1057 Murfreesboro Rd. 365-2522
Hours: 10 a.m.-9 p.m. Mon., Wed.-Sun.
The name, Honduras Restaurant, pretty much says it all. So does the business card: “Mejor Comida Centro Americana”the BEST Central American food. The only questions that remain, then, are: Just what is Honduran food, and is the boast on the card truth in advertising?
Though Nashvillians have become familiar enough with genuine Mexican food to argue the merits of Las Chivas vs. La Hacienda, Central American food remains largely unfamiliar territory in these parts, with the notable exception of Las Americas Taqueria & Pupuseria, a Salvadoran restaurant. Those who make the drive out Nolensville Road to check out Las Americas almost always go back, particularly for the irresistible pupusascornmeal patties filled with pork, cheese and/or beans.
For the geographically impaired, El Salvador and Honduras are next-door neighbors, located south of Guatemala and Belize, and north of Nicaragua. Honduras is about four times the size of El Salvador, which makes up about two-thirds of its western border.
Honduras Restaurant, opened about seven months ago by a Honduran family who moved here from New Jersey, is the second eatery of its kind in Nashville; La Espuela on White Bridge Road is the other. The clientele at La Espuela is split fairly evenly between white Nashvillians and Latinosdue in large part to that restaurant’s West Nashville location. Honduras Restaurant is in a strip center at the intersection of Thompson Lane and Murfreesboro Road, an area with a high concentration of Latino immigrants.
The night we visited, we were the only non-Latinos present. The waitress knew most of the people who came in to eat, and they all seemed to know each other. A young boy sat at a table near the rear doing his homework, occasionally wandering into the kitchen for something to eat or drink; everyone had at least one eye on the Spanish-language programming on the overhead television set. We were warmly greeted when we walked in, and though the menu provides English translations of almost every dish, the waitress offered more explanation when requested.
It’s pretty much a two-person operation: The server, whose mother owns the restaurant, worked the entire floor, and we could see only one cook through the small window into the kitchen. Because of that, dining at Honduras Restaurant is not exactly on a fast-food pace, so if you’re in a big hurry, go elsewhere.
The Honduran beerof which there are three brands availablegot mixed reviews, with one brand in particular boasting a strong, yeasty flavor. Domestics are in the cooler as well, along with bottled Central American aguas frescas (tamarindo, horchata and mora), and American and Honduran carbonated soft drinks. Five different flavors of batidos, or shakes, are listedpapaya, sapote, melon, guineo (banana) and mangobut none was available the night we visited.
There are nine appetizers to choose from. Most outstanding, and on a par with Las Americas’ pupusas, were the tamales de elote, corn tamales minus the corn husk wrapping. This version was much softer than the coarse Mexican tamale and had a subtle sweetness. A meat version, tamales de carne, is also available. The yuca con chicharron consisted of a sweet-sour brown sauce spooned over cooked cassava root and raw shredded cabbage; the accompanying deep-fried chicharrones, or pork skins, tasted much like the kind you’d purchase in a convenience store, only fresher and a little more substantial. The platano maduro con mantequilla was a plantain sliced in half and browned under the broiler; it came accompanied by a beige dollop of mantequilla, which had the consistency of sour cream, but lacked a distinguishing flavorneither buttery, nor tangy. We very much liked the tajadas con carne molida, a nacho-type construction using fried green plantain chips in place of tortilla chips, topped with seasoned ground beef, a tomato sauce and a finely grated white cheese resembling Parmesan, but with an earthier flavor.
A different soup is offered every day, but we declined Thursday’s soup when we founded out that mondongo translates to “tripe.” According to The Unofficial Guide to Ethnic Cuisine & Dining in America, tripe is a regional specialty of Honduras, but none of us had the stomach for stomach. Perhaps Monday’s chicken soup would be a more palatable option. Albondigas, or meatball, soup is served on Wednesdays, and beef soup is served on Fridays.
Honduras’ entire eastern border is on the Caribbean Sea, so fish and seafood make up a good part of the country’s diet and this restaurant’s menu. Both the pargo frita and pescado en coco are whole fish with head, bones and tail included. Both were very lightly battered before frying, and then cooked to such perfect flakiness that the sweet meat came away easily from the bone. The pescado en coco was served with a very light, coconut milk-based broth that worked well with the fried fish. This same broth, however, was awfully bland as the centerpiece of the shrimp soup; there were plenty of plump shrimp bobbing about in the broth, but the yuca and plantain chips added little flavor. There are also a sea soup and a fish soup.
Meat entrées are either steak, pork or fowl, and come grilled or fried. The beef with onions is tender and spicy, and lends itself well to wrapping in the delicious fresh tortillas. The large boneless chicken breast is pounded flat, lightly battered, then skillet-fried to a light golden shade. Entrées come with a small serving of crispy iceberg lettuce and chopped tomato, white rice and refried beans, as well as a couple of corn or flour tortillas. The cenas is the comfort casserole of Honduras: a large plate of carne asada, eggs, beans, cheese and tortilla; it’s the dinner version of the breakfast platter of eggs, beans, cheese, ham and tortilla.
Vegetarian eaters may have an easier time finding a range of choices at La Espuela, but at Honduras Restaurant, they can order the baleadas: thick, pillowy flour tortillas wrapped around a filling of beans and a very strong crumbled cheese that almost has a whiff of bleu cheese. (It’s probably worth checking, however, to determine whether the beans have been cooked in lard.)
A small sticker covers up what were originally the dessert choices on the menu, which the waitress says were dropped due to lack of interestanother indication that Honduras Restaurant has not yet been discovered by American diners and their insatiable sweet tooth. Is it the best Central American food in Nashville? That’s open to debate, but it does offer a taste of home and sense of place for fellow countrymen, while all of Nashville can find common ground in this modest little restaurant.