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Tripping Off the Tongue 

Finding Latin food bliss on the Pike.

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"I think everyone should have a quinceAñeara,” my companion says while scanning the local Latin newspaper. We are grasping for straws of authenticity. The Latin food market in Richmond is sorely missing a true Hispanic noshing ground, so our hopes rise when we look at all the ads for the classic Central American 15-year-old's coming-of-age celebration.

We're at Latinos Unidos on Midlothian Turnpike, a restaurant that can't be considered attractive. Aesthetics are an afterthought in this spot on the side of a strip mall, just eight booths and a bar, high-school linoleum flooring and the overriding smell of pork. The menu is full of graphics, an unintentional rib at those who “no habla EspaAñol,” and heavy with Honduran and El Salvadoran influences. On each table, large communal jars hold pastel-colored vegetables, mostly peppers, in heat-enhancing juice. This place is not for those lacking an adventurous spirit.

After a normal wait (as opposed to the 30 seconds at some Ameri-Mex places), we're served piping-hot balaedas and a mixto plata that could feed an army — a really ravenous army. 

Baleadas are to Honduras what burritos are to Mexico. At Unidos, a just-made, thick, flour tortilla is slathered with house-mashed beans, scrambled egg and crumbled queso duro (three huge ones cost a mere $4.99). Just add crema and salsa picante and be transported to an imagined Honduran street vendor. The mixto plata ($10.99) piles on carne asada (grilled flank steak), a pounded chicken breast, Honduran chorizo, pressed tortillas, buttery rice and heavenly stewed and mashed black beans. The carne asada is tender and laced with cumin but typical, as is the poultry. Short, thick and spicy with onions and paprika, the chorizo resembles a link sausage. An oddly appetizing orange, this roll of meat advances the boatload of food to above average. And the pleasantly chunky beans are habit-forming. Be careful, because these tasty lardaceous legumes could easily add pounds to your waistline.

Several return trips prove this tiny eatery has big flavor, particularly the lengua beef tongue tacos, which are ambrosial. Three sizeable, soft, white corn tortillas are piled high with rough-chopped tongue. Unadorned except for miniature containers of diced cucumbers and scorching salsa verde, these tacos are a master class in rich simplicity. Pupusas are gritty with white corn texture and bursting with sweet-salty cheese. The pupusas revueltas ($1.25 each) are a captivating, creamy mix of beans, cheese and delicate pork bolstered with a light tomato sauce and curtido (vinegary carrot and cabbage slaw). If you're on the hunt for a new comfort food, you can stop here.

A decent carne asada ($8.99) is served with bright, fried plantains and yucca that packs salt and punch. The side dishes overshadow the meat so effectively that the beef can go unfinished.

Latinos Unidos is superbly genuine — you won't find factory-line red sauce, cheese dip or fried ice cream on the menu. Conservative palates are less likely to be at home here, so if you lean toward your hotel restaurant when traveling abroad, tread lightly toward Unidos. But for significantly less than a plane ticket South, if you're up for an eating adventure this is your money spot.

Latinos Unidos
6832 Midlothian Turnpike
745-5242
Open daily from 6 a.m.
(Check the poster board for changing times)

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