Ricuras Panderia down on Watson Avenue is making a case for the growing diversity of quality Hispanic restaurants in the Bronx. Long the home of cuchifritos, the borough has recently seen the emergence of some excellent Mexican restaurants. Ricuras takes a step down into South America, leaping past Honduras and down to Ecuador.
Inside, an eye for aesthetics otherwise not found in the neighborhood is exhibited through warm colors, hanging lights, and thoughtful plating. Menus are tossed aside in favor of the sidewalk chalkboard with the day's offerings. Lunch appears to be a more standardized affair, with breakfast yielding a greater range of culinary opportunities. Breads are baked throughout the week and are kept on display under the cash register, but by midday they're nothing special.
Settle into your seat and owner Cosby—"like Bill," she says—will approach, ready to rattle off the day's options. (A little pressing is advised, as she won't always share the good stuff.) Look around and you'll see most patrons, some with batidas at their side, following the traditional mode of eating: a bowl of soup followed by a plate of rice with meat. It's a good strategy, but not one you to need to follow.
Fried foods are always a good launching point, and Ricuras delivers with made-to-order empanadas de verde ($2). The shells of these empanadas are made from a mix of boiled and raw green plantains.Stuffed with a fresh Ecudorian cheese similar to quesillo, these have a more eye-popping look: gradations of green and brown, with squiggly threads dancing across the surface. For New Yorkers raised on their heat-lamp suffering, corn-based cousins, these are a revelation: altogether more fresh, flavorful, and less greasy. Order a glass of mango or strawberry agua fresca ($3) for a light and refreshing break.
More exciting green plantain territory comes by way of the bollon de verde ($5, with pork, cheese, or both). Popular across borders, bollon are typically stuffed and then deep fried for a crisp exterior. Here, they look straight out of Little Big Planet: a hodgepodge of fried plantain, cilantro, chunks of pork, and cubes of cheese woven together. It's excellent in the most primal of ways, a combination of chewy and sometimes salty pork, soft cheese, and hearty plantains in a playful form that invokes glee with every bite.
The soups and rice platters looked promising, disappearing quickly, but the draw of ceviche ($10) proved too strong to resist. Available with shrimp or fish and served traditionally in the marinade, it comes packed with tomato, cilantro, and red onion. Chilies were notably absent, but supplemental heat can be added by way of fresh aji pepper. Cosby admitted to enjoying this version with a hefty squirt of ketchup. Though the flavor was satisfying, it verged on flat: the vegetables didn't shine through the blanket sourness.
Dessert, by way of humitas ($5), should be required. Often compared to tamales, humitas are distinguished by the use of fresh corn ground with a filling. Here they're made sweet through added sugar, and topped with thick strips of cheese. The occasional corn kernel can be found amidst the otherwise smooth and soft corn mash. When paired with the chewier cheese, it's a great bite.
For a taste of Latin food in a borough where most options are limited to the Northern hemisphere, Ricuras is a satisfying stop. A Yonkers resident of Mexican descent, Cosby and her husband purchased the restaurant from a local Ecudorian woman a year ago. While she readily admits this has caused some ethnic tensions, she insists they inherited the recipes as well. Customers don't seem to mind once their plates arrive as they relish in the flavors of home. Neither should you.
1576 Watson Avenue, Bronx, NY 10472 (map)
About the author: Chris Crowley is a former Serious Eats intern and the author of the Bronx Eats column. You can follow him on twitter here, or pay a visit to his new food blog, Sound Bites, over on Wordpress.