Each day, metro Detroit’s Latin American restaurants are serving up scrumptious, regionalized fare – often from unassuming, storefront locales that provide no indicators of the goodness within. But the true foodie knows you can’t judge a book by its cover, or more aptly a tamale by its husk, and that authentic cuisine is often discovered in the most hard-to-spot, off-the-radar places.
So, we’ve pulled together a round up of five Latin American restaurants for the intrepid Metromode diner. Read on, especially if you’re hungry.
Caution: If your normal modus operandi for south-of-the-border cuisine is dining on chimichangas with extra sour cream at the shopping mall food court, please close this story now. These places are not for your expectant, Mexican-Americanized pallet!
El Guanaco: Salvadoran cuisine
If you’ve driven by this seemingly innocuous restaurant on a regular basis, but have yet to taste the cuisine, now’s the time to stop – pare! alto! – because you cannot live another day without eating El Guanaco’s pork, bean and cheese pupusas. The light, perfectly browned dough tenderly encloses the savory insides, and with a side of curtido (a spicy pickled cabbage), it’s the perfect Salvadoran lunch or dinner. (Note: Vegetarians try the loroco and cheese pupusa as a yummy alternative.)
But, alas, there is more to explore beyond pupusas. El Guanaco does a fabulous job with the fried cassava, generously portioned yucca that makes a fine dipping vessel for salsas, but is mild and delicious solo as well. (Note: Leftover cassava served with scrambled eggs and salsa makes a great breakfast the next morning.) A passion fruit agua fresca, fruit-flavored water, offers a foolproof accompaniment for all the Salvadoran menu items.
Seafood lovers should definitely dive into bowl of caldo de siete mares. This giant portion of soup is chocked full of little necks, mussels, shrimp, and squash. You’ll likely take two-thirds of it home.
1710 Livernois, Troy, 248-526-0622
Hours: Mon-Sat, 10:00 a.m.-10:00 p.m.; Sun, 10:00 a.m-5:00 p.m.
Taqueria Alameda: Oaxacan cuisine
While Taqueria Alameda is famous for its huaraches (and yes, they are indeed shaped like the sole of a huarache sandal), covered with meat, cilantro, onions and cheese, it’s the fiery-red chile de árbol salsa that makes this fresh, simple dish pop. In fact, we recommend generously pouring the salsa over everything you order.
The sweet, hard-working Mexican couple who own and operate this modest Westland taqueria are Veronica Vargas from Mexico City, famous for its sopas and quesadillas and Marcelino Zuniga from a small village in Oaxaca known for sheep farming.
On the weekends, Taqueria Alameda celebrates this Oaxacan agricultural heritage with a number of lamb dishes, including a most delicious lamb stew, served with an accompaniment of chilis, lime slices, onions and cilantro. (Note: you can add barbequed lamb, barbacoa, to any dish, and we think you should.)
Grilled quesadillas are served up on homemade tortillas with Oaxacan cheese, lettuce and a choice of exotic fillings that include a sour-like flor de calabaz (pumpkin flower), chicharón prensado (pork skin) and huitlacoche, a corn truffle. Many choices of aquas frescas, fruit beverages, enhance the dining experience.
Don’t let the modest storefront, in a small, depressed strip mall fool you. Inside, it’s part market and café, with a steady flow of hungry customers during meal hours. Friendly wait staff, including the owners’ daughter, Melissa Zuniga, and a cheery red and yellow décor add to the ambiance. The kitchen, which you must walk through to get to the bathroom, is spotless.
Worth the trip – no matter where you live!
906 S. Wayne Road, Westland, 734-727-0947
Hours: Mon-Sat, 11:00 a.m.-9:00 p.m.; Sun, 11:00 a.m.-8:00 p.m.
Antojitos El Catracho: Honduran cuisine
At El Catracho, Honduran cuisine is the specialty as attested by the blue and white Honduran flag hanging over the takeout counter. While this is the only festive decoration in this cavernous, sterile space, the food is nothing but plain.
The maduros, ripe plantains, are deep fried to perfection, as are the tajadas, green banana slices. If you’ve wrapped your arms and taste buds around eating the weight of your left buttocks in fried food, than you might as well dive in full force and go for another El Catracho specialty: pastelitos, deep fried tortillas stuffed with beef or chicken (go for the chicken, we say). The heaven behind this dish is the side of repollo, a lightly fermented cabbage salad with vinegar, garlic and oregano – a perfect accompaniment to the hearty, fried fare.
The pupusas – thick, stuffed tortillas popular in Central America – especially the loroco pupusas, are off-the-chart tasty – and are grilled, not fried. (Loroco is a vine flower bud that grows in the region.)
El Catracho is also known for its baleadas, a fresh simple flour tortilla folded in half and filled with beans, cheese and sour cream – a good choice for plain-palate young ‘uns. The aquas frescas, both the sweet horchata, made with rice, nuts and cinnamon, and the mango, are apropos thirst quenchers for your Honduran feast.
4627 W. Vernor Hwy, Detroit, MI 48209, 313-784-9361
Hours: Mon-Sat, 9:00 a.m.-9:00 p.m.; Sun, 10:00 a.m.-9:00 p.m.
Taqueria Alma: Mexican cuisine
This jumpin’ takeout-only joint in Center Line, offers fresh (not always fast) Mexican cuisine, with tacos taking the trophy as the crowd favorite. Served simply in double soft corn tortillas with pleasantly seasoned meat (the chicken is delish), chopped cilantro and onion, the tacos from Taqueria Alma regularly satiate droves of weekday lunch goers.
Taqueria Alma’s salsas champion whatever they accompany, the green being milder and the red packing a serious punch. The California burrito, another popular menu item, is huge – even the medium-sized option – stuffed to capacity with beans, rice, lettuce, tomatoes, onion, avocado, and your choice of meat. (The asada, beef, is a savory choice, marinated to tender perfection.)
Tasty, too, are Alma’s tortas (Mexican sandwiches) if you’re looking for a major belly filler. Be sure to grab from the cooler a Jarritos, the popular south-of-the-border soda, which comes in a rainbow of flavors: mango, tamarind, fruit punch, pineapple, lime and more.
25343 Van Dyke Ave., Center Line, 586-209-8429
Hours: Mon-Tue, 10:00 a.m.-8:00 p.m.; Wed 10:00 a.m.-7:00 p.m.; Thurs & Fri, 10:00 a.m.-7:00 p.m.; Sat, 12:00-5:00 p.m.
Encuentro Latino: Guatemalan cuisine
Known for its Guatemalan cuisine, Encuentro Latino fits perfectly on this eclectic stretch of Michigan Avenue in downtown Ypsilanti. Breakfast seems to be the go-to choice for this sweet little eatery, with the “Guatemalan breakfast” receiving a gold star. It’s a combination of two eggs topped with salsa and sides of fresh cheese with cream, fried plantains, black beans and tortillas. Beats a bowl of Wheaties any day.
For lunch or dinner, the tortilla de harina stuffed with beef, pickled cabbage, scallions and mayo is a great choice to share. Most dishes are served with a side of hot, pickled vegetables, a mélange of tangy goodness using green beans, carrots, cauliflower and peppers. Be sure to try the fried plantains with cream sauce – great for sharing among friends, or enemies you want to be friends with.
Encuentro has many options for exploring Guatemalan cuisine. But keep in mind the food is not heavily seasoned; it’s more about plain, fresh and simple.
228 W. Michigan Ave., Ypsilanti, 734-483-1727
Hours: Mon, 11:00 a.m.-8:00 p.m.; Tue, 11:00 a.m.-4:00 p.m.; Wed & Thurs, 11:00 a.m.-8:00 p.m.; Fri, 11:00 a.m.-9:00 p.m.; Sat & Sun, 9:00 a.m.-8:00 p.m.