The best Latin American restaurants on Long Island: Eat here now
Long Island's Latin American dining scene encompasses a huge swath of territory, taking in the Caribbean, Central and South America. While the influence of Spain and Portugal may come through at times, each of these winning restaurants has its own distinct national traditions. To learn about the variety and richness, all you have to do is taste.
Here are our Top 10 picks, in alphabetical order.
Besito(Credit: Newsday / Jeremy Bales)
Besito, Huntington and Roslyn: The two branches of Besito add up to Long Island's best Mexican restaurant. Each keeps clear of cliches, sends out savory food, and makes a fine Margarita. Begin with the guacamole made at tableside. Then, proceed to dishes such as the seafood-filled tortilla pie, fish Vera Cruz, fish tacos, pork carnitas enchiladas, queso fundido, mole poblano, chiles rellenos, corn tamales (pictured) and a refreshing ceviche of the day.
Guacamole is prepared table-side at Besito.
Cafe Buenos Aires(Credit: Doug Young)
Cafe Buenos Aires, Huntington: Hugo Garcia's vivid restaurant enlivens an already hopping downtown. There are Argentine specialties, as well as tapas and some eclectic choices, all prepared with flair. Favorites include the mixed grill for two, with sausages, sweetbreads, chicken and short rib; grilled strip steak with chimichurri; the roasted pork chop; octopus salad; pan-seared striped bass with mustard-dill sauce; grilled sardines; and empanadas (pictured).
Seafood paella is offered on the tapas menu at Cafe Buenos Aires.
Caracara Mexican Grill(Credit: Jin Lee)
Caracara Mexican Grill, Farmingdale: This atmospheric Mexican restaurant manages to successfully balance authenticity and creativity. Try the chicken tamale (pictured) -- shredded chicken, fresh corn and masa (cornmeal dough) all wrapped in a corn husk and sauced with a rich, nuanced mole. Another standout is cochinita pibil, or pork slow-cooked in a banana leaf, served with a side of soft corn tortillas. At lunch, Caracara's Mexican Cobb salad puts a Latin spin on an American classic.
The housemade berry tres leche cake at Caracara.
Cinco de Mayo(Credit: Randee Daddona)
Cinco de Mayo, Calverton: At this hyper-authentic Mexican restaurant, you can order tacos on house-made soft corn tortillas stuffed with pig's ear, tripe or tongue. For the less adventurous, there are chicken, shrimp and beef tacos, too. Other recommendations: fluffy-light chicken enchiladas with green chili sauce, expertly fried whole porgy and chicken mole poblano. Conclude with flan.
Cinco de Mayo's chicken mole poblano stars tender, boneless breasts in a velvety sauce that subtly hints at chili peppers and unsweetened chocolate.
Corazon de Cuba(Credit: Barbara Alper)
Corazon de Cuba, Long Beach: Weekends, this bi-level Cuban spot throbs: live music, a lively crowd. And the vibrant cuisine of Cuban-born chef Oscar Juarez, who turns out, among other dishes, flaky empanadas, a bright salpicon, or seafood salad, sizzling marinated roast chicken (pictured) and moist lechon asado, or roasted pork. Finish with singularly good rice pudding empanadas.
The Long Beach salpicon at Corazon de Cuba is a simple, lemony salad of shrimp, calamari, scallops and mussels.
La Casa Latina(Credit: Kathy Kmonicek)
La Casa Latina, Westbury: Executive chef-owner Roberto Herrera serves a pan-Latin menu of hot and cold tapas, as well as more substantial entrees. Begin with octopus with paprika and olive oil, ceviche, enchiladas or fish tacos (pictured). Entree options include meat platters from El Salvador, Colombia and Honduras, as well as paella and whole sauteed red snapper. Finish with an opulent flan or tres leches cake.
La Casa Latina serves the rustic corn, cheese and bean pupusas (stuffed corncakes) of chef-owner Roberto Herrera's native El Salvador.
La Fondita(Credit: Newsday / Thomas A. Ferrara)
La Fondita, Amagansett: Get in line for some of the brightest, most authentic Mexican flavors in the Hamptons. This colorful taco stand, favored by celebrities and the rest of humanity, offers a few counter stools inside picnic table seating outdoors. You'll want to get into the soft-corn tacos filled with either shrimp (pictured), smoky carne asada, spicy chorizo sausage or fried fish. Great chicken tortilla soup and hearty tortas, or Mexican sandwiches.
La Fondita serves sopes, hand-pressed corn boats with refried beans, lettuce, pico de gallo, crema, cheese and a choice of fillings.
Plancha Tapas & Wine Bar(Credit: Heather Walsh )
Plancha Tapas & Wine Bar, Garden City: Rustic good looks and an alluring small plates menu define this sibling of Salumi Tapas and Wine Bar in Massapequa. Sip a glass of wine and nibble on Marcona almonds fried in sea salt. Or patatasbravas, roasted fingerling potatoes with two sprightly dipping sauces. Very good bread with salt and olive oil accompany cured meats and cheeses (pictured). Get messy eating a pork belly bocadillo, a mini-sandwich made with kimchee, sesame mayo, lime and cilantro.
Plancha Tapas & Wine Bar serves a grilled octopus salad with roasted red pepper.
Pollos El Paisa(Credit: Nicole Horton)
Pollos El Paisa, Westbury: A popular standby for its namesake dish, the "national chicken" of Colombia, this bright little eatery offers more than glistening bronze-rotisseried birds. Chicken soup is exceptional, rife with meat and giblets, heady with cilantro. You'll also want to try the shrimp in a vibrant garlic sauce, one of many worthy choices.
Shrimp in creamy garlic sauce at Pollos El Paisa.
Taqueria Mexico(Credit: Gordon M. Grant)
Taqueria Mexico, Riverhead: This bare-bones taqueria is all about authenticity. Consider it a destination for delicate, delectable house-made tortillas stuffed with carefully prepared fillings. A prime example is the excellent pork tongue, which comes topped with cilantro and chopped onion. Hot sauces are offered on the side.
Taqueria Mexico in Riverhead makes its own corn tortillas for tacos, including de lengua (beef tongue).