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Saturday, January 31, 2009

Cheap Eats: Presto Latin Restaurant

click to enlarge HUNGRY LIKE THE WOLF: Presto's meaty Bandeja Paisa
  • HUNGRY LIKE THE WOLF: Presto's meaty Bandeja Paisa

One of the best ways to get to know a country is through its cuisine. The ingredients, cooking methods, serving vessels and customs provide great insight into a country's soul. Travel, unfortunately, necessitates money and time — something most of us have precious little of these days. That doesn’t mean exploration is out of the question, however. Feel like tasting Colombia? Take a “trip” there via Presto Latin Restaurant (1392-B Roswell Road, Marietta, 770-973-2196, www.prestorestaurant.com).

The breadth of Presto’s menu is impressive and the staff is always willing to help you you navigate the offerings despite its sometimes limited English.

A long list of made-to-order fruit juices — both water and milk-based — deserve your attention: The sweet and sour passion fruit is a favorite. Airy balls of pandebono ($1.35) — a baked cheese bread made with tapioca flour, cornmeal and farmer’s cheese — arrive warm and disappear quickly.

The best dish on the menu is the Colombian classic, Bandeja Paisa ($11.50), a dish so popular, fans have tried to make it the country’s national dish. The enormous platter includes a thin piece of grilled beef, a curl of crunchy chicharron (fried pork skin), a crispy skinned link of chorizo, fried maduros (sweet plantains), a forgettable arepa (corn cake), creamy red beans, white rice, an avocado half and a perfectly cooked fried egg. The restaurant also serves loads of seafood dishes such as paella for two ($26) chock-full of calamari, shrimp and scallops. Arroz con camarones ($11.50) comes with a towering mound of deeply flavored tomato rice studded with peas and carrots, a dozen medium shrimp sautéed with garlic and onion, and a side of fried maduros.

The restaurant always has some sort of obscenely cheap special and the small bakery section is worth exploring. Hearty combos starting at $2.99 fill the breakfast menu; the sweet arepas with cheese ($3.50) and the Calentado Colombiano ($8) — a remixed version of the Bandeja Paisa — are especially tempting.

(Photo by Jennifer Zyman)

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