TLO Restaurant Review: Zarate’s Latin Grill

“Déjà vu…I’ve been here before,” I said eerily to my date as we stood outside of Zarate’s Latin Grill, 706 S. Broadway in Edmond.

The cartoonish paintings of fish ready to die for your meal, happily, on the outside of the blue building were somewhat familiar to me; I ate here twenty or so years ago, I’m sure, and I do remember liking it back when it was a typical Tex-Mex place. I’m pretty sure that I even traded a few AMC movie passes to pay for my meal here.

Sometime in 2007 though, according to the menus, is the year when whatever this place was transformed into Zarate’s Latin Grill, going far beyond the typical Mexican entrees and into such culinarily ignored—in Oklahoma, at least—countries as Chile, Jamaica, Honduras, Puerto Rico, Peru and Cuba, to name a few.

I couldn’t think of a better place to review for my first restaurant in the usually high-priced and higher-classed Edmond area.

Zarate’s, however, was mostly barren the Saturday afternoon when we showed up. There was a single family, maybe another couple, eating lunches there and the staff was mainly a skeleton crew. Sitting in a roomy booth, our server brought the usual set-up of chips and queso, but my date asked for an order of the Chunky Avocado Especial ($7.99) believing that I would wholeheartedly dig it.

And I did.

As we dipped the homemade chips in the Especial sauce, the menu was a minor lesson in the unheralded eats of many Latin American countries that I only dreamed of living to visit; I settled on Venezuela and their hearty Pabellon ($8.99), supposedly a pot roast-styled dish. My date, however, stayed a bit closer to the border with the Garden Enchiladas ($11.99), a vegetarian variation on the spice-riddled favorite.

Discussing all things Edmond, my date—an Edmond native, natch—told me that, not too far from this very restaurant, there is a circus graveyard that is home to the rusted implements of carnival-based connubial bliss; many times, growing up as a rule-breaking local punk, her and various friends would jump the fence and trespass into the forbidden festival.

As I was thinking deep about the urban legends of a town like Edmond—what an underbelly that it must have—our server brought the meals out to us, breaking my thoughts for now. The Pabellon, served on a square plate, consisted of pulled roast beef simmered in a red wine sauce and adobo seasonings, with onions and bell peppers generously mixed throughout.

Of course, it was a delectable-enough portion, the pulled beef maintaining a rich taste that, quite honestly, I’ve never had before but desperately want to enjoy again and soon. Savoring each muscled strand slowly and methodically, it paired perfectly with the Latino standbys of white rice and black beans, a small sliver of fresh crema decked across the top.

My date’s Garden Enchiladas were, honestly, like no vegetarian enchiladas I’ve had around these parts before; the fresh spinach made a wise move, befriending the assorted onions, tomatoes and guacamole, as well as a swell bit of ranchero sauce poured all along the watchtower with a few fresh tortillas wrapped-around to taste. I thought of former friends that would have especially loved it.

Tenderly eating our food and making personal conspiracies to jump whatever fences it took to view this three-ring terror-dome somewhere off the main road, I took a deep sip of my comically-remaining liquid courage—in the form of Zarate’s amenable slushed Sangria, mostly melted by now—and hurriedly boxed the leftovers; visions of rabid clowns and rusted rides were playing their demonic calliope as we made our way out to the field. Cómpralo ya!

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