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Photo: B.A. Nilsson

The Whole Enchilada

By B.A. Nilsson


Salsa Latina

315 Central Ave., Albany, 426-7050. Serving lunch 11-3 daily, dinner 11-10 Mon-Wed, 11-11 Thu-Sat, 11-9 Sun. AE, D, MC, V.

Cuisine: Mexican and Latin American

Entrée price range: $10 (many combination plates) to $19 (shrimp fajitas)

Ambiance: casual

One of the keys to Salsa Latina’s success, according to owner Luis Uzhca, is that the restaurant keeps an ear on customer requests. As the name suggests, it was never meant to be merely a Mexican restaurant, and the very first menu sported a number of dishes from countries like Colombia, Peru and Uzhca’s native Ecuador.

“People are requesting items ranging from South America to the Caribbean!” he says with a note of surprise in his voice. “We’re still working on the menu, and we might have to put out a new one soon.”

A culinary example of the three-month-old restaurant’s success is the bandeja tipíca ($13), a Colombian feast that sports a small, tender piece of steak, a spicy slice of chorizo, a large, serrated bar of chicharrón (which is a fried pork rind), avocado slices, fried plantain, white rice, pungent beans, an arepa (which is a plump, white corn cake), and a fried egg on top of it all.

Also known as bandeja paisa, it celebrates the diversity of ingredients available in northwestern Colombia and has been nominated as the country’s national dish.

The flavors in this dish don’t blend together in any rational way, and that’s a large measure of its appeal. It’s dadaistic cuisine, and the pleasure of eating it comes from the outrageous combination of palate sensations along with a fat content that’ll make your worst secret binge seem retrospectively cautious. Not surprisingly, it’s quite popular.

“We had a party of 15 in recently,” says Uzhca, “and 12 of them ordered the bandeja tipíca.”

Occupying a storefront that formerly housed a pizza place, Salsa Latina was extensively refurbished to give it a clean, pleasant look, but it still retains the casual nature of its predecessor. Seating is in booths or at tables that, like the walls, sport few adornments. A long bar parallels one wall toward the rear, but the restaurant, for now, lacks a liquor license. Against the back wall there’s a display case of pastries, cookies and other breadstuffs prepared in house.

“We have our own bakery,” Uzhca notes proudly, “and make our own Mexican bread along with what you see in the case. And we make custom cakes for weddings and birthdays.”

Service is prompt and pleasant from a staff that knows the menu and is happy to take the mystery out of if. Much of it is familiar, but don’t be surprised when your fajita boasts meat that’s been marinated enough to pick up a helpful pungency. We sampled an order with chicken ($13.25) that emerged, as ex pected, on a hot sizzle platter, with sides of tortillas, sauces (pico de gallo and sour cream) and veggies.

Dine modestly, if you wish, from the appetizers list, where nachos, dips, quesadillas, soups and salads are priced from $3 to $9. Black bean soup ($2.25/$4.50) is especially good, with its complexity of flavor standing as testimony to the stock and seasoning.

Because I’m unfamiliar with arepas, the aforementioned corn cakes, I ordered an appetizer that pairs them with cheese ($5). It’s a simple combination using stiff, aromatic white cheese from Chihuahua.

For $10 you can enjoy a combination plate with rice and beans, and either a beef-filled enchilada, taco, burrito, tamale, or chile relleno. A dollar more gets you another one. Each item is also available à la carte.

Five vegetarian plates are menu-listed as follows: three cheese-and-bean enchiladas, a pair of cheese-stuffed poblanos, a burrito-enchilada combo, a pair of burritos and a burrito-enchilada-taco threesome, priced from $10 to $12.

What makes the menu most interesting are the sections given to house specialties, meat dishes and seafood. Salsa Latina’s enchiladas ($11), on the specialties list, consist of three chicken enchiladas topped with cheese and ranchero sauce. Pollo al carbon ($14) is grilled chicken with peppers, tomatoes and onions; it becomes pollo al limon ($13) with lemon sauce. For gringos, there’s the Carolina Special ($14.75), a fancy moniker for chicken tenders and shrimp.

Look for grilled flank steak in the carne asada ($14), served with avocado slices, pico de gallo, tortillas and more; you can have the same meat in tacos for $12. A mixed grill platter (pork ribs, chicken, skirt steak) is $18, and the super-spicy chile colorado is $13.

The long list of seafood items includes several preparations of shrimp, including grilled (with chicken breast, $14), in fajitas ($19), and mixed with tilapia and garlic ($15). Fish tacos ($12) are a must, and pescado empanizado ($15) gives you fried fish with yellow Mexican rice.

We were pleased to see that the burritos supreme ($12) celebrated a traditional approach: served one-each with chicken and beef, guacamole and sour cream. The three Supremes also include a pair of quesadillas ($12) and an enchilada quartet ($11.50).

With that pastry case glowing at us throughout dinner, we not only finished dinner with a dense slice of chocolate cake, but also succumbed to taking home a half-dozen pastries. It’s hard to find fault with a restaurant so eager to please, and—seeing as we thoroughly enjoyed the food, pastries and service—I won’t bother.

Click here for a list of recently reviewed restaurants.


The torch has been passed: Nicole’s Bistro (Quackenbush House, Clinton Avenue and Broadway, Albany) is now Le Canard Enchainé, the three-week-old Albany branch of a highly acclaimed Kingston restaurant. Chef Jean-Jacques Carquillat earned his stripes in the top kitchens of Paris and New York, including Manhattan’s renowned Le Bernardin, before turning Hudson Valley vacations into a permanent residency. Carquillat is celebrated for crafting classical French dishes with contemporary stylings, as fans of the Kingston restaurant will attest. Albany hours are 12-10 Mon-Thu and 12-11 Fri-Sat; call 465-1111. . . . A very good rumor has it that the Spectrum’s Scott Meyer and Annette Nanes are partnering with Ric Orlando to open New World Bistro Bar two doors down Delaware Avenue from the movie theater. The menu will feature many of the signature dishes from Orlando’s Saugerties restaurant, as well as small plates and flatbread pizza, catering to the before- and after-movie crowd as well as to those who want a restful sit-down dinner. Look for an early 2009 opening. . . . Remember to pass your scraps to Metroland.

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