Nick's Picks: El Latino
In Rochester, as in most cities in the U.S., Latin America’s biggest influence on dining is through Mexican cuisine. From fast food chains like Taco Bell, Mighty Taco, and Moe’s, which offer mutant creations of our Southern neighbors’ cooking, to taquerias and taco trucks that aim to stay as authentic as possible, Mexican fare is omnipotent in every corner of the country. Locally, Dorado, La Casa, Lulu Taqueria, Bitter Honey, and the soon-to-open Old Pueblo Grill, are just a few of dozens of options with varying experiences and price points.
By contrast, Latin-American food from islands like Cuba, Puerto Rico, and the Dominican Republic, which all share similar culinary themes, are not as well represented. Only a handful of area restaurants serve the eclectic, vivid flavors of these islands. With some searching, though, Rochesterians can find these hidden gems.
At El Latino on Chili Avenue, which originally opened on Thurston Road in 2006, the Dominican Republic’s most popular dishes are on offer. In this hole-in-the-wall, no-frills eatery, customers walk away with bulging styrofoam containers filled with mounds of affordable, amazing food.
While there are myriad options behind the walk-up counter including stewed beef; baked chicken; pepper steak; and various soups, salads, and fish dishes; no visit to El Latino is complete without roast pork (pernil) and oxtail. These fatty meats are not conducive to walking shirtless on the beaches of the D.R., but they are well worth the following spike in cholesterol that follows consumption. The pork, which comes from the pig’s shoulder, is nothing short of spectacular. It is moist, succulent, savory, and so tender that it pulls apart like string cheese. A mix of secret spices brings out rich flavor in every bite. Lucky customers may even get a piece of crispy, crunchy pork skin. El Latino’s oxtail, slowly cooked and surrounded by chunks of fat, carries a deep, earthy flavor and a tough but enjoyable texture. The best way to order this duo is topped with housemade hot sauce and a side of orange rice and beans. Smaller bits of the pork and oxtail, as well as residual fats and juices, mix into the rice and beans to create a new dish entirely.
A combo at El Latino is $12 and comes with a choice of two meats, rice, beans, and a side salad.
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