Saturday, January 3, 2009

Latino restaurant offers tasty treat in Atlanta

Central American staple a tasty treat
By Meridith Ford Goldman The Atlanta Journal-Constitution January 02, 2009

Something magical happens when masa is formed into a thick tortilla, stuffed with cheese and sealed on the griddle. The undeniable flavor of corn mixed with soft, white quesillo —- a stringy cheese similar to mozzarella —- forms a flatbread singed with welcoming flavor.

In El Salvador, the result is called a pupusa, and it’s served with a pickled slaw of cabbage, onion and carrots called curtido; it reigns as Central America’s most popular lunch and street food.

In the Atlanta area, the place to indulge in this kind of dough delirium is a Central American restaurant on the corner of Buford Highway and Shallowford Road called Rincon Latino (“rincon” means corner or cupboard in Spanish).

The restaurant’s original owner was from Central America, and many of the dishes here, not just pupusas, are highlights from the area. Most, like caldo de camaron (shrimp soup), sopa de pollo con arroz (chicken soup with rice) and carne adobada (marinated pork served with rice and beans) are just as familiar on other Latin menus, but it’s the pupusas that make Rincon Latino special.

The restaurant started as a small pupuseria and grew to be so popular that it eventually expanded to include the massive space of a laundromat next door. At 2 p.m. on a Sunday afternoon, it can be packed with families enjoying lunch.

Almost every table will be adorned with a thick glass goblet of coctel de camaron, a hefty helping of shrimp cocktail in a sweet tomato sauce peppered with onion and bits of tomato and fresh cilantro, plus large slices of avocado and shrimp.

And, of course, baskets of pupusas.

Under a sheath of parchment lie these musky wonders of masa, thick and comforting. Pull the paper aside to reveal pupusa de loroco con queso, laced with a Central American herb called loroco, which is dull green when cooked and tastes a little like a cross between a string bean and asparagus. Mixed with gooey string cheese, it gives tangy substance to this messy masa mayhem.

But what a way to blow your carb limit. Those filled with beans and cheese will go over better with the 12-and-under crowd, since their flavor lacks the sprightly kick of the beloved herb.

Caldos and sopas are brought in huge bowls, and the chicken soup will offer a leg and most likely a thigh or breast —- bone in —- in a perfect broth, plus a side bowl of rice dotted with peas and carrots. Sipped and eaten with a pupusa or two, there’s little else needed for a satisfying meal.

There are Mexican plates, too, plus a Tex-Mex griddle of the best fajitas this side of the Nuevo Laredo: Strips of red and green peppers, onions, marinated beef and chicken all sound pretty standard, but the seasoning, coupled with fresh tortillas made on the spot, takes things to higher ground. In fact, one of the best ways to enjoy Rincon Latino is to simply roll one of the thick tortillas like a cigar and swipe up a mouthful of refried beans.

Mexican tortas (think a big, fat sandwich filled with lettuce, avocado, tomato and cilantro) made with carne asada are worth veering from the Central American menu, too.

If the heat of the peppered salsa verde gets to you, order a milkshake of mango or strawberry to calm your taste buds down.

But don’t eat here without trying a pupusa. You don’t want to miss out on what could possibly be the eighth wonder of the world.

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