If you’re looking to go south of the border for your next Saturday dinner, Andes Cafe is a great place to expand your food horizons beyond North America. Located close to downtown, off Navigation Boulevard (right by Ninfa’s for those of you who would rather stick with Tex-Mex), Andes Cafe is a cute restaurant with a Latin American flair. As you walk inside, prepare to see a colorful mural covering the walls and to be overwhelmed by an extensive menu.
Andes Cafe markets itself as a South American kitchen that serves authentic dishes with roots in Venezuela, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia, Argentina and Chile. The Ecuadorian owner serves both brunch and dinner, but, since I went for dinner, I will focus solely on that menu. Besides the usual soups, salads and sandwiches, you can order small plates, signature plates and ceviches.
Out of the small plates, I sampled the tequenos and arepa “la pelua,” both of which are of Venezuelan origin. Think of tequenos as South American breaded cheese sticks, served with an avocado relish. An arepa is a rich corn patty stuffed with shredded beef and sprinkled with the same white cheese that fills the tequenos and is served with avocado relish. The choclo asado was the most surprising small plate that my group ordered because it was a whole charcoal-grilled corn on the cob topped with roasted pork, avocado relish and cheese. It came with a knife to shave off the pieces — a cool way to impress your date or friend would be finishing the entire cob without making a mess. Of course, there are plenty of other appetizers to try, including empanadas, plantains and tamales.
The signature plates are for those with a strong appetite, as most come with a lot of meat and starch. Some Peruvian specialties are aji de gallina, or shredded chicken covered in a creamy sauce served over rice, and lomo saltado, a stir-fry of beef, red onions and tomatoes served with rice and french fries. More adventurous eaters can try cuy, or deep-fried guinea pig — I personally did not.
Boasting five different types of ceviches from Ecuador and Peru, Andes Cafe can also satisfy the pescatarians in your group. The concha negra is a ceviche unique to Ecuador that diverges from the usual expectations of ceviche. It consists of black clams marinated in lime juice, ketchup and mustard that are mixed with pickled red onions, tomatoes, cilantro and olive oil. If you didn’t find that mix of ingredients eclectic enough, the concha negra is served with popcorn, sliced green plantains and toasted corn.
Finally, my favorite part of the meal: the drink. Not only does Andes Cafe have a wide-ranging food menu, but it also has a fantastic beverage menu with fresh-squeezed juices, smoothies and organic roasted coffee. I ordered “El Machu Picchu,” a juice blend of soursop, passion fruit, milk and honey. While I still can’t really describe soursop, what I can say is that it was a darn good tropical juice drink, and there were plenty more juices and smoothies with exotic fruits like prickly pear and Andean blackberry.
To sum up, if you’re looking for tasty food in a hip and colorful setting, Andes Cafe is a great place to check out. The menu has something for everyone and makes you want to actually share your food — gasp — so that you can try even more new dishes.