¡Qué rico! These 13 Triangle restaurants explore Latin America through food

Thanks to the United States’ proximity to Latin America, some of the world’s most popular cuisines have traveled north for our dining pleasure.

That includes the Triangle, where the diversity of Latin American restaurants ensures that the flavors from around the Americas and the Caribbean are available at restaurants and food trucks alike.

For Hispanic Heritage Month, The News & Observer is featuring 13 Triangle restaurants that serve dishes from 13 Latin American countries. The list isn’t meant to be comprehensive, but it shines a light on signature dishes that give a taste of these countries’ heritage and history.

National Hispanic Heritage Month started Sept. 15 and will go through Oct. 15 to celebrate the people, food, history, dance and art spanning from several countries and cultures of Latin America.

Argentina: Makus Empanadas

Morgan Street Food Hall, 411 W. Morgan St., Raleigh. 1125 W. N.C. 54, #304, Durham. makusempanadas.com

Argentina’s culinary gift of delicious meats and crispy empanadas are within reach at Morgan Street Food Hall in Raleigh or off N.C. 54 in Durham at Makus Empanadas. The Argentine restaurant was founded by three friends from Buenos Aires, their home country’s capital, with the goal of serving up delicious South American comfort food. That includes Empadogs, a cousin of the Argentine sausage/choriza sandwich known as Choripán.

Dish to try: Empadog (a hot dog wrapped in empanada dough) with a side of chimichurri sauce.

Makus Empanadas at Morgan Street Food Hall in downtown Raleigh. Juli Leonard/jleonard@newsobserver.com
Makus Empanadas at Morgan Street Food Hall in downtown Raleigh. Juli Leonard/jleonard@newsobserver.com

Colombia: The Arepa Bar

7909 Falls of Neuse Road, #105, Raleigh. thearepabar.com

The Arepa Bar makes up for the lack of Colombian fare in the Triangle area with a delicious menu that includes classic arepas and traditional dishes like Ajiaco, a traditional hearty chicken and potato soup, and the famous Bandeja Paisa, the large smorgasbord of steak, chicharrón, sausage, rice, beans and plantains with a side of avocado and a fried egg.

Dish to try: Paisa Bowl (a mini-Bandeja Paisa in a bowl) paired with a Colombiana soda.

Cuba: Casa Cubana

10901 Forest Pine Drive, Raleigh. casacubanarestaurants.com

Located in northeast Raleigh, this restaurant is an all-around great place to visit on a weekend evening. You’ll enjoy a mojito, eat Cuban culinary staples like croquetas and ropa vieja and usually get to watch a live salsa band perform outside to groups of social dancers. Casa Cubana infuses its menu with Puerto Rican food by offering several different dishes of mofongo — mashed plantains with garlic served with different meats or seafood.

Dish to try: For lunch or breakfast, a slice of toasted Cuban bread with a cup of strong cafecito cubano.

Dominican Republic: The Dominican Restaurant

3601 Capital Blvd., Suite 107, Raleigh. drfoodnc.com

This restaurant’s food, like its name, is straight and to the point: authentic Dominican food. The menu includes fritura, or a selection of fried cheese, fried salami or fried beef in addition to different menus served each day of the week. This includes the famous Dominican burgers known as chimis, pernil, sancocho soup and chicharrón plates.

Dish to try: A half-pound of chicharrón with a side of rice and a cup of morir soñando, a drink made of orange juice, milk and sugar.

El Salvador: Pupuseria Anita

3500 N. Roxboro St., Suite 22, Durham. yelp.com/biz/pupuseria-anita-durham-2

This gem in Durham represents a key restaurant of the Triangle’s large Salvadoran community. Pupuseria Anita serves some of the best pupusas in the Triangle, fresh and crispy from the griddle and filled with gooey cheese and your choice of either beans, pork, veggies, or all of the above. Other Central American delicacies abound on the menu, such as big bowls of warm soup with beef and veggies.

Dish to try: Pupusas revueltas (pork) topped with red sauce and crunchy cabbage and veggies, known as curtido.

Guatemala: Roots Bistro & Bar

4810 Hope Valley Road, Suite 101, Durham. rootsbistroandbar.com

This Guatemalan fusion restaurant offers big breakfast and a dinner menu with a wide selection of dishes ranging from omelettes and salads to churrasco steak and even Cuban sandwiches, not to mention imported Guatemalan beer at the bar. The menus include traditional breakfast plates as well as the Central American country’s version of several Latin American comfort food dishes.

Dish to try: The Guate-burger.

Haiti: Bon Fritay food truck

Find locations between Raleigh and Durham on streetfoodfinder.com/bonfritaytruck. bonfritaytruck.com

Haitian comfort food is typically found in big cities like Miami or New York City. But it can be found in the Triangle at this food truck. Haitian cuisine is deliciously set apart from its Dominican, Cuban and Puerto Rican neighbors with its unique take on fried pork (Griot) and fried chicken (Poulet) served on a warm, soft bed of rice with peas, accompanied by pikliz, the famously tangy and crunchy pickled veggies that you should sprinkle on your food. The couple who owns the food truck operates it Wednesday to Saturday.

Dish to try: Griot plate with a side of rice and fried plantains, with all the sauces and pikliz poured on top.

Honduras: Esmeralda’s Cafe

1515 North Pointe Drive, Durham. facebook.com/esmeraldascoffee

Genuine Honduran cuisine is the special treat of Esmeralda’s Cafe, a coffee shop and restaurant that opened a new restaurant in Durham in 2020 after first operating in Northgate Mall. Esmeralda’s offers specialty coffee from Latin America to be enjoyed alongside its selection of traditional catracho food.

Dish to try: Breakfast plate with over-easy eggs, avocado, refried beans, plantains, a slice of Honduran cheese and a cup of traditional cream sauce.

Mexico: Tacos El Patrón 323

122 Seaboard Ave. and 2873 Hillsborough St., Raleigh. elpatron323.com/en/tacoselpatron323

Mexican food is everywhere in the Triangle. But this new West Coast-style taquería with locations near N.C. State University and downtown Raleigh has a unique selection of tacos and other beloved Mexican comfort food for takeout. This menu includes its specialty of birria tacos, the increasingly popular stewed beef tacos in corn tortillas that are dipped in a beef broth.

Dish to try: Quesabirria tacos (birria tacos with cheese.)

La Pelua, according to Pedro Rodriguez of Arepa Culture NC food truck, is a popular nickname that translates roughly to “the hairy one.” Order it, and you’ll discover that the name refers to the shaggy appearance of its filling of shredded Angus beef and shredded extra sharp cheddar cheese. Juli Leonard/jleonard@newsobserver.com
La Pelua, according to Pedro Rodriguez of Arepa Culture NC food truck, is a popular nickname that translates roughly to “the hairy one.” Order it, and you’ll discover that the name refers to the shaggy appearance of its filling of shredded Angus beef and shredded extra sharp cheddar cheese. Juli Leonard/jleonard@newsobserver.com

Peru: Mi Perú

4015 University Drive, Suite A1, Durham. miperucuisine.com

The authentic eatery in Durham serves the food that this Andean country is known for. Its menu includes traditional Peruvian rotisserie chicken, ceviche plates and traditional Chinese-influenced dishes like fried rice, or arroz chaufa and lomo saltado.

Dish to try: Arroz chaufa with steak.

Puerto Rico: Ricar Sazón

5024 Old Wake Forest Road, Raleigh. facebook.com/ricarsazonPR

This Raleigh food truck has the real Boricua sazón, or flavor, that Puerto Rico is known for. This means traditional dishes like the crispy meat-filled fritters known as alcapurrias. Of course, the menu includes the classic slow-cooked pork dish of pernil with its traditional accompaniment, arroz con gandules. Open Thursday to Sunday.

Dish to try: Alcapurrias.

Venezuela: Arepa Culture

6274 Glenwood Ave., #100, Raleigh. Food truck locations found at arepaculturenc.com.

This family-owned Venezuelan restaurant is both a brick-and-mortar location and also a food truck. The menu has the mouth-watering hits native to Venezuelan comfort food: made-from-scratch arepas, patacones (burgers with fried plantains, or tostones, as buns) and cheesy cachapas.

Dish to try: The Reina Pepiada is a classic arepa filling: chicken salad mixed with fresh avocado. For a Southern twist, try La Sureña, BBQ pork loin with pico de gallo.

Food Truck Review: At Arepa Culture NC, the generously filled flatbreads are the stars