First Bites

La Latina Will Be Your New Favorite Spot Near Midtown

​It's often the tiniest of places that go unnoticed for months. Then someone stumbles across them, loves them, and spreads the word so much that the little spaces become booming hot spots.

That is exactly what happened to La Latina, a "new" areperia on NE Second Avenue, just east of midtown.

It is definitely tiny -- the space seats maybe 20 patrons at most. It was definitely unnoticed -- it opened in November 2011, but a quick Google search shows it received little spotlight and what it did receive was four months postopening.

Five months after La Latina set up shop, we're here to spread the word about the fantastic, health-conscious Venezuelan joint that is sure to become a favorite local hot spot.

Think of a quaint neighborhood joint with friendly service, good food, and an inviting atmosphere. That's La Latina.

Upon entering, you'll notice the prominent use of lively colors in the "homemade" décor. Owner and La Latina partner Julie Recao says, "I found those fly swatters over there for like ten pesos in a market in Mexico -- I knew we could use it for some decoration." Before hearing that she was talking about the décor, Recao says, partner Carlos Matheus immediately countered, "What, do you think we'll have flies in the restaurant?!"

There are no flies at La Latina, but there are colorful fly swatters, neon skateboards, old-fashioned spinning tops, fluorescent-pink elephants, and brass-like buttons lining bright, flowery wallpaper.

As for the food, it seems as if you can't steer wrong. We'll start by mentioning their corn flour is 100 percent gluten-free and their meats are antibiotic- and hormone-free. It's not to say the place screams Latin health food; it's more of an undertone like, "Hey, we have great food, and it's not bad for you."

We think it's also fair to note that the first time we visited, we were so in love that we returned a mere seven hours later.

During our one-day-two-visit La Latina adventure, we ordered cheese and sweet plantain empanadas ($3.95), pabellon empanadas ($3.95), and pelua arepas (5.95). The cheese and sweet plantain empanadas were refreshingly light (as light as an empanada could be); the crust was light and hot and crunchy. Inside was a delightful combination of queso and cubed sweet plantains.

The pabellon empanada blew us away. It was like a little meal conveniently packaged in a golden empanada. Flavorful beef, black beans, gooey cheese, and plantains composed each bite. Dip it in the freshly made creamy garlic sauce and you'll feel like a pig in mud.

The pelua arepa was a halved arepa stuffed with seasoned beef and cheese. The best and most surprising part about it was that the maiz blanco was lightly salted. Traditionally, maiz blanco arepas are unsalted, and unseasoned for that matter, because they are supposed to complement the flavors of whatever comes with it (such as bread).

Decide for yourself whether La Latina will be your new favorite spot in the neighborhood. Expect to see us there every day for lunch. And did we mention it's open till 5 a.m. Friday and Saturday? That's when we'll be there after copious amounts of weekend alcohol.

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Alex Rodriguez