Columbians high-step it to El Rey, where meat and potatoes rule


You dig your grave with your teeth,â?� so the saying goes, and after my meal at El Rey de la Papa (literally, the Potato King), I certainly felt acutely aware of my own mortality. An overload of starches brought me a few inches closer to six feet under, while a thorough scarfing of red meat had the tempo of my pulse beating like a rhythmic death knell. Oh, well. 'Better to pay the butcher than the doctorâ?� goes another saying, and the good-natured meat cleaver here was paid in full. She goes by the name of Jacqueline Sandoval, and on any given night, she can be seen scurrying back and forth from the kitchen to the colorful Christmas-colored dining room delivering gastronomic gifts from her native Colombia.

A fair chunk of menu real estate is devoted to baked potatoes and scores of associated toppings. However, the spuds at Jason's Deli still hold an edge over El Rey's prodigious papas, due in part to the freshness factor of said toppings ' the mixed vegetables here tasted like they came out of a frozen bag. Nevertheless, the quantity-over-quality supreme potato ($7.50) is ornamented with a surfeit of somewhat savory embellishments: cheese, sour cream, butter, ground beef, chicken, shredded beef, ham, bacon, chili, broccoli, peas, green beans, carrots, corn, sweet plantain, mushrooms, tomatoes, lettuce. OK, breathe.

Rustic rib soup ($4.99) served with a plate of rice was a far and away better, if not outstanding, starter. The corn on the cob was missing, but melt-in-your-mouth cubes of beef ribs lolling in a clear broth anointed with cilantro and weighted with lumps of potatoes, carrots and cassava makes it obvious why the soup is a national dish in Colombia. Shredded beef is encased by a pastry shell crunchier than any I've sampled elsewhere, but that just made the empanadas de carne ($1.30) all the more enjoyable. Sandoval serves them with a decanter of a cilantro-heavy hot sauce that you'll want to daub onto every dish within spoon's reach.

Any hopes of a juicy, succulent churrasco ($14.99) went down in flames, those scorching licks charring the hefty slab of an overly well-done skirt steak. Multiple applications of the aforementioned hot sauce couldn't re-moisturize the meat, and the equally desiccated sweet plantains just made the dish drier than a Bogotá winter. To my surprise, the pechuga empanizada ($8.50), or breaded chicken breast, was every bit the juicy, succulent slab of meat that the churrasco wasn't. Pounded flat, the chicken was then coated with an herbaceous breading that makes it a prudent choice for all palates, no matter how divergent. If you're looking to veer off the beaten path, you can always lap up the lengua en salsa ($7), or beef tongue in a criolla sauce. With all the pork, beef, sausage, fried egg and beans, there's enough protein in the traditional bandeja paisa ($12.95) to feed a jungle full of bush dogs.

Desserts, thankfully, forego tubers and meat for milk and sugar ' milky tres leches ($2.50) and silky vanilla flan ($1.50) satisfy. Refreshing smoothies ($3) made with soursop and naranjilla (commonly known as guanabana and lulo, respectively) complement the fleshy feast, and add a little sweet to your meaty meal.


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