By JD Herman
Brays Oaks Management District occupies one of Houston’s most culturally diverse corridors which makes going out to eat truly exciting. When in the mood for South American flavors, certainly one of the best options to try is the El Salvadorian restaurant and bakery La Roca. Offering a variety of pastries, tamales and, their deservedly popular, pupusas, La Roca will make your taste buds dance and fill your stomach well past satisfaction.
La Roca is located east of Hillcroft on Bissonnet in a rustic shopping center across from Bayland Park. The parking at La Roca is pretty limited and, as the restaurant is usually full, a great hack is to find parking at Bayland and walk across the street. (Bonus: This will also help you burn a few calories walking back to the car after all those pupusas!)
Between folks eating at the restaurant and a brisk “to-go” service, the staff stays busy so avoid the trap of thinking service will be quick like a fast food establishment. Seat yourself at a table and a waitress will come around with a menu in a few minutes. Be ready to celebrate diversity as the menu is primarily in Spanish. If you are a native Houstonian your tex-mex heritage should help you navigate the options and google is always a handy translator too.
If there is one signature item that you must try, it is definitely the pupusas – thick corn tortillas served hot with a savory filling. Bean and cheese is a standard, along with the always popular chicken. They also have pupusas with ayote (squash) and even offer pupusas de loroco. Loroco is a wonderful flowering green herb that deserves more of your attention.
La Roca serves their pupusas with a tomato based hot sauce as well as an El Salvadorian coleslaw called curtido. Curtido is more like kimchi than your typical American style slaw, and it has an extra tang that went perfectly with my bean and cheese pupusa.
Pace yourself though, as La Roca’s tamales are a definite must. Unlike than the drier tex-mex version, El Salvadorian tamales are steamed in banana leaves resulting in a moist dumpling-like texture. The masa is thick and juicy; the filling a shredded chicken and potato mixture seasoned with a smoky spice note that reminded me of annatto, which is like a very mild paprika. In a word: delicious.
Other favorites on the menu are the carne guisada, sopa de mondongo (vegetable soup served with tortillas) and a myriad of breakfast options.
La Roca is also a bakery and the selection of pastries seems almost infinite. When I ordered coffee with my meal, it came with a small slice of a cornbread like cake. Sweater than a normal cornbread and not quite as dense, but a perfect companion to the great cup of a coffee. Just the right amount of sweetness to balance the savory choices of my meal.
La Roca is simply great food in the heart of Brays Oaks. Next time you find yourself on Bissonnet stop in and enjoy the flavors of El Salvador.