Epicurean

Take a Central American excursion

CorrespondentAugust 27, 2008 

Up for a little culinary adventure? Three new restaurants specialize in a variety of Central American cuisines.

At Los Migueleños (3316 Guess Road; 620-6412), an unassuming little counter service eatery that opened early this month in Durham, the adventure can be as tame or as wild as you like. That's tame, as in carne asada, roast chicken and Tex-Mex fajitas. And wild, as in huevos de toro -- bull's testicles, which are available stewed, roasted or in a soup. Each of those methods of preparation represents a specialty of a Central American country, according to Ruth Linarte, who owns the restaurant with her husband, Alvaro. The soup represents her native El Salvador.

Indeed, the multicultural menu reads like a culinary souvenir book of the Linartes' lives and travels. Naturally, the famous Salvadoran pupusas -- thick, soft corn tortillas filled with cheese or pork -- are a specialty. Alvaro Linarte's native Nicaragua is represented by crunchy tacos dorados. Neighboring Honduras contributes baliadas, open-faced flour tortillas slathered with refried beans and topped with scrambled eggs, beef, sour cream, cheese and avocado. And the couple's 16-year stint in Miami is reflected in Cubano and medianoche sandwiches. Breakfast -- Cuban or Salvadoran style -- is served all day.

A few blocks aways is Costa Azul (2721-B Guess Road; 620-0971), offering Honduran and Mexican fare. Honduran specialties include baliadas, mondongo (tripe soup) and enchiladas Hondureñas, which serve up ground beef, shredded cabbage and a pile of other goodies on a crisp corn tortilla shell.

If, on the other hand, it's the familiar enchilada you're craving, you'll find it among the Mexican options, along with chiles rellenos, huevos rancheros and a modest selection of tacos, tortas and soups. And if the restaurant's name has put you in the mood for seafood, you should find a measure of satisfaction in a selection that includes coctel de camaron, caldo de mariscos and five entree variations on a shrimp theme.

In Knightdale, the extensive Mexican offering at Las Brazas (903 N. Smithfield Road; 217-0900) covers the spectrum from combo plates to soft tacos and tortas to house specialties such as carne picada, roast chicken and Jalisco-style lamb stew. Seafood options alone number around two dozen, including tostadas de seviche, shrimp in chipotle sauce, pescado al mojo de ajo, and all the usual caldo and coctel suspects.

On closer examination, you notice a tiny selection of Honduran dishes under the heading of "Pupusas." There are only three listings: chicharron pupusas, fried yuca with chicharron, and fried plantains with beans and crema. Not much of a selection, granted. But, in an area where other Central American cuisines are still underrepresented, it's a start.

Honors for restaurants

Let's all raise a glass to the Triangle area winners of the 2008 Wine Spectator awards, announced in the current (Aug. 31) issue of Wine Spectator magazine. You'll want to break out your best bottle to toast Angus Barn, one of only 73 restaurants in the world to win Wine Spectator's highest honor, the Grand Award. Fearrington House is again the only area winner at the next award level, the Best of Award of Excellence. A record 22 area restaurants earned the Award of Excellence, the magazine's equivalent of the bronze medal. Find the full list on my blog at http://blogs.newsobserver.com/epicurean.

http://blogs.newsobserver.com/epicurean or ggcox@bellsouth.net

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