Image from Mami Monchita’s
For those who collect ethnic restaurants, here’s one to add to your collection.
Mami Monchita’s, tucked into an off-the-beaten path neighborhood somewhat removed from Frankfort’s downtown dining establishments, offers diners a flavorful tour of Honduras.
The cuisine of this Central American nation is a tantalizing mix of Spanish and indigenous, with an injection of Caribbean spice and African heat to add zest to the pot.
It’s a cuisine that has been celebrated in far-flung locales from Los Angeles to Toronto, and now, Frankfort.
At the latter, don’t expect a posh setting, the restaurant being more reminiscent of a cantina than a traditional dining room. Do expect a warm welcome from owner Alda Diaz and her staff, and definitely, do expect a mouth-watering and belly-filling meal – the kind a doting mother feeds her family.
Not surprising when you consider these dishes are created from recipes passed down to Diaz from her mother, the eponymous Mami Monchita.
Since Honduran cuisine makes use of the country’s plentiful ingredients such as plantains, avocados, corn and jalapeno peppers, expect to find them used liberally in the dishes.
For starters, absolutely do not miss the creamy fresh-made guacamole with crispy plantain chips for dipping.
If it’s your first time eating Honduran and you want to play it somewhat safe, opt for the Carne Asada (beef tender tip sirloin, white rice, refried beans, avocado, pico and corn tortillas), or the pollo con Tajadas (fried bone-in chicken served in a bed of fried green bananas and cabbage).
However, if you want to try authentic Honduran specialties, go for the Yuca Con Carne (fried yuca topped with shredded cabbage, grated Honduran cheese and ground beef, topped with a Criolla sauce).
Then there’s the national favorite, Baleadas. This dish features two homemade flour tortillas filled with a mixture of refried beans, scrambled eggs, shredded chicken, chorizo, Honduran cheese and mantequilla (Honduran butter).
Think of a south-of-the-border version of the Canadian favorite poutine and you get the picture.
The one dish you won’t want to miss is pupusas. Three corn-based patties are stuffed with savory fillings, cooked on a griddle and served with encurtidos (side dishes) which are used as additional fillings. The most typical are cabbage and cilantro, carrots and onions.
Don’t skip dessert – whether it be a decadent Tres Leches Cake, or an empanada of sweet plantain dough filled with creamy vanilla and cinnamon custard.
Accompany either selection with a steaming cup of Honduran coffee. The country is known for its lush coffee plantations which produce a bean that is rich and sweet with notes that range from chocolate to vanilla and hazelnut.
Life Lessons from Mami
Although Mami Monchita passed away in 2006, her legacy to her daughter lay not only in her cooking skills, but also her penchant for sharing and serving others.
As one of seven children, Diaz says food was not always abundant, but love and generosity were. To honor the memory of her mother, she has set two goals.
“First, I want to introduce my American friends to authentic Honduran food, and second, share the good fortune we have found here with those less fortunate in our homeland,” she says.
She has accomplished the former through a menu of simple, yet flavorful dishes, and the latter through a project close to her heart.
In 2018, one year after she opened the restaurant, she returned to Honduras and established a non-profit, Viveros de Amor – Greenhouses of Love, in her native city of El Paraiso.
Through this non-profit, she provides food, tutoring and school supplies to the children of the area. Ten percent of what she takes in goes to Greenhouses of Love.
“We want to provide them with whatever opportunities we can to improve their lives,” she says.
One look at the smiling faces of the children in the photographs lining the restaurant walls is proof she has achieved her goal.
The other goal – introducing the cuisine of her homeland? Well, that proof lies in the satisfaction of her customers.