First up, hands-down the best lechon (classic Cuban dish of pig roasted for like 40 hours) and rice and beans I've ever had -- at Enriqueta's Sandwich Shop in the artsy Wynwood district of Miami. It was the best of both worlds -- tender and moist on the inside with cracklin' crispy skin (note the glistening skin). The pork was seasoned perfectly with hints of garlic and just the right amount of salt. The slightly tangy red onions it came with helped to cut through what could have felt like a very heavy meal (ok, it was still heavy but you get the idea). I never thought I could get excited about a humble side of rice and beans but alas, this set of rice and beans overrode all the millions of rice and beans I've had to this day -- perfectly cooked beans and rice with such deep flavor (they must have used broth to cook that rice). And the fried plantains. I've virtually never met a fried plantain I didn't like, so it made the meal even better. Needless to say, my lunch mate and I seriously overate to the point of feeling sick but I still relish the meal and find it was completely worth it. Here's a traveler's tip: take a stroll afterwards to check out the beautiful murals around Wynwood to walk off the calories.
We couldn't leave Miami without having another Cuban classic -- the Cubano sandwich. We searched high and low and found a good one at Puerto Sagua (It's temporarily closed until Oct. 30 so I'm glad we got a taste of it before then!) just before leaving. While the sandwich was good -- behold that cheese that's about to ooze down that layer of ham and pork goodness in the background -- the real star for me was the plantain omelet we had with it. I already mentioned my unequivocal love for plantains and once you throw in an egg -- seriously, it was sweet, it was savory, it was fluffy, it was...the ultimate comfort food.
I wasn't sure what to expect for Santa Fe but I loved the sheer beauty of the sprawling landscape, the awesome art and of course, the food. Big thanks to Panchito for guiding me to some stellar spots including Cafe Pasqual's. This quaint corner joint had one of the best carne asadas I've had -- spice rubbed skirt steak with roasted tomato and jalapeno salsa with a side of a grilled poblano pepper, red bell pepper and red onion; and black beans sprinkled with queso fresco. The meat was perfectly cooked with a slight char on the outside. You could vary every bite, Korean ssam-style -- the dish came with two corn tortillas. I washed it all down with some agave salt-rimmed margarita although I found it far too sweet for my taste.
I should say at this point that I came to a realization when I was in Santa Fe that I wasn't a big fan of its chile sauces. I know. Outrageous. I noticed that whenever I ordered any kind of Mexican food at a restaurant, the server always asked, "red or green chile?" I tried both and I must say, I'm always in a conundrum because while I like spicy, I never liked the taste of the red chile sauce. But when I go with green, I'm dissatisfied because it's too bland for me. Anyway, the point is, I wasn't able to greatly enjoy the quintessential Southwestern dish of enchiladas smothered in either a red or green chile sauce for this reason. It's me, not you.
I liked Cafe Pasqual's because it had an interesting menu items besides the usual suspects of Southwestern Mexican offered by most establishments. We had the fried green tomatoes, which were excellent.
The cochinita pibil, a Yucatan dish of slow-cooked pork (I detect a pattern) wrapped in banana leaf paired with pickled red onions, tortillas and plantain fried tostones-style was solid as well. I didn't care for this harder version of plantains but the meat was extremely tender and I was just sorry I couldn't finish it. Had I been able to bring it home, I would have "pimped" the heck out of that meat with kimchi and perilla leaves over rice, with a crusty baguette and a fried egg or whatever other variations I could muster.
This image isn't the most photogenic but it was one brunch dish where the green chile actually worked for me -- smothered over layers of tortillas and beans sprinkled with cheese and topped with two over-easy eggs and a side of hash browns at Cecilia's Cafe in Albuquerque. Since I wouldn't necessarily have an extremely spicy dish from early in the morning, this was a perfect way to start a lazy Sunday. Stay tuned for my next entry of travel eats with njeats!