I’m not going to blame anyone for ordering enchiladas. But don’t order the enchiladas. At least not at Zarate’s Latin & Mexican Grill.
And this is in no way a knock on Zarate’s enchiladas. It’s just...there are so many Tex-Mex (aka Texas-Mexas, according to my friend Nate) restaurants in Oklahoma and not nearly so many places that prepare Latin American food.
Yes, there’s a difference.
Look, I get it. It’s not you guys. You’re here. You’re reading about food from other cultures. But there are so many people who think everything south of Texas is Mexico and thus all the food is Mexican food. Can you imagine how infuriating that must be to people from Peru, Honduras, Brazil, Cuba, and every other country represented on Zarate’s menu?
Peru is not only not Mexican, it’s not even on the same continent.
“Oh, this is an Oklahoma restaurant? Cool, I’ll have the poutine and the escargot and some sushi.”
And then somebody says, “Why do they put enchiladas and other Tex-Mex dishes on the menu, then?”
Because that’s for the people who don’t know better. That’s for the ones who cannot fathom that the food in Venezuela, which is 2,600-plus miles away from Mexico, is not Mexican food. You are here. You know better. You can order better.
::steps down off soapbox::
Sorry about that. Anyway, Zarate’s is a great little restaurant. The building has been a few different things over the years, but since 2007 it’s been Edmond’s go-to spot for Latin American cuisine. It’s a well-worn restaurant, but it’s also well cared for and festive. It gets a little dim in the dining room, but that’s just ambiance, baby.
I am prepared to be pelted by your over-ripe fruits and vegetables, because I got the shrimp cocktail ($12.99) and I’m not going to apologize.
Yes, yes, yes, lots of places make shrimp cocktail and “Greg, you just told us to get something different” and just hold those high horses for a minute, because different cuisines prepare shrimp in very different ways. This was not one of those plates with five extra-large shrimp circling a ramekin of spicy cocktail sauce you see in a steakhouse. It was a massive goblet, filled with a blend of tomato and fruit juice, seeded with big pieces of tender shrimp, onion, garlic, and avocado.
I would drink that thing for breakfast. Heck, pour in two fingers of vodka and we’ve got the Bloody Mary/screwdriver combo that none of us knew we needed.
If you’re after something slightly more share-able, might I show you something in a plate of empanadas ($8.99)?
You get five of these buttery pockets of fried dough stuffed with ground beef and veggies with some fruity pink dipping sauce on the side. But take that first bite and you’ll notice a very different flavor than you might have expected: olives. Yes, they chop up olives and fry them with the beef for a salty, briny kick that bounces playfully off the mild sweetness of the dough.
“But Aunt Phil doesn’t like olives!” Good! That’s one more empanada for you. Don’t act like you’re not happy.
The Cuban sandwich ($9.99) was part of this Cuban round-up, so I’ll just quote myself:
“The Cuban sandwich is full of tender pulled pork, ham, Swiss cheese and pickles in a press-grilled hoagie roll. There’s nothing quite so lovely as biting through crispy bread for a rewarding mouthful of ingredients that are melded together into utter flavor perfection. And don’t sleep on the creamy black beans or the lovely, crispy tostones that come on the side.”
Proving that the rotten apple doesn’t fall far from the gnarled tree, when I took my dad to Zarate’s he quickly homed in on a dish I already tried and love: Cuban pork chops ($11.99 half order, $13.99 full order).
It’s not a particularly complex dish. The pork chops are marinated in a sweet and salty sauce, similar to soy sauce by taste, then grilled and served with avocado slices, marinated red onions, black beans and rice. Boy howdy, Zarate’s knows how to cook beans. They’re creamy and delightful.
My mom shocked us all by ordering the seafood saltado ($13.99) and then really blew our minds by enjoying it. Not that I was all that surprised—saltado means “stir-fry,” so she was basically enjoying a pile of freshly cooked seafood tossed in sauce and fried with a mix of tomatoes, onions, and french fries. It’s served with rice, fried plantains, and yucca, which tastes like a much milder potato.
The blend of tilapia, shrimp, and calamari was wonderful. The calamari were quite tender, which is a big plus. Not everyone can cook calamari without turning it into rubber tubing.
For some heat, because I know you all like it hot, I recommend pollo al rocoto ($12.99). It’s a butterflied chicken breast—making it thinner, thus allowing it to cook much faster without losing its juiciness—smothered in a salsa made with peppers from Bolivia and Peru. That first bite will bring a big kick of spice, but hold on and let it mellow. There’s a pop of fruitiness that comes on next and makes it impossible to resist another bite, no matter how much your taste buds are burning.
They’re not my all-time favorite tamales, but the Honduran banana leaf tamales ($10.99 for one, $13.99 for two) are still mighty good. The masa is quite fine, making for a very smooth tamale filled with pulled beef that has been marinating in some spicy sauce. It’s a delight, though I realized early on that I needed only order the smaller version, because these tamales are very filling.
A word to the wise, though: careful unwrapping those banana leaves. There’s a lot of pent up moisture in there and, sure as God wears sandals, I dribbled some on my pant leg in a mildly embarrassing fashion.
If you’re a fan of booze, they have a number of fruity cocktails to try. If you like sodas from foreign lands, they’ve got those, too.
But it’s the food that keeps me coming back. I know they have had to sell a lot of Tex-Mex food to survive, but I implore you to enjoy some of the Latin American fare. We don’t have a whole lot of options for that kind of cuisine in the metro, but thank goodness we have Zarate’s, because they’re knocking it out of the park every time.