There aren’t a lot of ‘authentic’ Latin American restaurants in Ottawa and it might seem a bit daunting to explore a new place without knowing what to expect. This list is meant to be a sneak peek at what you might find at a few of Ottawa’s hidden gems. Or a guide in what to try first. Hopefully, you’ll feel more comfortable exploring something new this summer.
La Cabaña on Merivale Road has a reputation for best pupusas in town. Pupusas are large corn flour patties stuffed with pork, refried beans, loroco greens and/or cheese, and browned to perfection. Served with a watery tomato sauce and curtido (spicy, pickled cabbage), you have a savoury snack for any time of day.
There is a Pupusa Fest happening in Brewar Park on August 19 that features family-friendly activities, including a soccer tournament. Check it out if you want to sample more than just the culture’s food. If you’re vegetarian, order at your own risk. It’s highly likely a shred or two of beef will be found in your order.
Apt613 recently ran a list of best tacos in town. So I’m just going to second the ones I consider to be the top two: Corazón de Maíz in the market and Taqueria La Bonita out in the east end. Corazón de Maíz is kinda my happy place. The staff who take your order and prepare your food make you feel so welcome. Genuinely. They are friendly, energetic and love to chat with their guests. And the tacos are delicious – soft tortillas, fresh ingredients, and guacamole topped with homemade salsas in a variety of spice levels to choose from.
Taqueria La Bonita is a sit down place with a casual family-friendly atmosphere to match the food. You’ll find more than tacos here if you want to experiment with the variety of sauces, spices, and flavours that make Mexican cuisine so unique. You may even happen upon a mariachi or two. Sopes are my favourite appetizer. They are small discs of corn dough that are deep fried and topped with refried beans, a meat of your choice, lettuce, sweet onions, mexican feta cheese and sour cream.
Both of these places can accommodate vegetarian diets nicely.
I’m just gonna throw this down: Colombian empanadas are the best. I am biased, of course, but I’ve also done enough market research to stand by my words. I get mine from my mom. The rest of you can head to Boulangerie Pan Caliente in Gatineau to check them out for yourselves. It’s a bakery/specialty grocer that showcases Colombian foods. You’ll see different soda flavours and tropical fruit juices as well as an assortment of freshly baked sweet breads and packaged goods. If you love dulce de leche, there’s no shortage here – only we call it arequipe. The empanadas are made of corn flour, filled with meat and potatoes, deep-fried and served with salsa.
For the more adventurous, Pan Caliente occasionally serves up a traditional Colombian meal on weekends. Follow them on Facebook to learn when and what the dish of the day will be.
If you’re in the market, head over to Continental Bagels, of all places, and ask for the empanadas – they are Chilean and come in two flavours: beef or spinach and feta cheese. The beef empanadas are traditionally stuffed with ground beef that’s been flavoured with cumin, chili, onions, peppers and raisins. You’ll also find one black olive and a slice of hard boiled egg in each empanada. Pro tip: ask them to heat it up in their wood burning oven.
If you look closely, you’ll also notice a few Chilean dishes served up at lunch time under the heading “Meats”. I don’t think you can get Chilean foods anywhere else in the city. Let me know if I’ve got it wrong.
I’ve already raved about the only arepa joint in town. Located in the business district on Laurier Street, Gooney’s has been serving these up since 2012. Arepas are one of the most traditional foods in Colombia and Venezuela. Made of corn flour and grilled so they’re crunchy on the outside and soft on the inside, arepas can be eaten at every meal in a variety of ways. Gooney’s serves them up for breakfast and lunch. They are sliced in half and filled with almost anything you could want. They have a menu with lots of options but are also happy to let you create your own masterpiece. My go-to is black beans, cheddar cheese, avocado and plantain. Try it.
Yuca fries are the best. A staple in many Latin American countries you’ll find them at Havana Cafe. Yuca, AKA cassava root, is a hard, white root vegetable with a thick brown skin. They are often first boiled and then deep fried and at Havana Cafe, tossed with sweet chilli sauce. I prepare them every few months and they hardly ever make it to the dinner table. My family gathers around the stove and eats them as they come out of the frying pan.
Havana Cafe features authentic Cuban dishes like Ropa Vieja (stewed shredded beef with peppers, onions, tomato and olives ) and Puerco Asado (slow-roasted pork) plus a number of other foods inspired by latin and caribbean influences. Their $6 lunch sandwiches are a quick and easy way to get introduced to cuban flavours.
There’s so much more to Latin American cuisine, of course. These foods are only meant to serve as a gateway into the various cultures that represent them. Hope you venture somewhere new this summer.