Country 083 – Nicaragua (La Bella Managua)

La Bella ManaguaLocation: 872 Bloor Street West, Toronto
Websitehttp://www.labellamanagua.com/

It’s always a good sign when you go to a restaurant and hear almost no English from the proprietor or the surrounding tables.  There are so many reasons why living in a city as multicultural as Toronto is a great thing, but food is certainly at the top of that list.  I honestly don’t think there are too many other cities in the world where I could do a blog like this.

So I was fairly confident that I was in good hands at La Bella Managua.  Eating the food confirmed it.

La Bella Managua

I tried a couple of things.  First up was the Pollo a la Parrilla.  This featured a perfectly grilled piece of chicken, rice and beans (gallo pinto, which is Nicaragua’s national dish), salad, and fried plantains.

Everything was great.  The chicken was nicely grilled and seasoned, with some welcome crispiness on its exterior and a perfectly cooked interior.  White meat is very easy to overcook, turning it dry and unappealing, so kudos to them for preparing this so well.  And the sweetness of the fried plantains balanced nicely with the savoury chicken.

La Bella Managua

The gallo pinto was simple enough, but very satisfying, as was the salad (which consisted mostly of avocado, tomato, peppers, and red onion).  I’m normally not a big fan of raw onions in salad, but these were mild enough to be acceptable.

The other dish I tried was the Nacatamal, which is described as “typical Nicaraguan tamales stuffed with seasoned pork loin & vegetables.”

La Bella Managua

This might be the least photogenic thing I’ve ever eaten.  I mean, it looks horrifying.  But it’s the ultimate “don’t judge a book by its cover” dish, because it was absolutely delicious.

Unlike the tamales I recently had at Tacos El Asador, these were absolutely crammed with flavour, and the tender pork loin gave it a satisfying meatiness.  In case it wasn’t obvious enough from the chicken, this is a top-shelf restaurant doing top-shelf stuff.

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Country 081 – Saint Kitts and Nevis (Michael’s West Indian Flavor)

Michael's West Indian FlavourLocation: 3067 Lake Shore Boulevard West, Etobicoke
Website: None

I’ve eaten a lot of seriously tasty stuff since starting this blog, but the meal I just had at Michael’s West Indian Flavor might just be the tastiest.  Certainly, it would be in the top five.  It was amazing.

Michael's West Indian Flavour

Michael’s is a tiny little take-out joint (they have a few stools, but most people get their food to go) with just a handful of things on the menu: oxtail, curried goat, and chicken (which you can get stewed, curried, or jerk).  Everything comes with a generous serving of rice and peas, and a side of coleslaw.

I got the oxtail, and it was an absolute taste bonanza.  The oxtail itself was fall-off-the-bone tender, and the curry sauce was meaty and spicy, with a wonderfully complex flavour that never gets old; it’s one of those meals where finishing it makes you profoundly sad.  And the zingy coleslaw does a great job of cutting the richness of the sauce.  It’s absolutely perfect.

Michael's West Indian Flavour

It’s a great deal, too.  I ordered the small, which is loaded with a very hefty amount of delicious food for an even ten bucks.  I challenge you to find another meal in the city with a better price-to-deliciousness ratio.  It’s impossible.  It can’t be done.

Country 003 – Cuba (La Cubana)

cubana
Location392 Roncesvalles Avenue, Toronto
Websitehttp://www.lacubana.ca/

I wasn’t even sure if I was going to write about La Cubana — it feels more trendy than authentic, but I’ve got 196 countries to get through, so I’ve got to take ’em where I can get ’em.

I started with the Corn Frituras, which are kind of like hush puppies, only way lighter and fluffier.  Dipped in the perfectly tangy sauce that came on the side, they were addictive and amazing.  I could eat about a million of them.

One of the reasons I wanted to check this place out was the episode of You Gotta Eat Here that featured La Cubana.  In particular, the Medianoche, which comes with braised short rib, looked quite enticing.

Apparently the brunch Medianoche is completely different, because I got a ham and cheese sandwich with a fried egg on top.  I googled it, and it seems like this is a more authentic version of this dish (sans the fried egg).  I probably wouldn’t have ordered it if I had known, because I’m not a huge fan of ham and cheese, but yay for authenticity I guess?

Anyway, it was a fine ham and cheese sandwich; there just wasn’t anything particularly interesting about it.  My biggest issue was the bun, which was unpleasantly dense, and honestly just got in the way.  The sandwich was also a huge, greasy mess, so after a couple of bites I tossed the top half of the bun and ate the rest of the sandwich with a fork and knife.

The sandwich comes with rice and beans, red cabbage slaw, and tostones.  Rice and beans has a tendency to be a bit dry, but not this version. It’s definitely above average.  The slaw was kind of like a much more subtle sauerkraut — also tasty.  The tostones (essentially a mashed and fried plantain) had a pretty good flavour, but had the approximate texture of rubber cement that’s just about to harden. I’ve never had tostones before, but I’m going to assume something went wrong there.

La Cubana - Corn Frituras La Cubana - the brunch medianoche