For generations, Western New York has had a sizable Puerto Rican community, and yet Puerto Rican food options are pretty stark, TBH.
When I mentioned this medium-hot take to Maria Del Carmen, who owns the Kiosko Latino restaurant on the West Side of Buffalo with her partner Alain Rodríguez, she agreed that there just aren’t enough good Puerto Rican food options, given the size of the local community.
“Can you believe that? It’s supposed to be good, no?” she said incredulously. “Sometimes I wonder the same thing.”
She admitted that many local Puerto Rican places “are not to my satisfaction. Maybe one or two places, the authentic flavor is there.”
“You go to Tops, you go to Wegmans, you go to Price Rite and you can find the products to make Puerto Rican food. So, there’s no excuse for not making it right! But I’ve gone to places, for example, and the yellow rice with pigeon peas doesn’t taste at all like it’s supposed to taste.”
Credit Del Carmen for doing something about it. Serving up Puerto Rican classics and inspired dishes, Kiosko Latino was such a smash hit at everyone’s favorite culinary incubator at the West Side Bazaar, it burst out of the tiny kitchen space and moved just a few dozen yards away to a stand-alone restaurant, located near the West Side’s iconic La Nova pizzeria.
One thing that makes Kiosko Latino stand out from other Puerto Rican spots is the fact that it also serves Tex-Mex food. While living in California, Del Carmen said she picked up recipes from Mexican friends; people who hailed from the towns of Puebla, Tijuana and Ensenada.
In addition to making separate items available, the conceptual mashup of Puerto Rican and Tex-Mex also led to a beautiful combination – the ‘Mexi-Rito’ burrito, a burrito stuffed with Southwest-spiced beef, Puerto Rican beans, veggies, sour cream and sweet, sticky plantains. The kitten-sized Mexi-Rito we tried was creamy and hearty. The plantains gave it an unexpectedly welcomed sweetness and gelatinous texture.
Just like good fried rice is the hallmark of any decent Chinese takeout joint, we had to take a measure of Kiosko Latino’s pastelillo: The classic deep-fried Puerto Rican meat pie featured an enjoyably stronger pimento flavor that is definitely missing from some other local pastelillos. From the Tex-Mex side of the menu, the chicken enchiladas we tried had a vegetal brightness that cut through the indulgent-but-highly-necessary cheese and fat. The enchiladas were also helped by one of Kiosko Latino’s fresh house-made salsas – which are a necessity for any Mexican restaurant worth its salt.
Due to COVID-19, the restaurant is only open for takeout and delivery. Both options are available through Grubhub. American and Latin American soft drinks are the current beverage options.
Like most chefs, Del Carmen said she cobbles together her menu based on personal favorites, and what she knows will sell. She admitted to me she has many Puerto Rican and Mexican favorites that haven’t made her menu, like the Mexican stew pozole, but she hopes will make it someday. She also said she hopes to find more great mash-up items like the Mexi-Rito.
“Maybe we’re gonna come up with some other stuff too,” she said optimistically. “Yeah it’s fun to do!”
345 W Ferry Street, Buffalo 14213
Hours: Tuesday to Thursday, 11:30 a.m. – 6 p.m., Friday and Saturday 11 a.m. – 7 p.m.