Slowly, but "Sur-ly," the area's Latin food scene is expanding beyond Ark Mex, Tex Mex, Gringo-Mex and authentic Mexican.
We've got Venezuelan and Argentine restaurants, and with co-owners Darren Strayhorn and Luis Vasquez turning their popular El Sur Street Food Co. food truck into two Honduran restaurants (the other: North Little Rock's Rosalinda Restaurante Hondureno).
"Where Central Arkansas meets Honduras and Latin America," El Sur's website proudly proclaims. "We're a restaurant inspired by Honduran and Latin American food featuring baleadas, tacos and arepas."
Strayhorn and Vazquez have made a very successful transition into their storefront location in Little Rock's South Main neighborhood, preserving the best things from their Honduran/Latin American food truck menu while expanding it to include things that would be hard to vend from a mobile platform.
The restaurant itself is bright and cheery, with a fun welcome mural on the south wall, ample seating (more than appears at first glance — there's a sort of enclosed patio/quasi-garage in the back, complete with pool table and a full bar (that's something else you can't do out of a food truck). Various bottled and canned Mexican and other soft drinks, including Mexican real-sugar Coca Cola and several flavors of Jarritos, are available in a cooler behind the register if you're not into alcohol. But don't ask for iced tea — El Sur doesn't serve it.
Order at a front counter, behind which the menu is chalked; you can also examine a laminated hard copy there, or, if there's a line, use your phone to call up the online menu from a QR code. The staff is friendly and helpful and honestly interested in helping you enjoy your dining experience.
We tried to get as varied a dining experience as we could in two visits. We started with a baleada, billed as "the most famous Honduran food, like a burrito but better." Like a burrito, it involves folding a flour tortilla over various fillings.
El Sur's basic baleada, the Sencilla ($6), consists of fried beans, Honduran cheese — a grated farmer cheese, not unlike Mexican queso fresco — and sour cream. You are encouraged to think of it as a base and add toppings: proteins carne asada, pollo asada, carnitas, birria, al pastor, cauliflower chorizo or nopales ($3 each); other topping options include avocado (90 cents), pickled onions (75 cents), scrambled eggs ($1.50) and plantains ($1.50). The Con Todo baleada ($12.50) comes with pretty much all of the above, not counting your choice of protein.
We added al pastor — marinated grilled pork — to our Sencilla, which was a little mushy and huge and tough to pick up to eat, so we attacked it with a fork and knife (the latter doesn't come in the basic setup and we had to go in search of one). Some of the pork, rather too much, actually, turned out to be gristle but otherwise we enjoyed it as much as we did the one we raved over from the food truck.
The hostess/cashier touted as a lunch special the Almuerzo del dia ($12.50), similar to the Con Todo, but in a bowl: lightly seasoned and cilantro-topped rice, whole beans, Honduran cheese, avocado, pico de gallo, choice of protein — Intrepid Companion opted for birria, shredded and marinated beef — and three flat corn tortillas to wrap it into if we so chose. It was delicious; it was also a lot of food and some of it went home in a box.
On our first visit, Intrepid Companion opted to try the tacos (a slightly hefty $3.75 per), made with homemade firm corn tortillas — indication from the online menu is that they are "just-made" — with the same choice of protein fillings topped with cilantro and diced onions. Her choices — birria, pollo asada (grilled chicken) and carne asada (grilled steak) — all turned out to be worthwhile, and generously supplied.
We also couldn't finish our Pupusas ($4 per), stuffed cornmeal flatbread; we couldn't choose between melted cheese, chicharon (fried pork belly), or both so we went with one of each. Only the chicaron papusa had much flavor, but luckily El Sur offers supplementary salsas — we applied the milder chipotle to good effect.
Speaking of chipotle, that was the dominant flavor of the Salsa Ahumada ($5), which comes with a basket of crisp, just-made (we mean, like still warm when it hit the table) chips, a little saltier than we liked but just right for our salt-aficianado companion.
And don't pass up the Fried Plantains ($5.50), a fairly generous portion with a generous mini-cup of sour cream that nicely complemented the sweetness of the banana-like fruit.
- Address: 1214 Main St., Little Rock
- Hours: 11 a.m.-9 p.m. Monday and Wednesday-Thursday (closed Tuesdays), 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Friday-Saturday, 11 a.m.-2 p.m. Sunday
- Cuisine: Honduran/Latin American
- Credit cards: V, MC, D, AE
- Alcoholic beverages: Full bar
- Wheelchair access: Yes
- Information: (501) 812-3066, (501) 773-4311; elsurstreetfoodco.com; facebook.com/elsurstreetfoodco