Latin, Caribbean eateries to strive in and round Sonoma County

Latin American food speaks of summer with its seafood, grilled meats and bright, sweet fruits. The cuisine is so tasty in many ways and tempts with juicy stewed meat, creamy beans, butter corn, herb rice and lots of spices.

Wine Country is of course known for its wide variety of Mexican dishes. But we’re also home to flavors from other Latin American cultures, including Salvadorans, Argentines, and Caribbean. Here are some places to visit or check out for the first time.

Don Julios Latin Grill & Pupusas

You need to know where to find this tiny shop tucked away in the back of an aging mall in Rohnert Park. It’s very popular with Sonoma State University students looking for an affordable change of pace.

But love goes beyond the college crowd. On my last visit, the terrace lined with funny palm trees and the take-out area were also occupied by middle-aged customers. This is us older folks smart enough to know there is life beyond the typical burrito, though Don Julio does a good job with the Mexican staples on the extensive menu. A more elaborate selection like a Tropical Pastor Burrito filled with pineapple marinated pork, black beans, Spanish rice, homemade mango salsa, cheese, and chipotle cream is also good ($ 11.99).

Pupusas are the real specialty here and present the national dish of El Salvador. These are like little pancakes made from masa and stuffed with flavorful mozzarella-like cheese and various treats from chicken to pork and then grilled until they’re speckled brown and puffed. The Salvadorans buy the hot bundles from street vendors and stroll along and chew them like New Yorkers with hot dogs.

At Don Julio the dolls are not small, but heavenly indulgences, 5½ inches in diameter and 1 inch high, with much more generous filling than in other places. Owner Carlos Alas has them ordered according to his mother’s recipes. This can take up to 20 minutes, but it’s worth waiting for the golden beauties with crispy edges ($ 3.75 each). They top it with curtido (a vinegar-fermented, crispy cabbage, carrot and oregano coleslaw) and dabs of lightly spiced red tomato salsa and sip a summery mango and pineapple agua fresca ($ 3.25) made from real fruits between bites .

A pupusa burger, while not traditional, is great. First, choose two dolls as the top and bottom buns. My favorite combination is a chicken and bean cheese and a “Loroco y Queso”. It may take a few bites to get used to the slightly sour, earthy nuance of loroco, the stems of a native flower that provide a type of broccoli or cactus flavor. But wait and I think you will enjoy it.

Then add your “burger” and choose from pastor, grilled chicken, asada or my two favorites, juicy carnitas or orange-marinated chicken. In addition to curtido and salsa, the hearty animal is associated with sticky cheese, guacamole, chipotle cream, pico de gallo and lettuce. It may seem expensive at $ 16.99, but I’ve had both lunch and dinner from myself (although the dolls are best eaten straight off the frying pan, mine heats up well enough in a pan).

A Pupusa combo plate is another fine, filling choice paired with Spanish rice, chilled beans, and sour cream ($ 9.49 for a pupusa, $ 10.99 for two). Or there’s the Mexican Hybrid Pupusa Ranchera, which covers two pupusas with chilled beans, two eggs, salsa verde and cheese, and beans, rice, and sour cream ($ 15.99).

I also usually order a corn tamale with silky white beans, caramelized plantains, and sweet mango salsa – it’s almost like a dessert ($ 8.99). Or, for a real dessert, indulge in an empanada de leche ($ 3.99). This is like the most splendid hand pie with pastries made from fried plantains, stuffed with homemade pudding, fried and coated with sugar.

Details: 217 Southwest Blvd. Rohnert Park, 707-242-3160, facebook.com/donjuliospupusas. Opening times: Thursday to Tuesday from 10:30 a.m. to 8:30 p.m. Note: To pre-order takeaway, look under Photos for the menu hidden as an album on Facebook. You can also order delivery via foodjets.com, with a fee integrated into these prices.

Pupuseria Salvadorena

If you find yourself on a side street across from the Sonoma County Fairgrounds in a nondescript mall in front of a compact, nondescript Salvadoran restaurant, you will be spoiled. The dolls here are somewhat small snacks, but they swell so much cheese that they’re decadent. Add in treats like pork, beans, fresh pumpkin and spinach, chicharron, and loroco flower and this is a feast (prices vary, all around $ 3).

For bigger appetites, larger dishes like a grilled shrimp platter with rice, beans, lettuce, and tortillas ($ 16) or a hearty salpicon in a mountain of diced beef with onions and mint and a warm tortilla with rice and beans can be served and a bit crispy salad ($ 13).