Suburban strip mall locations in "La Souwesera" (Westchester) take on a second life at night, when the Latin House Grill sets up shop. A tire business becomes the porch for the LHG crew, a family operation headed by Michel Sanchez. A plastic card table and folding chairs are set up for patrons waiting for their orders or who want to chomp down on their food right away. On my nightly visits, there was a steady stream of customers. There always seemed to be one or two who were there for the second or third time that week, ready to try get their "flatton" fix again.
The menu at Latin House Grill is eclectic, but combines mostly Mexican and Cuban influences into compelling street food. The four-month old food trailer already has many regulars, but new customers quickly come to feel like regulars, too. Sanchez and his fiancée Bella Cespedes, warmly greet those who appear at the window. They ask their new customers how they heard about LHG: "Are you a stalker?" Twitter and Facebook fans are affectionately called stalkers, and Latin House Grill sometimes offers "stalker box" combos to their fans.
Ordering at Latin House Grill can be overwhelming, like a kid
choosing which Silly Bandz to get with her allowance money. Any taco,
puffy taco, puffy flatton, or flatton can be prepared with your
choice of meat: carne asada, rib eye in "Philly style," citrus cilantro chicken, or Cabo Wabo fish tempura.
A flatton is an open face flatbread or fried flatbread ($6) topped with
your choice of meat and sauces. I suggest you ask for the regular rib
eye flatton with onions and cheese. Then ask Sanchez to top it with pico de
gallo, avocado lime sauce, and as much of the fiery habanero-mango as
you can stand. You can also ask for some of the homemade crema. The rib
eye is not delicate--it's salty and moist, with a satisfying texture.
There's sweetness somewhere in the flatton that balances the saltiness
and acidity of the meat. I'm not sure what Philly folks would have to say about it, but this Miami girl likes it. The
flatton is served with rueditas, which are kind of like puffed wheat
Puffed wheat may sound vaguely wholesome, but in the hands of Latin House
Grill, it is transformed into a greasy, crunchy delicacy. Fried treats like the rueditas and the puffy tacos should be consumed
onsite; otherwise they wither in your mouth.
The Chuchi rice bowl ($6-$7) is another must try. This generous dish is not to be confused with the lackluster ilk at those ubiquitous chicken bowl joints. The Chuchi rice bowl is as tasty as it is
colorful. The yellow rice is moist, but not clumpy or mushy. The
homemade pico de gallo is sour and vibrant, with properly crunchy
onion. When I visited, they happened to have cilantro, which highlighted
all of the flavors. I like
the Chuchi rice bowl best with carne asada and avocado lime sauce--actually everything I tried
with the tender, juicy carne asada was excellent.
The chimiburrito ($6-$7) is not for the faint of appetite. This gut
buster is a flour tortilla wrapped around the rice from the Chuchi bowl
and the meat of your choice. It's deep fried, and then topped with pico
de gallo and the sauces of your choice. The carne asada and fried egg
chimiburrito is way more than I can eat in
one sitting, but the plump meat roll-up is salty steak goodness, mottled
with the yellow rice, and tempered by the egg. If you want a contrast
of sweet and savory, you can ask for a fried maduro instead. A lonely
maduro in a chimiburrito was a welcome burst of sweetness--I only
wish there had been maybe one more.
In a nod to vegetarians and the more health conscious, Latin House Grill
offers a soy cilantro taco. The crumbled and grilled soy protein has a
chewy texture which approximates the juiciness of a well-grilled piece
of meat. Pretty much every protein at Latin House Grill is marinated to
boost flavor, including the soy protein. This taco makes a tasty snack. I appreciate that LHG did not try to
give it a name suggesting any other meat dish. Your vegetarian friends
will probably be pleased, but it's the meat and seafood dishes that are clearly the
Tacos in all combinations provide a smaller, but just as satisfying
meal. A chorizo and potato taco exudes paprika smokiness. Chunks of soft
potato amp up the comfort food quotient, and the sauces and pico
add zing. Rueditas are served on the side.
Other items on the menu include the Mad Love burger, a delicious gut bomb of a
burger that you can order with grilled onions or skinny fried potatoes;
Mad Love sliders; and Sneaky Nachos topped with meat and four cheeses.
On weekends, you can order the Wholly Guacamole. They also carry
Mexican Coke and Jarritos in glass bottles. I'm not usually a soda
drinker, but it's a refreshing drink good for soaking up rich, greasy
The extended family has a hand in the food preparation too, including
Sanchez's sister, who makes the Balls to the Wall and other
desserts. Balls to the Wall ($3) is deep fried brownies, fried on
site and then blanketed in condensed milk. They remind me of Munchkins, from Dunkin Doughnuts, but with more heft. Maybe this is
what a Munchkin would taste like when it came fresh out of the fryer,
and if it had twice the density and a darker chocolate flavor. A
cinnamon hint in the fried dough makes the dessert as fragrant as the best
county fair food.
Latin House Grill regularly updates and adds to the menu. Every time I
went, there was something new to try. Sanchez says the menu is still
evolving, based on what customers enjoy. The variety also makes it more
fun for Sanchez and his crew. Apparently, the menu has changed almost
completely since the first day they opened, but it looks like they've found
some consistent favorites like the flatton, the chimiburrito and their
tacos, while they continue to experiment with other interesting dishes.
Make sure to ask for the sauces, toppings, and fillings you want. Or
just ask Sanchez to add the sauces and toppings he sees fit. But don't
just order something plain--the sauces and toppings maximize all of the
flavors here. Regulars have been asking Sanchez when he will market
his sauces. The creamy avocado lime, habanero mango, pineapple
chipotle, and mango ghost sauces (Sanchez grows ghost peppers) richly
expand the flavor potential of the food here.
This is not fast food, so don't expect to just order and go. Most
dishes are grilled and assembled as they are ordered. However, they
won't leave you "pintado en la pared," or ignored either. Sanchez likes
to chat with customers, amiably explaining the kinds of sauces he whips
up. If you have any questions about the menu, Cespedes will answer them.
It ends up feeling like you are sitting around in your friend's spartan
backyard--one that was paved over to avoid cutting the grass (you know
the kind). You can also call ahead to place orders, if they are not too
slammed with customers to answer the phone.
Latin House Grill is usually out Tuesdays through Saturdays, although it sometimes take the weekend off. They are usually in the
Westchester area, although they can sometimes be found in the Doral or
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in East Kendall. You can keep up with them on Twitter (@
latinhousegrill) or Facebook. They serve lunch and
dinner, although the lunch menu may be limited. You can also reach
them at 786-468-6567.