Have you ever spent an entire Monday wishing it were already taco Tuesday?
I was making just such a wish while wandering along Fourth Street when I happened to spot a sidewalk sign in front of Honduras Kitchen that read: “Build Your Own Baleadas.” My only question was: what the heck is a baleada?
My question was answered as I passed the sign when I looked back to find the reverse side read: “What are baleadas, you ask?” The description offered the proper pronunciation, a tad of history, and a brief explanation.
A baleada (bah-lay-AH-da) is a traditional street food believed to have originated on the northern coast of Honduras in 1821 (according to the sign).
Legend has it: a street vendor who sold flour tortillas smeared with refried beans, mantequilla Hondureña (Honduran sour cream), and crumbled queso duro (the now traditional base toppings), was gunned down. The Spanish word balas (bullets) referenced the dressed tortillas who came out to “eat where the vendor was shot.”
Today, Honduras Kitchen, at 1909 E. Fourth St., serves them all week long.
Inside the dim restaurant is a bar covered with a decorative straw roof that seems out of place. White cloth and butcher paper-covered tables seem randomly pushed together, with glossy black banquet hall chairs creating an ambiance that rings of complacency.
The intention of the basic baleada ($1.69) is to be the starting point. “Build-your-own” means taking advantage of the 25-item add-on menu. Each additional topping adds $0.50 – $1.75 with: avocado, maduro, yucca, French fries, chuleta, chicharron, carne asada, fried chicken, and eggs (boiled, scrambled, and fried), just to name a few.
After being shown to my table I was greeted with a basket of corn chips generously drizzled with a sauce similar to tomato-based vodka sauce, topped with crumbles of queso duro.
When I asked the server what was on the chips, she confirmed a “tomato-based sauce made with tomato paste and water.” Soft, crunchy, and somehow savory, the chips are an enjoyably comforting change from the usual chip.
I ordered three different baleadas, randomly selecting toppings. One avocado, one with a fried egg and pickled red onions, and one with carne asada and French fries (I had a taste for a California burrito).
Baleada No. 1: Avocado alone seemed too simple to be flavorful, but oddly it was the most complex. Fresh and creamy, slightly sweet and warmly satisfying with all of the flavors working in harmony, but I’d advise considering toppings with more texture, which was obviously lacking from my selection.
Baleada No. 2: Topped with an egg fried so perfectly that it burst with warm yolk on the first bite, followed with a bright pop of vinegar pickled red onions, the acidity balancing out the creaminess of the queso and egg, melding with the refried beans thus creating a third flavor wrapped up inside the tortilla.
Baleada No. 3: The carne asada with French fries seemed an odd combo, but it settled my craving. The carne asada is simply seasoned before being fire-grilled to achieve the ideal caramelized crunch. Still dripping with juices only partially absorbed by the crispy fries, each bite encompassing the sort of enjoyment that can only be brought on by the sensation of eating portable steak frites.
Honduras Kitchen: 1909 E. Fourth St., 562-624-8849 hkhonduraskitchen.com Insta: honduraskitchen
Traditional Honduran food
Two people can eat for under $30
Vibe: Casual neighborhood restaurant
Go-to Dish: Build your own baleada with 25 different options for toppings