Suso Latino Basket
534 Middle Turnpike East, Manchester, (860) 281-2911
You could easily overlook Suso Latino Basket, a new pan-Latin restaurant in Manchester.
That would be a shame. I'm not sure what a Latino Basket is, and I suppose there might be some would-be diners out there who drive by thinking it's a cross-cultural basketry shop. Suso is a restaurant though. It's a humble little restaurant in an unexceptional little strip of shops. But the chef, who comes from the northwestern part of Spain, has put together an interesting menu that draws heavily on Puerto Rican, Peruvian and Spanish dishes. His confidently seasoned food looks lovely on the plate, and it's all remarkably affordable.
I stopped by earlier in the month for a late lunch. The interior is plain, with a counter near the entrance, a line of tables along the front window and a side room with more tables stretching a little farther around. The Gipsy Kings played their athletically strummed flamenco guitar on the stereo.
My dining partner and I were the only ones in the restaurant besides the sole waitress and the chef. I had my doubts that the one person in the kitchen would be able to execute some of the food in a reasonable turnaround time, but I was wrong. Our lunch didn't take very long to be brought to our table.
We started out with an appetizer of shrimp mofongo. If you've never had it, mofongo is a classic Puerto Rican dish made with mashed plantains and garlic. It's stick-to-your ribs island cooking, as filling and satisfying as Mac-and-cheese, a garlic-heavy carb fest that serves as a great way to soak up sauces. This didn't suffer from the dry mouth-of-saltines effect that some lesser mofongo falls victim to, because it came with a velvety sauce of diced red pepper, lots of garlic and caramelized slivers of red onion pooled around a central mound of the mofongo. Shrimp rested in the sauce. This would have made a fine entree, and at $7 it was a bargain.
Other starters include Salvadoran pupusas, Peruvian ceviche, Portuguese-style salt-cod croquettes, empanadas and more.
A plate of pernil — Puerto Rican style roast pork leg — was hefty. Served with nicely salty and assertively garlic-y slabs of pork and a side of rice, this was a lot of food. Many Puerto Rican restaurants around town serve this kind of food from cafeteria-style steam tables, and it's often not this tasty and not this easy on your pocket ($7).
The more elaborate seafood paella, made with saffron rice, mussels, white fish and squid had a vibrant yellow color and a flavorful but subtle sauce.
The menu also includes several Peruvian-style chaufas (fried rice), roast chicken dishes, Chinese-influenced lomo saltado stir-fries. There are panini and kebabs for those looking for a quick lunch.
Suso has only been open for about six months, and we all know the tough actuarial numbers on survival rates for new restaurants. But this chef is doing tasty and affordable things that Manchester locals should be eager to support. (If Manchester can support a French Canadian diner that serves poutine, surely there are enough intrepid diners out there ready to sample the fare at Suso.)
And I should point out to any of those who know a good organ-meat secret when they find one, Suso has anticuchos (Peruvian style grilled beef heart) on the menu, too.
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