Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Coquitos - Comida Hondurena

6121 - V Hillcroft, between Gulfton and Westward

I went to Coquitos the first time almost a year ago to try the Sopa de Caracol, the conch soup that is a Honduran specialty and is advertised in the window. The waitress said they didn’t have it the day I was there and when I asked for a recommendation suggested Sopa de Gallina, the hen soup, and that proved to be a satisfying and fortuitous choice. Steaming hot with large, bone-in pieces of white and dark meat with large chunks of carrot, yuca, plantain, potato and cabbage in a rich broth with a side of white rice and 2 thick, hand-made corn tortillas, it was very good. The vegetable pieces were so large it was almost necessary to use a knife and fork to eat the soup. I was feeling a little under the weather that day and though I hadn’t expected it the Sopa de Gallina proved to be just what the Doctor ordered. Plus with all the starch, it was very filling and a good bargain.

On a subsequent visit I tried the pastelitos for an appetizer - Honduran style empanadas made with corn meal (arepas) like those of Venezuela and Columbia. They were stuffed with a ground meat and rice mixture and almost full size but were lacking in seasoning. They were accompanied by a generous portion of a shredded cabbage salad with marinated red bell pepper, a warm tomato dressing and shredded queso. It was very good and at only $3.75, was very filling, almost enough for a whole meal. I had also ordered Casiamento con Coco, a rice and beans dish cooked in coconut milk, the Honduran version of Jamaican rice ‘n peas with the addition of onion and bell pepper and a more generous use of coconut milk. It was accompanied by some avocado and queso and corn tortillas. I was so full from the appetizer I wound up taking most of this home and discovered it’s much better reheated the next day.

Meanwhile I had seen the Pollo Frito being served and it looked very good and I planned to return to try that. I also noticed Mondongo on the menu, the Central American term for Menudo, and some other dishes that looked interesting.

I only got around to going back for the Pollo Frito recently. The restaurant has been spiffed up a bit with table cloths on some of the tables and additional seating. I was there around 2pm and the place was very busy, in part because there was only one server and one cook and they were running way behind.

The menu has also changed, or at least been reprinted and organized a little better. There are now Baleadas on the menu which I don’t recall from before. There are three to choose from with the basic one called Baleadas Regulares. I ordered just the basic Baleada as an appetizer but wished I had tried one of the ones with some add-ins; the ones I saw being served looked spectacular. I think the daily lunch specials portion of the menu is gone, too, and there are more Mariscos.

The Pollo Frito consisted of 2 small pieces, a leg and thigh. Like this dish at the other Honduran restaurants I have tried, it was overcooked, though not as badly. It was a very dark brown color; the skin and flesh of the thigh had been scored but whether that was to facilitate even cooking or easier eating I don’t know. It wasn’t quite as dried out as what I’ve had elsewhere but so well done on the exterior that it was kind of like eating a cross between chicharron and chicken. This too comes with a big pile of the cabbage salad with a simple warm tomato dressing; some online sources say is it is common in Honduran cooking that this is nothing more than canned tomato sauce. This is all served over a bed of banana chips that have been lightly sauteed to crisp them up only slightly. I’ll have to give this Pollo Frito another try before deciding where it belongs in my Chicken Fried Odyssey rankings.

Honduran food is not spicy but my main complaint here is blandness. Everything is underseasoned. As I’ve been trying to lose weight for a year and half now I’ve weaned myself off an over-dependence on salt. One of the benefits of eating lots of ethic foods is the seasonings and spices make it interesting and flavorful without the use of salt and pepper and there are many small ethnic eateries where S&P are not on the tables at all. But at Coquitos, I need to reach for the salt; just a little helps a lot. I guess if you’re actually on a salt-restricted diet, that’s good. There is Tabasco on the tables but I’ve never used it and also soy sauce - the menu for instance lists Shap Suey con Pollo o con Cameron. The food I’ve had here so far is not quite as good as at another local group of Honduran restaurants but on the other hand, you don’t have to deal with a deafening juke box at Coquitos.

One nice touch is the coffee. It’s always been prepared fresh when I’ve ordered it and may be a special Honduran variety; it’s presented with a small pitcher of warm milk.

The restaurant is clean but not fancy; not every waitress speaks English but the menu has full English translations. Parking in front is very tight. The menu and business cards and sign on the exterior read Coquitos but one sign in the window and the b4 listing is for El Coquito.

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