The Latin Tongue: Catalina's

I wanted to avoid rankings and ratings in this challenge to eat and talk about Latin foods. It seems grossly unfair to give our taste buds credence over anyone else's. It also seemed a bit pretentious to claim that we were in any way experts. We are certainly not. The people from Mexico, Ecuador and Honduras who serve us their heart's labors...these are the experts. With that said, I have a hard time not gushing over our latest find, wanting to give it some sort of top-of-the-list, upper class status. Catalina's was just that good to us. 


Its a bit hard to explain though. Did they have the absolute best tacos? The answer is a decided no. The thing about Catalina's is that everything was good, some things absolutely outstanding. But it was more than that. It was one of those "whole package" deals. From the kind owners and staff to the comfort of the food and environment, the whole place was just extremely comforting.

Click here to read our intro article on why we are doing this.

The cafe is owned by two women, one from Mexico (Catalina) and one from Honduras (Lucia). On any given day, you will find one or both of them working away in the kitchen. We were greeted first by Catalina's daughter, who in every way served us and made us comfortable. Her mother was in the kitchen, which is open for all to see. Our eyes were having a hard time taking it all in. There were poblano peppers being roasted fresh for an order, filling the air with a hot, charred and mesmerizing haze. Then, on the large prep table was a huge vessel, filled with the days veggies, from plantains and yucca, to avocados and tomatoes. There is something really appealing about seeing these whole foods laid out for all to witness. The pride in fresh, well made food is evident.


Need we say that we were excited to take a look at the menu? We got the necessary ordering of tacos and tamales out of the way so that we could focus on the specialty entrees. There were unfamiliar things on the menu like Yuca con Chicharron (A Honduran dish with yucca and fried pork skin) and Mixiotes (a vegetable and meat stew). We were ready for our servers recommendations.


Our server recommended first and foremost, the Mixiotes, stating not only the unique place they have on a menu, but their goodness and popularity. She then asked if we like chile rellenos. Our experience with this ubiquitous dish has been a little hit or miss and we weren't afraid to say so...then she said the six magic words that we have yet to hear: they are made fresh to order. Indeed, hadn't we seen the poblanos roasting just seconds ago. Those could be for us. Two please.


The tacos and tamales came first. We had ordered one of each available, the asada, tinga and al pastor. The tinga (chipotle chicken) was stewed with onions and chipotles and was nicely seasoned and tender. Definitely our favorite. The asada was in fairly large cubes and was just fine. The type of taco you could eat a dozen of. The pastor was also cubed, perhaps a bit dry, but really tasty with a nice spice level. It was more a pastor of their own making, unique and not necessarily the al pastor you would traditionally find at other establishments.


The tamales. Well, they were something. They came out in their corn husks and were tied prettily with a little strand of husk. What was inside was something you have to taste to believe. Both the chicken and pork tamales were fragile little things that fell apart easily to reveal well seasoned meat and masa that was...seasoned. There were delicate herbs and spices here that took us by surprise and delighted us with their savory and appealing presence. These were perhaps, the most flavorful tamales we have had to date.

Yuca con ChicharronYuca con Chicharron 

The Yuca con Chicharron was up next and was like nothing I have ever seen, which makes sense, this being my first Honduran dish. This "appetizer" was a large plate full of a variety of textures; crunchy cabbage, tomato sauce and crispy fried pork skins topped a tame and starchy serving of yucca underneath. The mixture of crunch and chewy starch was excellent and totally a new and interesting experience. 


When the Mixiotes came out, all talk ceased. The dish in itself was gorgeousness. The guajillo stew was a wonderful brick red color which was peppered with the colors of the peas and carrots present. The dish was lined with oranges, which completed the presentation. But we forgot all about that when we tasted it. The sauce was yet another lesson to me about how little I know and how much I have to learn. I sat there savoring spoonful after spoonful, trying to discern guajillo, cinnamon, clove, and many other aspects of this dish. 


Just when we thought we were done, the made-to-order Rellenos came out. Again, Catalina's has their own take on these. (To read a bit more about rellenos, click here.) Not only are they made to order, but they don't mess with too much heavy breading. They were covered in what looked like a very light egg batter that in some places didn't even fully cover the rellenos. The benefit of this, is that if they cool off, you are not left with soft, cold and greasy rellenos that can tend to leave a bad taste in your mouth. They were really excellent and we were very pleased that they let you choose your filling, from cheese, chicken or shrimp. We had one filled with cheese and the other chicken. I would probably get those two again. 

 Chile rellenos with black beansChile rellenos with black beans

All through the meal, we were served accompaniments of beans and rice, a standard at any Latin eatery. But, once again, they refuse to follow suit with other restaurants. They beans were not refried. Indeed, they were perfectly cooked, whole beans and they were so tasty, that I was left slightly speechless. I've never made beans that tasty. Were they cooked in broth? What is the story here and how do I get a supply of these magic beans. I'm not sure, and I didn't ask, but you could survive here on beans, rice and tortillas alone.


Didn't I just say we thought we were done. Sometimes a chef is just so proud, that they keep sharing. It turns out, that the folks at Catalina's had one more surprise in store for us. Just when were digging into the rellenos and almost full to bursting, oops, they forgot to tell us about their hand made flour tortillas. What?! They were holding the ace and just trumped our hand. Oh, how we were played. It took a few minutes to make them, but when they came out, we were so excited (and the tortillas so hot) that we were left scorching our tongues and still smiling. These little flour tortillas were dreamy. Small and a little thick, they had that slightly doughy chewiness that is comforting. They serve these as a dish simply called Tortillas de harina, which comes with a meat of your choice, rice and beans. You can also order them with anything, but since they make the dough fresh daily, if they are out of dough, it may take an hour to make some up.


In summary, I cannot wait to bring my family back to Catalina's. It feels like going to a good friends house. I will definitely order the Mixiotes again as well as some of those hand made tortillas and tamales. It would be really hard to pass up another order of some of the best Chile rellenos I have ever had, but there are a few other tempting items on the menu that I want to try, like the Saquitos de trigo (Hand made wheat "sacs" filled with meat) or the Sopa de Caracol Tela (Escargot soup with yucca, plantain, coconut juice, cabbage and cilantro). All in all, when you go to a friends house to eat, it is hard not to find something about it to love.


Here are the details:

Catalina's Restaurant

2301 37th Ave NE, Columbia Hts, 55421



Hours: 10 am - 8:30 pm everyday except they are closed on TUESDAY!



Average: $10 or less

Tacos $2

Tamales $2

Enchiladas $9

Burritos $8

Huevos rancheros $8

Mixiotes $9

Yuca con Chicharron $5

Chiles rellenos $10

Casamiento $8

Paella (made to order for four!) $50

Shrimp soup with coconut juice and yucca $12

Tortillas de Harina $7


Surprise: Hand made tortillas to order, Honduran food. Their unique, homemade take on everything. Closed on Tuesday, a tricky one to remember.


Payment: Cash or credit. They also have a frequent buyer card, buy 10 lunches, get one free.


Language: defintiely bi-lingual. Everyone is friendly and easy to communicate with.



Lawrence Black is a writer and editor at Simple, Good and Tasty.  He can be reached at He has lately been consuming large quantities of hot peppers, so it may be advisable to stay at least three feet away...unless you are cold.