2920 Merle Hay Road 255-5756
Tues. - Sat 11 a.m. - 11
p.m.; Sun. 9 a.m. - 7 p.m.
La Cabana 1541 6th Ave.,
Daily 10 a.m. - 9:30 p.m.
Viva los Forasteros
These are difficult times for
opening a new Latino restaurant.
There’s already a loaded burrito
of competition and the mobile,
seasonal taco stands are popping
up like spring flowers. Wholesale
food prices are moving north while
diners stay home to fight inflation.
Yet, thanks to the indomitable
spirit of the American immigrant,
brave souls keep entering this
gateway to the entrepreneurial
dream. With more than a score
of Latino restaurants serving
pretty much the same menus, a
new place needs a hook to get
noticed. The two latest Latin
American cafes in town have them.
The Ojeda family’s friendly
café says it all in its
name — El Chisme Tacqueria &
Pizzeria. Combining pizza and
tortilla production makes so much
sense I can’t believe it took
so long for someone to do it here.
Change the size and the dough
recipe and you’re making the same
thing. El Chisme’s menu stays
simple and traditional. The appetizer
list offered nachos or bread sticks,
fruit bowls or garlic bread, plus
chicken wings in three degrees
of spiciness. Fresh tortilla tacos
were offered in three sizes, another
fine new idea. All included two
tortillas ranging in size from
the diameter of a Big Gulp cup
($1 taquito) to that of a medium
frying pan ($3 super taco). The
latter were advertised credibly
as the “biggest in Des Moines.”
Even larger were the El Chisme
quesadilas ($6) and burritos ($6).
I also enjoyed a chicken torta,
which included beans and thick
avocado slices on a fresh hoagie
sized roll. Try asking for that
El Chisme’s pastor (marinated
pork) was a disappointing departure
from traditional poblano style.
Instead of roasting and slicing
meat gyros-style on a rotisserie,
cubed pork had been grilled with
hunks of pineapple and onions.
Other tortilla stuffers were better:
chicharron (fried skin) was served
in a good green salsa; beefy tasting
tongue was sautéed; and
cheeks, tripe and chicken were
My pizza was the happiest surprise
— an excellent, medium thick,
fresh crust, with good sauce and
Graziano sausage. Frijoles and
pastor provided experimental options.
In other nice touches, both the
horchata (sweet rice drink) and
fruit punches (pineapple, lemonade
and Jamaica) were home made, a
diligence that has been disappearing
from other local restaurants.
At La Cabana, the Leiva Lara
family’s hook is less obvious.
In fact, you need to see their
newspaper ads to know about it.
The café also offers fresh
produce to the public at bargain
prices ($.79 pound for tomatoes).
They have big screen projection
for soccer games and a club-class
sound system playing contemporary
Latino music. They served an expanded
menu of Salvadoran and Mexican
fare, including full breakfasts
with fried plantains and Salvadoran
cream. I tried a weekend special
calf’s foot soup, which was far
less intimidating than some other
versions in town.
La Cabana’s pastor was also
non traditional, so I tried sopitas
with shredded beef and a pupusa
with chicharron and cheese. Both
were made from scratch with fresh
masa (corn meal batter) and were
as good as any I’ve ever tried.
The pupusa oozed flavors and was
served with superb fresh curtido
(slaw) and a sweet orange salsa
that seemed to have been made
with carrot juice. The sopito
was stuffed with guacamole, tomatoes
and Parmesan cheese — sort of
a Salvadoran calzone. La Cabana
has taken over a building where
three excellent Asian restaurants
failed. They continue that tradition
of excellent food, may their luck
The 2008 Alaskan sockeye salmon
season opened last week with Copper
River. Continental United States
waters have been closed to salmon
fishing, so it’s now finally possible
for “wild USA” sockeye being sold
as “fresh” in Des Moines to actually
be less than nine months old.
Gateway Market and Waterfront
Seafood Market and Restaurant
both announced they would have
fresh Copper River salmon by the
end of the month… Three years
in the making, Django brasserie
opens this week in the Hotel Fort
Des Moines with a casual French
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