A big midday meal is an age-old Sunday tradition in Latin American countries. “Sunday’s a family day. That’s when you go out to eat in Cuba,” recalls Belkis Vargas at Charlotte’s Cuban restaurant Piece of Havana.
“It’s a family thing. It brings them back to Peru,” says Adolfo Peña Herrera of his Sunday customers at the Peruvian eatery Machu Picchu in Pineville.
Get a taste of Latin American cuisines at these favorite spots in Charlotte.
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Machu Picchu, named after Peru’s iconic mountain, offers plenty of choices in the “desayunos” - Spanish for breakfast - section of the menu. The desayuno lurin hails from the town of Lurin, a destination for pork aficionados in Peru much like Lexington is in North Carolina and includes fall-apart-tender chunks of marinated pig nestle with sweet potato fries alongside a Peruvian tamal stuffed with chicken, egg, olives and roasted peppers.
From the bar, in addition to wine and cocktails, consider a pisco sour made with Peru’s distinctive pisco brandy. Or get chicha morada, a non-alcoholic Peruvian beverage that will make your sweet tooth tingle.
You might want to split an entré in order to save room for a treat from the dessert case. Milhojas, a puff pastry whose name means “a thousand layers,” or alfajor, a shortbread cookie are both are filled with caramel-like dulce de leche and shouldn’t be missed.
Jerry Tovar runs Mi Tierra – “my homeland” – in a Compare Foods shopping center on Arrowood Road just off South Boulevard. It’s bustling with families on Sunday mornings, including folks darting in to pick up warm cheese bread from the bakery case at the cash register.
Tovar suggests the bandeja paisa, a typical dish in his hometown of Pereira in the foothills of the Andes mountains. The hearty platter includes a thin-cut grilled steak and a crispy slice of pork belly and a sausage. And rice and beans and plantains. And a fried egg and an avocado slice. You won’t leave hungry.
Mi Tierra does not serve alcohol, but there’s delightful mora con leche, a natural blackberry juice with milk.
Lempira serves foods from Mexico, El Salvador and Honduras, home country of owner Gilmer Alfaro. The menu has a full desayunos page with eleven different breakfast platters.
Flip to “Plates from Honduras” and pick the pastelitos hondureños, which includes three deep-fried empanadas stuffed with ground beef and tiny bits of potato, as well as a salad on the side.
This Charlotte chain has several restaurants, but for a splash of booze with brunch, the original South Boulevard location has the best-stocked bar.
Belkis Vargas presides over Piece of Havana out South Tryon Street near Carowinds Boulevard. The spacious room fills with extended families and groups of friends.
Her menu features a full array of Cuban favorites from pressed sandwiches to the shredded beef dish called ropa vieja. If you arrive with three or four friends, consider sharing a paella valenciana. “It’s a Spanish dish,” Vargas explains: “yellow rice packed with lots of seafood – octopus, clams, mussels, shrimp, crab, scallops and a lobster tail –cooked in beer and white wine.”
The bar is the star here. Delight in the hand-crafted mojitos awash with fresh mint or try one of three flavors of house-made sangria. And yes, they have mimosas.
Jose Guerra, from Jalisco in central Mexico, is an American success story. He worked his way up from waiter to owner and relocated El Veracruz Restaurante Mexicano to a big, comfortable space near Carolina Place Mall in Pineville in 2010.
The Fabulosa plate offers a taste of two traditions. It features a chili poblano, a mild green pepper fried in egg batter and smothered with cheese, with a chalupa, a crisp tortilla topped with shredded chicken and guacamole salad. “The chili poblano, that’s popular in Jalisco,” Guerra says. “The chalupa, that’s more Tex-Mex.”
At the bar, Guerra recommends a margarita. Or taste a tequila -- thought to have originated in Jalisco centuries ago.
Reach community historian Tom Hanchett at Tom@HistorySouth.org. He writes about Charlotte and the South at HistorySouth.org.
Monday - Thursday, 11 a.m. - 10 p.m.; Friday, 11 a.m. - midnight; Saturday, 10 a.m. - midnight; Sunday, 10 a.m. - 10 p.m.
315 S. Polk Street, Suite 4e, Pineville
(704) 889 - 0801
Monday - Sunday, 8 a.m. - 8 p.m.
816 E. Arrowood Road, Charlotte
(704) 556 - 3044
Monday - Sunday, 8 a.m. - midnight
5906 South Blvd., Charlotte
(704) 552 - 1515
Piece of Havana
Monday - Thursday, 11 a.m. - 9 p.m.; Friday, 11 a.m. - 2 a.m.; Saturday, 1 p.m. - 10 p.m.; Sunday, 11 a.m. - 8 p.m.
11126 S. Tryon Street, Charlotte
(704) 588 - 7883
El Veracruz Restaurante Mexicano
Sunday - Thursday, 11 a.m. - 10 p.m.; Friday, 11 a.m. - 11 p.m.; Saturday, 11 a.m. - 2 a.m.
391 Towne Centre Blvd., Pineville
(704) 889 - 7856