Muy delicioso: Food you’ve yet to hear of at a restaurant you should try sometime tastes great

By Melanie Nguyen
Senior Features Contributor

I’m sure most of us have all had a fruit turnover at some point in our life. The warmth oozing from the inside of the sweet filling, combined with the flaky pastry and a spicy kick in the filling. Seems like a sweet pastry on a cold day can’t be beat. But I’m here to bring your attention to a hidden gem with the same, if not more intense, flavour and texture.

Pictured above is a pastelillo. Photo credit: Melanie Nguyen

Pictured above is a pastelillo. Photo credit: Melanie Nguyen

With only a handful of Puerto Rican restaurants in Buffalo, it’s understandable why a Puerto Rican pastelillo is not as well known as a Jamaican patty. Although they share several similarities, the distinction between a pastelillo and the more common Jamaican patty makes it a truly unique snack, or a full meal if you decide to gorge on more than one.

I first heard of Puerto Rican cuisine when I began my career at Canisius, I’m sure many of us  lacked exposure to various foods from different cultures. Being interested in trying new things, I tagged along with some Buffalo natives who insisted that I try a small hole in the wall called Niagara Cafe that focused on Puerto Rican cuisine. From the outside, the restaurant was somewhat small and had a large takeout counter as well as several small booths in the restaurant. We were greeted with the warm interior and the scent of rotisserie chicken in the air, but shortly after we noticed that there was already a line to the front door. Nervous at the thought of having to wait to be seated, I was excited upon the realization that there was no line for dining in, and the majority of the guests were actually waiting for their takeout orders. My friends all recommended different dinner meals, but when I asked if I should try a pastelillo, the answer was a resounding “yes.”

Somewhat skeptical since I had never heard of it before, I waited patiently before the waitress brought the first round over. Served on a humble plastic plate, I was underwhelmed, until I bit into the heavenly fried delicacy. The juicy explosion of meaty filling almost played second string to the initial crunch of the casing that was both crispy and chewy at the same time.

The aroma of spices immediately hit me and I could see the steam coming out from the pastry. Gazing down the now exposed center of the pastry was akin to staring down the smoking barrel of a gun, puffs of steam flying upwards while the delicious smells enthralled my nostrils, I saw cheese oozing out of the meat filling with clumps of potato stewed in. I ordered a second serving.

Even now, the quality is consistent, and there is a constant line during lunch and dinner time. With batches of pastelillos being fried constantly throughout the day, they still manage to run out before close. I suggest everyone take some time out of their days, and try one of my favourite snacks. A definite comfort food, a course of these savouries might prove to be your new favourite to stave off the cold winter chills besides the typical hot chocolate.

Nowadays you can usually find me at least once a week in the line at Niagara Cafe, never leaving with less than two pastelillos in my hand.

Many people may feel nervous to try new foods, but everyone has to start their journey of becoming a gourmand somewhere.

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