La Casa Latina
611 Old Country Rd. Westbury, NY 516-280-7797
Chef-owner Roberto Herrera does justice to the cuisine of his native El Salvador at this popular pan-Latin spot. Try the lively fish tacos, exemplary pupusas, house-made corn cakes stuffed with pork, cheese and beans, followed by a Salvadoran platter holding grilled steak, cassava, fried pork rind, cheese, rice, beans and avocado. To drink with all: the festive house sangria filled with fat frozen blueberries.Hours: Noon-10 p.m. Monday-Thursday; Noon-11 p.m. Friday; Noon-12 a.m. Saturday; 11:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. Sunday. Ambience: Good Service: Good Credit cards: Accepted Accessibility: restrooms not wheelchair accessible
With details large and small, La Casa Latina declares its swagger.
The tipoffs come early on: comfortable, refined surroundings. Crusty, hard-to-resist sourdough rolls. Potent, pretty sangria dotted with fat frozen blueberries. Food served off rolling carts.
It's not until after I've eaten lunch and dinner here that I learn executive chef-owner Roberto Herrera is also head chef at Bryant & Cooper Steak House in Roslyn, dividing his time between both spots.
His kitchen's chops show in the presentation of fish tacos: three house-made soft corn tortillas enfolding neatly fried tilapia topped with chipotle salsa, garnished with micro greens, lined up in a clever metal holder. Herrera knows the rustic corn, cheese and bean pupusas (stuffed corncakes) of his native El Salvador need nothing fancier than the traditional accompaniments of slaw and salsa.
Clearly, grilled meat is this chef's métier. Savory skirt steak comes out oozy and rosy, accompanied by an emerald chimichurri sauce. The same cut works well in the parillada Argentina, a cast-iron platter that also holds succulent grilled short rib, sweetbread and three kinds of sausage. But there are no vegetables, rice or beans; just meat, meat, meat.
On the somewhat lighter side is a roasted semi-boneless half chicken, burnished and bursting with spicy juices, accompanied by rice and beans. Boned pan-seared porgy is topped with a lively tomato sauce and served with a mix of vegetables that's supposed to include loroco flowers. "They're in there," the waitress says, when asked. Further questioning reveals that spinach has been subbed. Another time, the missing loroco turns up with other El Salvadoran vegetables plus a somewhat over-fried egg, the mix forming a bed for a neatly pan-seared whole red snapper. Good as the dish is, I'd pass it up for the garlicky shrimp scampi with clams.
An opulent flan enriched with cream cheese plus a lush, milky tres leches cake take Latin American standards to another level at dessert. Which seems to be standard operating procedure for La Casa Latina.