Calling to mind a populist spirit


A new Mexican restaurant opened in December in Harper's Choice Village Center. Named for Emiliano Zapata, a poor farmer who helped lead the Mexican revolution in 1911 and fought until his death for the political and economic emancipation of Mexico's peasantry, the restaurant's cuisine and decor are meant to evoke the populist spirit of Zapata.

"Zapata means a lot to me," said Cesar Flores, owner and manager of the restaurant. "He was the son of a farmer who grew up to be a famous leader of the revolution. There are a lot of myths about him, that his ghost still rides against oppression. People still take heart from his cry, 'It is better to die on your feet than to live on your knees!'

"There is nothing more Mexican than Zapata," said Flores.

The menu is more Mexican than diners tend to get at other "Mexican" restaurants and is "traditional rather than authentic," Flores said. Although most Mexican restaurants tend to serve Tex-Mex dishes, Flores emphasizes that Zapata's menu offers entrees more likely to be found in southern Mexico. Diners will find dishes at Zapata's - such as the appetizer empanadas de picadillo (pastries stuffed with ground beef) - that they will not find in other Mexican restaurants, he said.

The menu's "Legendary Specialties" offers chuletas chilangas (two pork chops simmered in a pasilla pepper sauce), pescado Maria (fresh grilled salmon filet topped with mango sauce served over rice), chamorro de borrego (lamb shank topped with two sauces) and brocheta de camorones (jumbo shrimp stuffed with Serrano pepper, wrapped in bacon and topped with salsa).

There is also pozole (hominy soup), tamales tapatios (pork tamales topped with green tomato sauce), chalupas (two thick handmade corn tortillas, one stuffed with chicken, one with beef and topped with lettuce, queso fresco and cream), ceviche (fresh seafood salad made with shrimp and fish cooked with lime juice) and albondigas (Mexican-style meatballs simmered in chipotle sauce).

Under "Tacos and Quesadillas," there is al pastor (roasted pineapple with chile-rubbed pork), tinga (shredded chipotle-rubbed chicken), suadero (ground beef sauteed with onions and Serrano peppers), barbacoa (marinated lamb meat) and camarones (shrimp in adovo sauce).

But Tex-Mex lovers shouldn't despair. "We do offer several Tex-Mex dishes for those who love the taste," Flores said.

Tex-Mex-inspired entrees on the menu include chicken club burrito (a flour tortilla wrap with guacamole, bacon, pico de gallo, lettuce and grilled chicken), fajita burrito (grilled steak or chicken topped with salsa and cheese) and enchiladas Zapata (chicken, beef, cheese or vegetable enchiladas served with rice, beans and sour cream).

Don't miss this opportunity to try a traditional Mexican dessert. There is sopapillas (sweetened deep-fried dough), flan (soft, creamy, rich custard baked with a traditional caramel glaze), helado de mango (mango sorbet) and churros con chocolate (cinnamon dough and hot cocoa), among others.

Information: www.zapatas1 .com.

Zapata's Traditional Mexican Cuisine & Spirits

Where: 5485 Harper's Farm Road, Columbia; 410-715-6929.

Hours: 11:30 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Thursday; 11:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday; 10:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday. Bar is open 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 a.m. seven days a week.

Prices: salads and appetizers, $5 to $10; entrees, $8 to $16; desserts, $4 to $6.

Credit cards: Visa, MasterCard, Discover

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