Oficina Latina: Foods Along the Pan American Highway

Just east of SoHo, between Lafayette Street and the Bowery, rests Nolita, an abbreviation for “North of Little Italy,” a gem of a downtown neighborhood that is very much up and coming, but with some vestiges of both Chinatown and Little Italy fully intact. One of the best features in Nolita is its growing assortment of trendy restaurants. Oficina Latina is one of them.

Styled after the famous Pan-American Highway, which stretches from Monterrey, Mexico, to Buenos Aires, Argentina, Oficina Latina includes cuisine from all across Central and South America. The restaurant’s décor even matches that of various roadside stops along the Pan-American Highway, changing dramatically every few paces. The front of the venue is a cosmopolitan bar, then a tiled roadside diner, and lastly (where we sat) was a cozy living room, complete with comfy chairs and a fireplace.

For our appetizers, my dining companion Andrew (who was celebrating his birthday) and I split a plate of Abrebocas from Colombia and vegetarian arepas from Venezuela. The Abrebocas was a sausage platter featuring a deliciously smoky chorizo with a side of arepitas (mini-arepas) as well as a big hunk of blood sausage. While the blood sausage is certainly an acquired taste, the chorizo was a hit. The vegetarian arepas (mini-corn cakes) were prepared with a filling of avocado, queso fresco, mushroom, and olives. Furthering the restaurant’s theme of being a roadside eater, the arepas came out wrapped in brown lunch paper. We washed our appetizers down with a Chilean Riesling that was crisp and citrusy.

We chose our entrees wisely. I happen to be a dedicated fanatic of pressed Cuban sandwiches, and as such have been engaged in a lifelong quest to find the best in the world. The Cubano offered at Oficina Latina is definitely one to remember, piled high with pulled pork, ham, and Swiss cheese, mouthwateringly delicious to eat and fresh in my mind nearly a week later. Grab plenty of napkins, though, as it is a very drippy sandwich! Andrew enjoyed the pollo a la brasa, a deliciously tender chicken prepared with a mix of savory spices. The chicken was served with a side of carrots, yucca (a starchy plant somewhere between a potato and a banana in terms of taste), zucchini, and string beans. Both dishes were fantastic, the Cuban alone being worth a second trip!

When we ordered our dinner cocktails, I commented to Andrew how his caipirinha – a Brazilian drink made from cachaça, sugar and lime – was an ideal beach drink, while my chipotle mezcalita – a funky twist on the margarita, replacing tequila with mescal (a personal favorite) and swapping out lime for chipotle peppers – was a perfect desert beverage. Mescal has a uniquely toasted flavor to it; paired with the heat of the peppers it is definitely my kind of drink. We toasted and ordered desserts.

Andrew had the homemade chocolate pudding, with “HAPPY BIRTHDAY” written on his plate in fudge, and I had the flan de aguacate, a variation on caramel flan made instead with avocados. It was a welcome change to a favorite dessert of mine, topped with blueberry sauce. For our coffees, Andrew enjoyed a Café Mexicano, made from coffee liqueur, tequila cream, and coffee, and I had the Café Fuego, a mix of rum cream, orange liqueur, and coffee.

For people in a bit of a hurry, Oficina Latina has a great bar menu – serving only drinks from the countries represented (so don’t ask for Jack on the rocks!) and offering an array of specialty cocktails and an extensive wine list. Chile and Argentina both are renowned worldwide for their wines. There is also an entire tapas menu for groups wanting to share food. However, for those with a bit more time on their hands, it’s absolutely worth sticking around to order their delicious entrees.

Photos by Michele Palazzo

Oficiana Latina
24 Prince Street

About Alex DiBlasi (72 Articles)
Alex DiBlasi is a writer and musician based out of Philadelphia. As a journalist, he has contributed articles for the Queens Courier, Long Island City magazine, the Journal of Rock Music Studies, and the American Music Review. As an academic, he has written about Frank Zappa, The Monkees, The Kinks, and the cinema of the Czech New Wave. He also previously taught literature at St. John’s University in Queens. His first book, an anthology of scholarly essays from all over the world on Geek Rock, co-edited with Dr. Victoria Willis, will be released in October 2014 by Scarecrow Press. Alex spent most of 2013 and part of 2014 on the road with his partner Alexa Altman, visiting each of the Lower 48 states as the basis for a book. Aside from his work in the arts, Alex also works with the Manhattan-based Sikh Coalition as an advocate for religious freedom.