It began as a dream and a wish for a humble immigrant to own a restaurant where he could serve up his native country’s specialty dishes in Houston.
Carlos Sorto, who worked in the food and restaurant industry for 30 years in the U.S., visualized the dream for many years but deferred it for secure income.
Now his wish has become reality with opening of his Restaurante Azucena at 8787 W. Bellfort in the Brays Oaks Management District. An azucena is a lily type of flower found in Sorto’s home country of El Salvador. Paintings of lilies grace the walls of his new business.
Six months ago opportunity struck, and Sorto, together with his wife Blanca, opened the cafe they call a pupuseria and taqueria. Pupusas are thick corn tortillas stuffed with meat, cheese, eggs or other ingredients, accompanied by cabbage slaw and a spicy tomato sauce. A taqueria, as many Houstonians know, is a place serving a variety of tacos.
The Sortos’ huge menu and long operating hours have it catching on with locals who enjoy the personal attention and fresh good food. The eatery is open every day of the week from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m., with other family members pitching in as staff.
The couple has lived in Houston for the past five years after living in the Washington, D.C. area for 40 years. They moved for the warmer climate and Houston’s blend of many cultures.
Their cafe serves a blend of Salvadoran, Mexican and South American foods, with pupusas as their best seller. Catering to local tastes, tacos are the other headliner. But there is so much more offered to tempt any palate.
After Sorto scouted several restaurants to see what Salvadoran food was being offered here, he decided he would offer something a bit better by making his own tortillas on site for the freshest of taste.
“Like a taco, you eat a pupusa with your hand, and our best seller is the traditional one of chicharron (pork) and cheese,” Sorto said. “We sell a lot of pupusas.”
Most interesting is the loroco con quesa pupusa; cheese with an edible wildflower that is popular in Central America.
Sorto built the restaurant with the thought of making people feel like it is as comfortable as eating at home. He wants patrons to spend time there and linger, listening to Salvadoran music and eating their meals in increments.
“I hope for people to come here from work and make them feel like it is their third home,” Sorto said. “I like to know my customers by name.”
With a limited Salvadoran community here, Sorto made sure to include lots of popular Mexican dishes. He offers nachos, tacos, quesadillas, fajita meals and many other specialties.
Sorto takes pride in only using soy bean oil for cooking and insists on the freshest ingredients. His homemade guacamole is made to order and he makes his own tortilla chips, too.
Azucena offers all-day brunch with pupusa platters, egg dishes and combination platters featuring varieties of Mexican and Salvadoran breakfasts. Also offered are popular French toast and pancakes, including a yucca plant option.
Best of all, Sorto offers generous portions at a reasonable price and the flexibility to make whatever his customers request.
“We have people come in and request their favorite specialty from El Salvador, and we do our best to accommodate anything even if it is not on the menu,” Sorto said. “We like to keep our customers coming back again and again.”
— by Arlene Nisson Lassin