La Brasa Latin Cuisine puts accent on fresh
Charles E. Shoemaker/The Gazette
La Brasa Latin Cuisine is a small gem in the shadow of the huge Parklawn building, home to Health and Human Services, and Food and Drug Administration.
"They have been very good to me," says owner Emilio Campos gratefully.
Just how good? When I stop by to get a menu at lunchtime, the tables are filled — not hard with 34 seats inside and a few more outside. The line for takeout orders runs the length of the counter. A man (perhaps Campos himself) calmly works the register while taking walk-up and phone orders.
"He needs to clone himself," I remark to a regular customer waiting for her order. Laughing, she nods in assent. Campos admits to me on the phone that lunchtime is "crazy."
It has apparently been like this since La Brasa opened 22 months ago. Lunch definitely is a strong point. Dinner is usually a quieter time since the office workers are gone. The location off Twinbrook Parkway may be out of the way, yet word of mouth brings in new customers, Campos says. (I thank a Gazette reader for the tip.)
La Brasa's inviting cream yellow walls have artful touches, and tables have tablecloths even at lunch. Behind the counter, chickens revolve on the rotisserie.
"We cook the way we cook at home," says Campos, whose wife Lucy is his partner. What he means is that it's not strictly Mexican, Peruvian or Salvadoran cuisine, but a tried and true mixture. "We take the most popular dishes from various countries."
So ceviche and carne asada share the menu with traditional sopa de mondongo (tripe) and non-traditional tilapia in white wine sauce.
Nothing is frozen. Everything is fresh and cooked on the spot, says Campos' son Kevin Morales. To its credit, the kitchen listens to customers' requests. No wonder diners feel at home in this cozy, family-run place. For a small establishment, La Brasa Latin Cuisine has a big selection on its menu and the price is right.
Of course, you can't go wrong with the rotisserie chicken. Available in one-quarter, one-half or whole to appease every appetite, the glistening bronze bird is moist and flavorful. It is served with a choice of two side dishes from a list that seems limitless. Our eyes zip over the steamed vegetables, white rice, black beans, french fries, coleslaw, pico de gallo, house salad and chicken vegetable soup. They light upon crispy yuca and golden fried plantains, perennial favorites that do not disappoint. A bright yellow mayonnaise and a zippy pink one enlivened by a hint of Peruvian rocoto peppers (Scoville rating 300,000 units) add more than colorful accents.
Decisions, decisions, decisions — whether to order camarones (fresh jumbo shrimp) ala plancha (grilled) or entomatados (sautéed with tomatoes, onions, pepper, garlic and white wine). The latter wins, deliciously as it turns out, perfectly accompanied by white rice and salad. Big, beautiful shrimp and fresh vegetables are unbeatable.
Testing the kitchen's mettle, a friend orders grilled salmon, rice and steamed vegetables and asks for the white caper sauce on the side. The combination proves ideal for someone who likes her food simple.
Another diner selects his favorite, lomo saltado. The sauté of prime sirloin strips with onions, fresh tomatoes, cilantro and a Peruvian sauce is served over white rice and fries. After a few bites, he raves. Morales later confides that the salmon and the saltado rank among customers' favorites along with La Brasa's carne asada, fajitas, grilled shrimp and trucha con marisco (pan-fried trout with shrimp).
South of the border beers — such as XX Amber, Negra Modelo, Tecate, Corona and Modelo Especial — are ideal companions for the food. Tropical favorites horchata, maraŅon and tamarindo are non-alcoholic alternatives.
The moist and sublimely light tres leches (three milks) cake and the fine flan are memorable.
In an area of big government and small businesses, La Brasa Latin Cuisine stands out. Sometimes the road less traveled makes all the difference.