern NC, but is mostly focused on MB. If you went to Myrtle, you could come up through the inland counties of southeastern NC, which all have large Hispanic(mostly Mexican) populations. One of my favorite Mexican restaurants in North Carolina is a little fonda called La Cuata that does superb soups and stews- caldo de res, caldo de pollo, and birria are all very good. Menudo is popular too, but I don't like menudo, so can't vouch for it.
Here's a CH thread and an outside blog post about La Cuata:
CH thread on taquerias and authentic/traditional Mexican food in eastern NC:
The best of the lot is El Mexicanito in Wilson, NC which is very convenient to I-95. The tortillas and superb salsas are what sets it apart.
The NC Folk blog I linked to earlier is a great source for authentic/traditional Mexican food in eastern and southeastern NC. A couple of links to recent items that are convenient to 95:
This one is about a small taqueria in Smithfield, NC that serves huitlacoche and flor de calabaza:
And another on consomé de borrego in Four Oaks, NC:
Smithfield and Four Oaks are both right on I-95.
I live in Denver; mostly, you'll be getting Mexican here. There are some South American joints scattered about, but for obvious geographical reasons, Southwestern-style, green chile-smothered hole-in-the-wall Mexican food is legion.
Among the more beloved joints: El Taco de Mexico, Tacos y Salsas, Santiago's, Chubby's, Jack 'n' Grill, Los Carboncitos, Tacos Jalisco, Patzcuaro's...
There are times I would give my right arm for a Chubby's breakfast burrito w/ green chile. I'm in Chicago now, so I can get really good fancy Mex along with stellar nitty gritty no frills Mex, but if I want green or red, I gotta make it myself. So sad that SW is just not represented here at ALL.
A few things: 1) For Chicago, just go to "chicago restaurant menus" which will bring up >3000 local restaurant menus and then sort by neighborhood and ethnicity---go to ethnicity and take it from there---you can print off menus with dishes named in Spanish and let the kids translate them. Or, by neighborhood---Pilsen is very Mexican. Tango Sur is a wonderful Argentine restaurant and we have a whole neighborhood of Puerto Rican restaurants, while Mexican is everywhere. Look for the Puerto Rican sandwich "jibarito" named for the "jibaro", a country boy. 2) For Brazilian, look at the churrasquerias like Fogo de Chao and Brazzaz---both have websites---costumed gauchos bring an infinity of meat to the table on swords and slice it onto your plate---names of meat cuts are in Portugese and photographs are wonderful. 3) Of possible interest to your class--- I tried to find examples in online grocery ads but couldn't--- Hispanic markets here package certain products with their English names Spanish-ized, thus "donuts" become "donas" and "pound cake" becomes "ponque". Same principle as the classic Hispanic dessert "clerico' " (fruit salad with wine poured over it) which originally was "claret cup". I forget what this phenomenon is called in linguistics---loan shift?---when our tongues change the unfamiliar to something more manageable. Interesting. Also, 4) Note that produce names are different in different countries eg choclo in Argentina is elote in Mexico, same thing with durazno vs melocoton, poroto vs habichuela o frijol, frutilla vs fresa, chaucha vs ejote or judia, damasco vs albaricoque, anana vs pina (sorry no enye in font), palta vs aguacate.Look for Indian influence in Mexican produce names. Look for English influence as in "pochoclo" vs "rositas de maiz" and "sandwich" vs "emparedado" and no se olvide de "panqueque". And Arabic influence all over let them figure out how it got there) as in almacen, albahaca, albaricoque, albondiga, alfajor, alcaucil, alcohol, almendra, almibar, almuerzo. And let them see early relationships between languages---once upon a time in English, a" naranja" was "a naranj" which then became "an orange"--but why today is it, in Puerto Rico, a "china" while a "banana" is a "guineo"---also, archaic English word for ham was "gammon" as in "jamon". Ay, que estamos todos atados. What fun this is---we could go on all semester.
So clearly I didn't chose the right major in college! Seriously - you can get credit for this? Wow. I want to go back to college.
I just had the fortune to eat at Frontera Grill for the first time. Although Guajillo's - a tiny place in a tiny strip mall in Arlington VA has better (by far) salsa and better (by far) flan, I loved the meal at Frontera and the three of us ordered a mountain of food even though we knew we couldn't eat it all. Just had to try everything. Warning - for both Topolobampo and Frontera Grill, make res 6-8 weeks in advance. For Frontera, you can also do walk-in but basically people start lining up at 4, they open the doors at 5 and take names, and start seating/serving at 5:30. Very efficient, very gracious. The place is gorgeous and friendly and I loved the food, service, and atmosphere.
However, I couldn't help but notice that as we drove from the highway to Ba Le Bakery - about 5 miles on I think it was Lawrence Ave - maybe a Chicagoan can help? - there must have been 100 or more Mexican restaurants and I'll bet many of them are terrific. From the names, I could see that they represented a variety of Mexican cuisines, including Maya/Yucatecan, Oaxacan, Veracruzana, etc. Made me want to move to Chicago!
In the DC area, there are quite a few choices. For high-end Spanish, Taverna del Alabardero. For more modern - tapas at Jaleo (though in my opinion, most of the meals I've had at Jaleo were nothing to rave about). There is the afore-mentioned Guajillo - a neighborhood joint that has great food and fun atmosphere (bonus - it is right next door to Ray's Hellburger so if you stay in Arlington, you could do Ray's for lunch and Guajillo's for dinner). Another good local place is Samantha's in Langley Park. Damn. I am getting so hungry!
Oh, forgot - my Mexican friends who live in Chicago say that El Veneno in Ukraine Village is fantastic. Cash only but cheap. No reservations. Can't vouch for it as I didn't get there.
Sorry to see that you're skipping Houston. An immigrant city with probably more cuisines than anyplace except NY, DC Chi, and LA. 4 or 500 Mexican, plus 3 dozen or so Salvadoran, a couple dozen Colombian, Venezuelan, Argentinan, Peruvian, Brazilian, Nicaraguan, Honduran, Guatemalan, Puerto Rican, Jamaican, Cuban and probably some others I've left out.
Oh man, what a great school project!!! Can I come with, jk :)?
Lola's for Spanish Tapas
3312 Esplanade Avenue
New Orleans, La 70119
Hey, New Orleans is pretty close to St.Louis! NOLA is a fabulous food city and a must stop on your culinary tour!!
Stop by Lola's (Fairgrounds near the Jazz Fest race track venue) on Esplanade for wonderful Spanish Tapas...it's such a little neighborhood gem, plus it's BYOB friendly!!!. The atmosphere is so homey too. We ordered three types of Paella on my last visit; the seafood, the combo with everything, and a veggie paella, WOW! Believe it or not, we all agreed that the veggie paella was the best, at least that night it was.
Thanks so much for the wealth of information guys! I actually updated my plan of attack after consulting with my professor. She wanted to make the trip a little more challenging and suggested I look into places that aren't as big city ish, and might have more a middle america feel to them. I think she was actually jealous of the trip/idea and just wanted to make it more difficult. But regardless, below is my new tentative route plan. For some of the bigger cities it'll be easy, but places like Kalamazoo( which she suggested) I'm having a little difficulty with. Lots of love for all the help guys!!
1. MIAMI (1)
2. Charleston, SC
3. Washington DC
4. New Jersey
5. New York, Queens
6. Allentown, PA
7. Cleveland, OH
8. Kalamazoo, MI
9. Chicago, IL
10. Dubuque, IA
11. Sioux Falls, SD
12. Rapid City, SD (I actually want to go here because of Mount Rushmore, so I doubt I'll find anything with a little Latin flavor)
13. Casper, WY
14. Salt lake city, UT
15. Las vegas, NV
16. Los Angeles
17. San Diego
I don't know about Kalamazoo, but Elkhart Indiana, just to the south, has a modest Latino presence (possibly attracted by employment in the local RV industry). I didn't eat at any restaurants, but found a couple of well stocked Mexican groceries (probably getting supplies via Chicago distributors) and a panaderia. That was about 5 yrs ago.
Some small towns in states like Iowa have a strong immigrant presence (legal or otherwise) due to hiring by local meatpackers.
SD has a relatively high proportion of Native Americans, with one reservation close to Rapid City. But I don't know if you can experience much of their food - unless a powwow is being held at the time.
A way to look for pockets of Latino food and culture would be look on Google or local yellow pages for businesses like panaderia (bakery) and carniceria (butcher).
My favorite Bolivan Restaurant, is in Sunny Side, Queens.
Newark, Perth Amboy or New Brunswick, NJ for largeLatino populations.
Allentown had a large hispanic pop in the 60's, when I went to college there. An hour north, Hazleton, has been making the national news w/ thier racist mayor persecuting the Hispanic population. Lots of great mom & pop Mexican restaurants.
Are you aware that you are missing the only officially bi-lingual state in the United States; New Mexico?
I admit I'm a little confused why you'd now be avoiding NM, CO, AZ, TX—states with large, vibrant Latino communities—or FL, for that matter. You'd seem to be making your finds much more limited, no? Or have you researched these places and know for a fact there are pockets worth exploring?
Most of DC's best Latin restaurants are not in the city proper (high rents and all that). We excel at Salvadorean, Peruvian (particularly pollo a la brasa!) and Guatemalan cuises but aren't so great for Mexican.
Check out the following in this area:
La Canela - Peruvian
Super Chicken - Pollo a la brasa
Oyamel - Upscale Mexican (not as good as the Rick Bayless places in Chicago)
Taco Bar - Tacos!
El Rinconcito - Salvadorean
Irene's Pupusas - Pupusas
That's just a handful; there are really thousands. Have fun with your project!
If you're going through Dubuque you might want to go through Postville, IA. At least until a few years ago there was a good sized Latino community (and Hasidic Jewish community as well). There was a huge immigration raid, and I'm not really sure what is going on there now, but I know there a few restaurants and groceries that had a good reputation. Plus it's a beautiful part of the state.
> Salt Lake City, UT
In SLC I recommend a very small mom 'n' pop place called La Morena Café near the fairgrounds. People will recommend the Red Iguana, which has plenty of positive reviews on yelp, or Lone Star Taqueria, which is a great tourist spot with good fish tacos, but I like the warmth with which Maria and Manuel Ramirez prepare and serve the food.
On your way from Charleston to DC, take a little side trip and stop at La Poblanita in Aberdeen, NC.
Do you have a budget? These Chowhounds have expensive taste. Cheaper places, like Salvadoran pupuserias, are going to be quite authentic, and more ubiquitous than you might think.
When you say Latin, do you mean South American / Spanish only, or just spanish-speaking? How about Mexican/Central American? Because most restaurants of any kind are really Mexican restaurants... go look in the kitchen and see who is preparing your food.
I beg your pardon, I never promised you ....an expensive meal. Call me The King of Cheap!
Love pupasas too.
So true about Mexicans in the kitchen. Last year we were dining in LA's Little Vietnam and I took a wonderful photo of all the Hispanic works look of surprise when the flash went off as they worked in the kitchen Raid?
New Mexican cuisine is wonderful in that is has evolved locally for hundreds of years and all the foods are grown locally. Try and find a stuffed soppaipila anywhere else. When asked red or green chile, answer, Christmas!
Definitely Chabelita and El Taurinos in Los Angeles. Get the beef burrito from the former and al pastor and carne asada tacos from the latter.
By skipping St Louis > Kansas City > Tulsa, you're going to miss some incredible places.
Kansas City, MO & KS:
* Piropos, Argentinean steakhouse. The food is like eating in Buenos Aires.
* La Botega, Spanish tapas bar. Great food, great sangrias, and the mojitos (Cuban) and caipirinhas (Brazilian) aren't bad either. Bonus: interior is decorated in Miró-inspired design.
* Frida's, Mexican. Like eating in a very nice restaurant in Mexico City. The "chiles en nogada" are to die for, as is the "Diego martini" which is a margarita made Licor 43. Save room for dessert: atole ice cream.
* A multitude of tiny Mexican places all over KC, ranging from yuck to yum. I'll leave it to the natives to argue over which are best.
Webb City, MO:
* Mucho Mexico, Mexican. Haven't been there in ages, but the food was very good and very cheap.
* La Hacienda, Mexican. In a strip center, but sort of a hole-in-wall in size. Best carnitas ever.
* Mi Tierra, Peruvian. I've not been there yet, but it seems to get rave reviews.
* Like KC, lots of holes-in-the-wall all over town.
Where ever you go, have a great trip. And fedex a couple of to-go orders to your professor. :-)