I often think of what I want to eat rather than where. I try different dishes, but often settle on one to order on return visits. I have been returning to the Nicaragua Restaurant on Mission, just above Cesar Chavez, for nearly four decades, through, I think, two changes of ownership.
I like the empenadas (plantain flour stuffed with rice and cheese and meat or just sweetened cheese), but it’s been years since I could have them and finish my favorite dish, the restaurant’s signature one, #6, tajadas (fried plantains) con chancho (stewed pork) y queso (deep-fried white cheese that does not melt). The tajadas can be green (verde) and starchy or mellow yellow and sweet (“maduro” in Spanish, meaning mature, though I’m relatively confident that “dulce” (sweet) would be understood by the waitresses). The pork is stewed with achiote, and is not especially picanté (spicy hot: piquant is the cognate English adjective).
The salsa is heavy on onions and also not picanté, either. It’s more sour than hot. I mix a lot of it with the sour cabbage that accompanies the named components. Deep-fried cheese/curds is a dish occasionally prepared in Minnesota. Queso blanco tastes sort of like mozzarella, though the crust that forms is for me the best part and not like anything else. The inside is chewy, the outside crispy. I have to grant that it is salty. Both of us think the fried cheese in the restaurant is better than any we had in Nicaragua (the country). The plantains are often as good (for me, the riper the better!)
The pork is a bit salty, too, I guess, though only one of the dozens of people we have taken to the restaurant thought it too salty (he loved the mature plantains, which I wish were less oily, but perhaps they would disintegrate if cooked in hotter oil).
Those who can consume more carbohydrates can get tortillas with their entrées. I think the waitresses ask newcomers, but have stopped asking us. Fortunately, the tortillas are Mexican rather than Central American (larger in diameter, thinner, though the tortillas in Nicaragua are not as thick as those served in Guatemala). For dishes that include beans, Mexican refried beans are available. The Central American default is black beans, which I like better and are far healthier with more fiber and less fat.
I find the carne asada (flank steak) inexplicably more than twice the price ($16.95 compared to $8) and tough. It comes with some plantains and a smaller square of fried cheese along with rice and beans. I’ve also been underwhelmed by the fish, sticking with #6. And I avoid yucca anywhere. I have never detected any flavor in yucca and for me it’s a tossup whether poi or yucca is the world’s blandest food.
The prototypical Nicaraguan dessert, trés leches (three milks), is not on the menu, but is often available, sometimes advertised on the wall. I think that in the country of Nicaragua, black beans are included in the stuffing within the fried plantain dough of the Empenadas de Maduro Rellenas. Mexican empenadas are quite different, deriving from Cornish paste pies, btw.
A range of beers and sweetened, too watered-down fruit drinks are available, if not to a diabetic chowing down on plantains!
The jukebox is generally off, but is very loud when it is playing (very authentically Central American, but not one of the aspects of Central America I like!). There is live music Sunday afternoons (2:30 to 4:30 or beyond). The folk paintings on the walls are more endearing. Plus, there is a flag and two maps of the country,
The restaurant does not take credit cards. There is an ATM inside.
Street parking is easy and there is a bus on Mission Street every other minute.