|Latin cuisine dominates the area around Loisaida Avenue in the East Village.|
Sometimes you’re in the mood for that group of flavors you can only find near the tropics and close to the equator, but you can’t decide exactly what you’re craving. You dream of something spicy, something cheesy, something rich and full of legumes or something light, citrusy and clean. You’re in New York City, a culinary capital with a plethora of dining options, but putting your spatula on the exact spot where you want to dine and satisfying those cravings can be downright challenging.
Perhaps your thoughts are peppered with Adobo seasoning and lime, smoky chipotle and hints of habañero—you’re thinking ceviche, pollo, arepas, enchiladas! Or maybe you’re just hungry and looking for a place to eat that will make everyone in your group happy. The pan-Latin bistro could be the practical choice. Examples of this relatively new restaurant genre are popping up and flourishing all over the city, particularly in the East Village on and around the Hispanic-dominant Loisaida Ave. (aka
Restaurants like Esperanto and Casa Adela are successful and popular for a couple of reasons. One is that the food is relatively inexpensive yet still delicious. The other is that they offer menu options from a variety of countries, and most diners leave happy because everyone is able to find something to suit their palate. Like new American cuisine, new Latin cuisine garners a broad spectrum of flavors. In other words, these restaurants are crowd pleasers.
Since Latin America is larger than the United States, it includes various countries and more nuanced cuisines. These diverse culinary nuances can be difficult to replicate, and therefore, we’ve seen some pan-Latin bistros that skim the most clichéd dishes, and often these plates are inauthentic and lack flavor.
El Camion (Ave. A and 12th Street), for example, does a Huevos Diablos. A creative, Americanized take on a Mexican breakfast, the dish still falls short for textural reasons. The corn cakes under the poached eggs are soggy and overly dense, lacking the attributes of a traditional Benedict’s crusty yet absorbent English muffin.
|Huevos Diablos at El Camion—by Nathanmac87 via Flickr|
The Huevos Camion fails to even faintly resonate with the Latin palate at all. Three veggies scrambled in egg whites with home fries? Not only is it an ordinary brunch feature, but it bears no relation to Latin cooking. It tasted bland, simple, and when I ordered a side of hollandaise to richen the blandness, it came curdled, plasticky, and lukewarm. Thumbs down on many counts.
Alternatively, certain restaurants in the neighborhood are doing the pan-Latin thing and doing it well. Yuca Bar (Ave. A and 7th Street) has recently become one of my favorite restaurants south of 14th Street. It doesn’t matter if every dish on the menu is prepared exactly as it might be in Latin America, because every dish is, in its own right – a home run.
|Yuca Benedictos at Yuca Bar–courtesy of Foodspotting|
The Yuca Benedictos infuses a North American brunch concept with uniquely Latin American flavors. The dish uses yuca, a South American tuber, as its starch. Fried and seasoned with peppers and
onions, this medley of vegetables makes a perfect bed for the poached eggs and silky cilantro hollandaise that top the dish. This and Yuca bar’s many other dishes embody what I see as the true spirit of the pan-Latin bistro. They take the original, delightful, and sometimes unfamiliar native ingredients of Latin America and use them in ways that both honor and reinvent the region’s culinary traditions.
Pan-Latin bistros cater best to the open minded – the finest among them will offer creative and savory meals from a range of cultures, making wonderful settings for adventurous eaters looking to sink their teeth into something unique. Beware though, of the imposters among these restaurants – some will try to take your perfectly good $15 in exchange for a perfectly boring plate of huevos rancheros, no better than what you might find at a Midtown diner.
When searching for your next experience in comida latina, look for variety, authenticity, and flavor, and you’re sure to happily salsa dance your way from churrasco to chimichanga!