At Los Catrachos, a new Honduran restaurant on Tulane Avenue, some of the dishes might seem like fairly straightforward Central American fare. Simple carne asada is blistered on the outside, carrying the unmistakable taste of smoke with just a touch of citrus. Oily pastelitos de carne arrive stuffed with an earthy mix of ground beef and onions. Bare-bones pechuga a la plancha, a grilled chicken breast, arrives covered in a caramel sheen that gives way to juicy and flavorful meat but is accented with little else.
A closer look at the menu reveals the delicate nuances of the cuisine, stretching from the corn and masa-heavy dishes of the northern highlands to ingredients emblematic of Caribbean and African influences found in the coastal lowlands and tropical Bay Islands.
Maduros — ripe plantains — are cooked in lard until they develop a sweet crust the color of dark chocolate. Coconut milk is the base of a pan-sauteed shrimp dish featuring a silky medley of crustaceans, onions and green peppers. On some weekends, the restaurant serves sopa de caracol, a Caribbean-style conch stew thickened with coconut milk.
Owner Christian Castro and his wife Tania opened the first Los Catrachos (a nickname for Hondurans) at 3020 David Drive in Metairie in 2006. Their new restaurant, which sits inside the Tulane Avenue strip mall adjacent to the criminal district courthouse building, features a similar menu of traditional Honduran fare. The all-day operation is well suited to address the flux of construction workers tackling the nearby Tulane Avenue streetscape project and the courthouse crowds that sift through during lunchtime.
Unlike the cuisines of some of its Latin American neighbors, Honduran cooking doesn't carry a lot of heat, and spices accent rather than dominate flavors. Most dishes employ simple techniques where the same ingredients are put to use, repeatedly. The chefs impart flavor and texture with everything from the crema-laced shredded cabbage to the magenta-hued pickled onions.
No dish exemplifies this better than pollo con tajadas, a bright and lively combination of fried chicken and green banana chips. The dish features two pieces of shaggy-edged, golden-fried chicken atop a bed of fried green bananas, shredded cabbage in lime juice and creamy aderezo sauce, diced tomatoes and a healthy sprinkle of pink pickled onions. It's a multi-tiered powerhouse of flavors and textures where the acidic pop of the onion and lime perfectly complements the fatty and crunchy chicken bits.
Less successful is a similar version of the dish made with carne molida, or ground beef. There's the same stockpile of flavors, but the messy combination carries too much liquid and is a soggy mess.
There's no alcohol at Los Catrachos, but there are fruity, virgin drinks, ranging from the brightly hued refrescos (including tart tamarind and hibiscus varieties), creamy, cinnamon-flavored horchata and some soft drinks.
The restaurant is in a strip mall that already has seen a few businesses come and go, but Los Catrachos is a welcome addition to the evolving landscape of Tulane Avenue, and it's a solid primer to traditional Honduran cuisine.