Zarate’s: South American food found up north (in Edmond)
I’m glad to see more of the Latin influence invading the seemingly overrun and tired Tex-Mex landscape in the OKC metro area. I mean, honestly, after you’ve had cheese enchiladas, refried beans, chips and queso at one place, you’ve pretty much experienced it at all of them. So why not step out to experience more variety in your Latin fare?
Peruvian native Jorge Zarate began cooking for his family at the age of four when his mother became ill and had to leave most of the kitchen responsibilities to him. She taught him everything he knows, and he has loved cooking for others his entire life. He cooked at his restaurant the first 1 1/2 years they were open so he could train his cooks in the methods his mother taught him. When he first opened Zarates three years ago, he initially served the standard Tex-Mex fare, but quickly added many Central and South American dishes. He says South American cuisine has a Chinese influence as far as spices are concerned. He imports his spices from South America to keep the taste authentic. He also brings in around 15 different soft drinks from each country. He said kids love to come and try a different soda each time their families dine.
Jorge said the main difference in Tex-Mex and Central and South American food is that Tex-Mex is based a lot on tortillas and fried beans, and the other is based on meat, veggies and sometimes pasta. I ordered the Lomito Saltado ($7.99), which is described as “an authentic dish with beef or chicken cut strips, sliced tomatoes, onions, potatoes, cilantro and spices sautéed to Peruvian perfection over an open flame.” It was served with rice, yuca fries and plantains. It was deliciously bold with spices, just the way I like. And although I don’t know for sure, I like to think this was a little healthier than enchiladas smothered in cheese or sour cream sitting next to fried beans.
Mom quickly zeroed in on the vegetarian portion of the menu and went with the Spinach Enchiladas ($8.99). They contained fresh, sauteed spinach and what looked like a variety of tiny, diced onions and possibly some corn. They were the best spinach enchiladas I have tasted. There are five vegetarian entrees, as well as soups and salads. The menu is extensive and worth a review on their website before you visit for the first time. Entrees include many varieties of fish, chicken, shrimp, pork and beef, as well as Honduran Banana-leaf tamales ($8.99) which are described as “one large, homemade tamal – Honduran style -with shredded beef, potatoes, cilantro, diced tomatoes and rice, inside mesa corn, wrapped in banana leaves and steamed to perfection.” Next time I go, I’m ordering this.
The lunch menu included entrees priced from $6.59 to $8.99, and dinners run from $8.99 to $13.99. Jorge says he is coming out with a new menu soon. Everything is made to order from scratch. He knew many of the customers by name as we sat talking with him, and he said sometimes they will come in and ask him to create something special just for them. He is always thrilled to oblige. When we arrived for lunch at 11am, we were the only ones there, but by 11:30, the place was full, including about a dozen Edmond police officers, one of whom is a regular. Another large group arrived, and their entrees came out almost immediately. We asked Jorge about this, and he said the group calls in their order a day before, then drives from downtown for lunch. He said he likes to provide call-ahead seating, take out and catering.
Our server was from Venezuela and was excellent. In fact, everything about the restaurant was clean and run extremely efficiently. Mom was particularly impressed to see them cleaning and disinfecting the menus after use.
For dessert, we tried the Churros ($1.99), which looked like a miniature chocolate eclair. It was a pastry-type shell filled with creme, and then drizzled with caramel and chocolate. It was just enough for a couple of bites – something sweet – after the spicy meal. The desserts are made fresh and are in limited supply each day.
I think Central and South American food is going to become my new Tex-Mex. It’s a lot more tasty, and it’s always fascinating to talk to the owners. If you’ve been to Zarate’s, give me your opinion in the comments below.