When Gerry, freshly thawed from his ice fishing escapade, choose Tierras Centro Americanas as our group’s next destination, I was worried that I might have to eat more pupusas. Not that there is really anything wrong with pupusas, that Central American (Salvadorian in particular) street snack that we experienced twice in the last nine months, including Gerry’s last pick, El Tesoro II (The Poor Man’s Pupusas of Port Chester), and the one in Yonkers chosen by Mike from that same town (Living La Pupusa Loca); it’s just that maybe three pupusa adventures in less than a year is more than enough for me.
“Don’t worry,” Gerry said recognizing my trepidation as I arrived at the colorful diner-like restaurant. “The Guatemalan food is the specialty here.”
His words, I had to admit, were not reassuring, but I was hungry and Guatemalan food, or even another leaden pupusa would have been more than welcome in my famished condition.
We were just off Hillside Avenue and only a block from Sagar Chinese, the Desi Chinese place we experienced in January. For the first time in a long while our entire group was in attendance including Rick who was cherishing a rare few hours out and away from new Daddy duty.
Zio was the last to arrive and when he did he also had the, “oh no, more pupusas” look on his face that I did. So jaded was he with Central American cuisine, he didn’t even bother to look at the menu. “Order for me,” he said to me with a disinterested shrug.
There was a novela playing on the big screen television above our table and loud Latin music on the juke box making it difficult to hear Eugene’s booming voice. Taking Gerry’s advice, I stuck to the Guatemalan side of the bi-lingual menu and choose “caldo de pescado con arroz y tortillas,” translated to fish and shrimp soup with rice and tortillas. Without any ulterior motive, I picked the “jacon,” chicken in green hot sauce with choyote and green beans as Zio’s entree.
We let Gerry choose the “small orders,” and he went with the chile relleno along with “garnacha,” which resembled mini open-faced hard tacos with beef and the Guatemalan version of parmesan cheese sprinkled on top. We each sampled one leaving a few left. The leftovers were offered to Mike from Yonkers, but he had no interest, which was indication right there that maybe we were in trouble here. Despite their mediocrity, my hunger took over and showing no self control, I shoveled another garnacha into my mouth. The Guatemalan chile relleno, stuffed with beef, was also a disappointment; no better than a poor man’s version of the familiar Mexican specialty.
Rick did not hear Gerry’s spiel about the Guatemalan side being the better of the two-country menu and ordered “picadas,” from the “platos tipicos Salvadorenos” section. The mix of fried meats fried to dull grey oblivion, as it turned out, went mostly untouched.
When my fish soup arrived, I was greeted by two dark eyes peering from it belonging to one of the few shrimp, heads and all, that had boiled within. The first sip was salty and briny; no doubt fresh—so fragrant it was as if the soup was made from the waters of the nearby Jamaica Bay. The lumps of fish, bones intact, were tasty but also, for lack of a better word—fishy. My hands being of the asbestos kind were able to pull the fish from the scalding water and break off a few pieces, careful to excise the many bones from the flesh. The very fresh tortillas, the highlight of the meal, helped to mellow the broth but I could only get through about half of the bowl before I was done.
Even Mike from Yonkers struggled with his choice of salpicon, a room temperature, hash-like dish of chopped meats, onions, tomatoes and lemon. Only Eugene seemed satisfied with the very pedestrian shrimp in garlic sauce while Zio’s lone comment, positive or not, about the jacon was that he liked the choyote.
On the way back to my car I got a whiff of Sagar’s sizzling chicken which was around the corner from where I parked. I remembered how the vapors irritated our respiratory tracts when we were eating there (see Vanquished by Halal Vapors on Homelawn Street). But after the dull meal just experienced I would have happily welcomed those aromatic vapors into my lungs.
Tierras Centro Americanas
87-52 168th Street