Frijoles os9t0n

Honduran frijoles fritos have little in common with Mexican ones.

Image: Beth Levine

Houston is a melting pot, and our Latin American cuisine is especially diverse. With so many options, it's tough to keep up.  Lucky for me, I have a close Honduran friend who was willing to give me an education at Honduras Maya Café & Bar'newish, bigger location on Bellaire Boulevard. Still, it remains a neighborhood joint. My Spanish is rusty (otherwise known as non-existent), so I was lucky to have dining partners willing to do the heavy lifting. We started off with some salt-rimmed margaritas on the rocks and got down to business.

Our first bites were of frijoles fritos, the Honduran staple of chips and refried bean topped with cheese. Living in Houston, I am no stranger to refried beans and chips, but these tasted very different from the Mexican and Tex-Mex counterparts I am used to. The combination of spices, salt and melting cheese gave the refried beans a concentrated, habit-forming flavor. We kept them on the table so I could keep eating them throughout the meal.

Baleada mtavb1

Baleadas, starting at $1.75.

Image: Beth Levine

Baleadas, sometimes known as valiadas, are very thick, pastry-like flour tortillas folded and filled like a taco. The one I tried was stuffed with mashed, fried beans and cheese. Simple but wonderful.

Like the frijoles fritos, Honduran enchiladas are very different from the enchiladas I have had in the past. In fact, they're more like a non-crispy tostada covered with meat, lettuce cheese, tomatoes and egg. The cooks at Honduras Maya used the sauce in which the meat was simmered to flavor the tostada, which soaks up the liquid.  I was not expecting to like this dish as much as I did, but everything had a really pronounced flavor (even the eggs, which I would have never thought to put on this dish), and the tostada held its consistency, so I could pick it up and eat it, getting all the flavors in each mouthful.

One of my friends also got a big bowl of sopa de caracol, a Honduran coconut-flavored seafood chowder made with conch meat that's known as a hangover cure. It's delicious alone, or great as a dip for tortilla chips. 

Arrozconpollo yxdjo8

Arroz con pollo, $8.

Image: Beth Levine

Though the rest of my party loved it, I was not a fan of the arroz con pollo. This Honduran staple, which comprises rice, vegetables and chicken, fell a little short for me on flavor. That said, it did come with a side of fried plantains that almost made up for the lackluster rice dish.

This was not a light meal, but well worth the calories. Add that to the very affordable bill (less than $60 for three people, including our margaritas) and this is a trip worth taking. Show up hungry, preferably with some natives, and be prepared to be a little adventurous.

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Honduras Maya Café & Bar

$ Central American 5945 Bellaire Blvd., Ste. B

This Central American eatery in Gulfton is as close to the old country as you can find in Houston. Feast on traditional dishes such as carne asada, parillada...

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