2500 Kirkman St. • Lake Charles
Cultural diversity brings new elements and opportunities for food, influence, restaurants, experiences and neighbors. Area 337 didn’t knock on the door of southwest Louisiana. They kicked it down and said, “Here I am and here’s my food. Come eat.”
Area 337 offers traditional cuisine from Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic and Colombia prepared with the ingredients and techniques customary to the Caribbean and South America.
What had originally started out as a dinner for my wife and I turned into a small party as my daughter and her friend joined us. Area 337 was the destination.
Because it’s a new restaurant, the exterior is unprepossessing and doesn’t hint too much about what’s on the other side of the door. As soon as you enter, the party begins. You hear the festive music of the Latin culture, see the vibrant colors of Puerto Rican décor and feel the vibe of a tropical escape.
It’s a small building, so there are few tables. There’s a small bar with various rums proudly displayed, and an outdoor area with wooden tables perfect for a night under the lights.
We decided indoor seating would be best and were escorted to a perfect table. Shortly after the menus were placed before us, a man appeared and introduced himself as Gus. Gustavo and his wife are the restaurant’s owners.
My wife ordered a margarita. If you’ve read any of my previous articles, you know my wife is an aficionado of margaritas. That is her go-to, and she will judge you on your ability to make a margarita. The mojito captured my interest. Gus explained to my wife that you can get a margarita anywhere. Forget about the margarita, he told her. He suggested something a little different and sold her on the piña colada. The girls had to settle for sodas.
The piña colada was smooth and silky and full of the flavors of pineapple and coconut. It was served in a tall, curvy glass. My mojito was loaded with fresh muddled mint and rum with sparkling soda, bubbles clinging to the sides of the glass.
We looked through the menu, and everything sounded intriguing and interesting. The menu is written in Spanish and translated into English just below each item.
Gus was extraordinary in his delivery and explanation of each appetizer, dish and side. He will have you convinced that you want everything on the menu, and I’m pretty sure we did. The sentiment was defined perfectly when my daughter said, “I am so excited to try this food.”
For starters, we all shared an order of chicharron, fried yuca ball and queso frito. The chicharron is a large cut of pork belly that includes everything from the belly meat to the skin. It’s fried and served with a traditional green chimichurri sauce consisting of parsley, olive oil, vinegar and lime wedges. It was crispy, yet juicy and unbelievably flavorful.
The queso frito is simply cheese wrapped in dough and fried. It’s served with a mayonnaise-based dipping sauce, which is a staple to the region. The yuca balls are a light and fluffy root-based breading stuffed with a creamy beef interior.
This was only the beginning, and we were all thoroughly impressed. We thought, bring on the entrées.
One of the main ingredients in South American food is the versatile use of plantains. The sweetness of these starchy fruits can be enhanced through caramelization. Or you can go completely savory in a mofongo, or smashed and fried plantain.
We had a skirt steak with mofongo and a skirt steak with rice and beans. The steaks were tender and flavorful, with the natural juices mirroring the upright meat. It was all accompanied by an order of bandeja paisa, which is tender steak, chorizo, pork belly and fried egg accompanied by avocado and sweet sautéed plantain.
I decided on the pargo frito, an entire red snapper seasoned and fried with nothing more than a few lime wedges. And that’s all that was needed for this amazing dish. There was crispy skin and nothing else but steamy flaky fish to feast upon.
You know we are not done, right? The girls were eyeballing the dessert menu and we weren’t leaving without it. So we decided to try one rice pudding and one flan de vanilla, a Spanish custard topped in caramel. The best way to describe the rice pudding is Christmas in a cup. Full of cinnamon and cloves, it was creamy and sweet. My favorite was the flan. It’s a baked custard with a light caramel syrup and fluffy whipped cream — so smooth and so good.
In all, this was an amazing night. It was a cultural experience hosted by gifted and knowledgeable owners who are proud of their heritage and have brought all of that to Lake Charles. This is something you do not want to miss.