>> Wednesday, June 02, 2010
I love cheap ethnic hole-in-the-walls that are hidden finds. When I started reading about El Potro online, I became excited at the prospect that this just might be another one of those gems. Though El Potro calls itself a Mexican Grill (most likely in order to attract enough business), it's actually arguably a Salvadoran/Colombian restaurant at its roots. Maybe all around "Latin" or "South American" cuisine would be a more accurate description of this place.
Bryan always likes to ask the server for recommendations whenever we visit a place for the first time.
"What's your favorite dish? What do you like on the menu?"
In this case, I think the server was the teenage son of the family. He was quite cordial and very kind. Of course, he said he liked "everything" on the menu, but in the end he recommended Plato Montañero ($11.95), which is a traditional Colombian dish complete with plantains, fried pork belly, a skirt steak, and a fried egg on top. It sounded interesting, and definitely different from the typical Mexican food we'd tried, so we went for that. We also ordered up a storm, since we had purchased one of those restaurant.com coupons where we had to spend $35 in order to receive our $25 discount. Not an easy task when most menu items hover around $10!
We started with this salad that was included as part of the Plato Montañero (see below). It was not particularly memorable. Honestly, I don't really remember much about the salad, although the fact that it has avocados elevates it at least one level above your typical garden salad.
The Plato Montañero is one of their unique dishes, and it was definitely interesting.
What's in it? Grilled steak, deep fried pork rind, avocado, rice and beans plus a plantain all topped with a fried egg. I definitely have never had anything quite like this before. I think it's hard for us to be completely objective in this case because we are not familiar with Colombian food. We both thought that the pork rind was impossibly chewy and very very difficult to eat.
This would normally be a criticism, but I just don't know whether an authentic version of the dish is supposed to taste like that or not. Is this normal? Impossibly-chewy-pull-your-teeth-out tough pork rinds? Anyone know? The rest of the dish was fine. The meat was a bit tough, but given the price of the dish, you can't exactly expect them to use the highest quality beef. It was also a bit more over-cooked than Bryan would have liked. The plantain, however, was sweet and nicely grilled, and the avocados and fried egg on top were a plus.
I thought this shrimp dish was pretty flavorful and well executed. At $9.95, it's a bargain overflowing with shrimp that's cooked to a perfect, bouncy texture. This dish felt reasonably healthy, which made me happy. I ate about half and took the rest home for another meal the next day.
Grilled Fish Tacos
This was probably the only completely Mexican thing that we ordered. Bryan thought the grilled fish tacos were pretty good, but still conceded that he like the traditional Baja-style fresh fish tacos better.
So was this the amazing ethnic hidden gem I was anticipating? Not exactly, but it's still a nice additional to the neighborhood.
It's definitely cool to have a Salvadoran restaurant nearby. I like how El Potro actually sells several authentic Latin dishes that you may not find elsewhere. Of course, they have your run-of-the-mill Mexican entrees, which they execute well enough. But what makes this place more interesting are the other Latin dishes such as fried yucca root, pupusas (Salvadoran), and the Plato Montañero (see above).
I am guessing the Latin food is relatively authentic. While we were there, several Hispanic customers came by and ordered interesting looking food that I wanted to try too. At one point, we were the only non-Hispanic people in the dining area (although to be fair there were only like 6-8 people in the dining area).
The prices are pretty cheap (most things cost under $10) and the portion sizes are generous. It's by no means the best Mexican restaurant around (we think we'll stick with its neighbor Cantina La Mexicana from now on for that), but it's worth checking out, if nothing else, to get a little taste of Salvadoran / Colombian cuisine in a small, quaint and cozy family-run restaurant. They often have coupons on Restaurant.com, so if you want to try it without spending a lot of money, that's not a bad way to go.
If you want to keep your teeth, you might want to avoid the fried pork rinds. Other than that, definitely try some of the other Latin dishes! I'm still wishing I had ordered some pupusas or fried yucca.
61 Union Sq
Somerville, MA 02143