Once again, Kaitlin Steinberg is eating her way through Houston and counting down her 100 favorite dishes as we work our way toward our annual Menu of Menus® issue and culinary extravaganza. She'll compile a collection of the dishes she thinks are the most delicious, most creative and, of course, most indicative of our ever-changing food scene. It's a list of personal favorites, things she thinks any visitor or Houstonian ought to try at least once and dishes that are uniquely Houstonian.
I don't think I'd ever eaten food that's specifically Honduran before I discovered Mi Bella Honduras nestled in a run-down shopping center in Spring Branch. I made the assumption, as many probably do, that the cuisine would be similar to Mexican food, just based on its proximity to our southern neighbor.
I was very wrong.
It's more similar to Caribbean food than Mexican or the Tex-Mex to which we're accustomed, but it's also influenced by the native Indian cuisine and, interestingly, African food. The best way to sample a little bit of everything Hondurans love to eat is to order the Combo Catracho at Mi Bella. Just make sure you bring someone to help you eat.
The combo plate is billed as an appetizer, but it's a lot of food. It comes with enchiladas, tacos de pollo (or beef), a beef pastelito, a baleada, fried yuca, fried plantain strips, smoky grilled chicken and chunks of queso fresco and encurtido as condiments. Keep in mind that though you think you know items like enchiladas and tacos, these differ from Tex-Mex versions.
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The enchiladas aren't covered in the gravy or sauce that we're used to. Instead, they're more like flautas, stuffed with chicken and deep fried. The tacos are open faced and more like Tex-Mex tostadas than tacos. One reason that I prefer Honduran food to Tex-Mex on occasion, even though they are similar, is the use of queso fresco in this cuisine. The tacos are topped with mild, white, crumbly cheese, and the baleada is stuffed with melty, fresh queso fresco.
The baleada is a sort of quesadilla with only black beans and cheese inside, and it's particularly delicious when dipped into the encurtido, a generic word for pickled veggies, but in this case, bell peppers, onions, cucumber and tomatoes. The fried plantain chips are best dipped in the watery, mild salsa that comes with the platter or topped with the vibrant pink pickled onions.
In spite of the fact that I find Honduran food--or any South American food for that matter--a refreshing break from the Tex-Mex we're sometimes overwhelmed with in Houston, I did catch myself dousing everything in Valentina hot sauce. Turns out you really can't take the Tex-Mex out of the girl.
The list so far: No. 95, Tamal de Puerco at Andes Cafe No. 96, Cheeseburger at Sparkle's Hamburger Spot No. 97, Mi Quang at Simply Pho No. 98, Helado de Lúcuma at Pollo Bravo No. 99, Fat Fries at Fat Bao No. 100, Fish Bánh Mì at La Baguette