8611 Synott, just north of Bissonnet
Ever since reading about the nacatamale, a tamale with meat and vegetables and olives described as throw pillow-sized, I have wanted to try Nicaraguan cuisine, La Comida Nica; so far as I know this is our first and only Nicaraguan restaurant. It occupies the space once occupied by the small Brazilian home-style buffet, Cariocas.
The owner is very friendly and speaks very good English. So does one of his sons who helps out with just about everything on the weekend, anyway. The menu is quite small, only a page and a half, and there are no translations. They have been open a month and unfortunately they do not do the nacatamale.
On my first visit the owner steered me toward the Vaho, pronounced baho, a weekend special consisting of beef, plantain and yuca steamed in a banana leaf and served with rice. It was good; it is basically a stew sans broth. Fritanga comes from the word for to fry but there is at least one other steamed dish on the menu, the appetizer Vigoron, which includes yuca and chicharron, steamed in a banana leaf I think (I haven't had this).
I also had an Enchilada Nicaraguense, a corn tortilla topped with shredded beef and rice, folded over and fried to make essentially an empanada. Both dishes were topped with the typical Nicaraguan salad of cabbage and carrot with tomato and purple onion; it isn’t on the menu separately but I think they call this Ensalada de Repollo.
For a beverage I had Cacao, the Nicaraguan version of chocolate milk which includes grated, roasted cacao beans and was very good.
The owner offered to do a half order of the Vaho when I inquired about portion sizes; it proved to be enough food to leave me very full.
Other appetizers include Vigoron, Chancho Adobado, and Tacos Nicas, which are like Mexican flautas, with chicken or beef. Platillos Tipicos include Salpicon, Carne Desmenusada (deshebrada), Pechuga or Bistec Encebollado, Carne Tapade, Arroz a la Valenciana (the Nicaraguan version of paella) and Carne Asada, which the owner said was basically fajitas.
Sides include Tajadas verdes (plantain), Queso frito, Maduro Frito, Gallo Pinto, and Guacamole. All plates come with the salad and some have frijoles fritos or tajadas verdes or frito or rice.
On my second visit I tried the Chilla (cheeya I think) which is like a tamarind agua fresca and was the best I’ve ever had, rich with bits of fruit. Other refrescos include Chicha and Cebada which I got a free sample of; I understand it includes guava and barley; it was good but not as good as the Cacao or Chilla. They also have typical American sodas.
For a main on my second visit I had the Sopa de Cola, a weekend special, a rich, satisfying oxtail stew pictured above with corn, plantain and yuca, tomatoes and carrot, parsley and cilantro, plus cabbage, rice and fideo, with a side of more rice. It was awesome on a chilly Sunday and I enjoyed it very much. A Nicaraguan family arriving for a meal oohed and aahed over my bowl.
Other weekend specials include Indio Viejo and Sopa de Albondiga on Sunday. Postres include Arros con leche, Atolillo and Bunuelos.
The menu is undergoing changes. I got an old menu to take home and a couple of dishes had been changed. Even more had been crossed off the new menu on my second visit. The most expensive thing on the menu is $9.
The restaurant is closed on Tuesday, open other days 11a to 7p. I’m sure Cariocas succumbed to too little business; they were not helped by their very limited hours and the food went downhill after a couple of months. I hope these people make it; I had the place to myself for a while on my first visit but the second time the place was bustling.
I will definitely be going back to try the Arroz a la Valenciana.
Vaho or Baho. In the glass is Cacao, a very satisfying version of chocolate milk. This is a half-order of the Vaho.