With new Peruvian joints popping up just about every other week (or so it seems), the flavors of Latin and South America are all the rage.
But just because they're trendy doesn't mean the cuisines of Latin countries are new to the Baltimore food scene. Tucked into an unremarkable strip mall in Woodlawn, Salsa Grill has been quietly and successfully cranking out quality Latin American food for more than two decades.
Scene & Decor From the outside, Salsa Grill looks just like one more storefront in an average shopping center. Inside, however, bright blue and green walls set the tone for a fun meal.
We grabbed a table in the front window, where we had a partial view of the semi-open kitchen. During our Thursday-night dinner, about half the restaurant's tables were filled, with a combination of large families, couples and solo diners. Salsa Grill's carryout also appeared popular; we spied a lot of pickups.
Appetizer The tapas sampler ($13.95) gave us a glimpse of several appetizers; it also gave us a sneak preview of the restaurant's portion-size philosophy. Meals at Salsa Grill are enormous. When our waitress placed the sampler in front of us, it was so big, we started to laugh.
The sampler included a beef empanada, chicken tamale, a cheese-filled papusa, several slices of potatoes, grilled and stuffed with meat, and a cup full of fresh, chunky tomato salsa.
We had a few quibbles. The empanada's crust was a little tough and the tamale needed a touch more salt. But overall it was an impressive plate. We especially loved the grilled, stuffed potatoes, which were tender and seasoned beautifully.
Entrees Though our first choice — the goat stew — was unavailable, we made due with a trio of traditional Latin entrees. Size-wise, the dishes were even more hilariously large than the appetizers. Fortunately, they made great leftovers.
The arroz con pollo ($14.95) was a classic interpretation of the popular Latin American dish. Cubes of tender chicken, mixed with slices of sauteed peppers and onions, sat on top of nicely cooked yellow rice. On the side, another container of that chunky salsa added brightness and a hint of spice to the dish.
The lomo saltado ($21.95) also featured yellow rice and sauteed peppers and onions but, instead of chicken, the plate was layered with strips of spiced sirloin and thick-cut French fries. Though the meat wasn't especially tender, it had great flavor and was cooked nicely. The fries, too, were full of flavor.
Our favorite entree, by far, was the costillas de puerco ($17.95) — Peruvian-spiced short ribs served with broccoli and rice. The well-seasoned ribs were thick and meaty, and braised until they were impressively tender. The delicate texture even held through to the next day, when we grabbed the leftovers for a snack.
A vegetable medley, heavy on the broccoli, and more of that tasty yellow rice, rounded out the plate.
Drinks Salsa Grill does not have a liquor license but it does allow BYOB, with no corkage fee. The food, with its generous seasoning and piles of flavor, would lend itself well to lighter beers, bright white wines and roses. We stuck with giant glasses of tea ($2.79), which was sweet, strong and cool.
Dessert Salsa Grill's desserts were stored in a case in the front room of the restaurant, cut into neat squares and triangles and placed in plastic containers. This made them look like they might have been mass-produced, but they were all baked in-house.
Like the entrees, the strawberry shortcake ($6.95) portion was enormous. We were happy to have extra, though; the cake was sweet and spongy, with creamy frosting and large slices of sweet, bright red strawberries.
Service Though it's more polished than its strip-mall setting suggests, ultimately, Salsa Grill is a casual spot, juggling carryout with customers who dine in. The service — friendly and low-key — reflected that environment. We experienced a few lags but when we realized that the small kitchen was handling numerous carryout orders while also cooking for our fellow diners, those lags were easily understood.
Plus, our meals were more than worth the wait.
Back story: Since 1993, Baltimore Culinary Institute and Greenbrier-trained chef Jay Angle has wowed Baltimore County residents in the know with his well-prepared takes on classic Latin American dishes.
Parking: Lot in front
Signature dish: The costillas de puerco entree is much more than a simple plate of pork ribs with vegetables and rice. The ribs, well-seasoned and braised, are incredibly tender and meaty.
Where: 6644 Security Blvd., Woodlawn
Contact: 410-265-5552; eatsalsagrill.com
Open: 10 a.m. to 9 p.m., Monday-Thursday; 10 a.m. to 10 p.m., Friday and Saturday; 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Sunday
Credit Cards: All major
Bottom line: Latin American classics shine at this Woodlawn mainstay.