For years, Western New York suffered from a dearth of restaurants serving the foods of Latin America.
Fortunately, that has changed in the past several years, and a healthy number of area eateries now cook fine examples of the traditional tastes of Mexico and the Carribbean.
One of the newest -- and best -- is El Sugar Bowl, which opened within the past year on Niagara Street between Pennsylvania and Jersey streets.
There is a side of the menu that lists the usual assortment of subs. If the rest of the food is any indication, I'm sure they're fine.
But your eyes should quickly focus on the sections marked Criollo sandwiches and Spanish dishes, where the items are listed in English and Spanish.
Several restaurants in the city serve pernil, which is seasoned, roasted pork, and El Sugar Bowl's is better than most. Combined with the diner's choice of either white rice, rice with pigeon peas or friend plantains, it is a rewarding option at $5.75.
El Sugar Bowl also does an excellent job with the Cuban sandwich, a hot-pressed sandwich combining that tasty roasted pork with smoked ham, Swiss cheese, pickle, garlic and lettuce.
Another of my companions had a special on the board called canoa, which is Spanish for canoe. A deep-friend plantain was hollowed out, then filled with shredded chicken and topped with cheese and red pepper. Served with rice and beans, it cost $5.95 and was given a hearty endorsement.
But the real treat here is the jibarito, a kind of plantain sub sandwich. A plantain is sliced in half lengthwise, then deep-fried. Ground beef, steak or pork is piled on one half, and lettuce, tomato and mayonnaise are added before the other half is perched on top.
This was a delightful combination of tastes: the sweetness of the plantain blended wonderfully with the seasoned meat. The steak version cost $6.25.
There are some other specialties that you're not likely to see in other local restaurants including chuletas guisada (pork chop stew), pollo guisada (chicken stew) and pescado en escabeche (pickled fish).
All three of those items are offered as specials on at least one day a week. The daily special is $4.99 and comes with white rice with beans or yellow rice with piegeon peas.
Put El Sugar Bowl on the expanding list of Latin dining options you want to try.
-- John F. Bonfatti
El Sugar Bowl
544 Niagara St.
Review: 3 pennies (Out of 4)
Open from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Saturday. Wheelchair-accessible.
Several restaurants in the city serve pernil, and El Sugar Bowl's is better than most.