As we sheepishly asked for forks, the motherly waitress smirked: “In Honduras, we eat those with our hands.” She was referring to the enchiladas ($3 for two). If you were dining in a Mexican restaurant, you’d call them tostadas—corn tortillas fried flat and heaped with ground beef au jus, cubed potatoes, shredded cabbage and carrots, purple onions, and, at the whim of the preparer, crumbled cheese and crema, the pourable sour cream preferred everywhere south of the Rio Grande. As if that weren’t enough, the contraption is flooded with an oily red Creole sauce bobbing garlic, green peppers, and onions. This glorious mess screams out for a little heat, but when you lift the red plastic bottle from the table and aim it toward the enchilada, what squirts out is—ketchup.
Honduras Maya is a new restaurant poised between Park Slope and Sunset Park in a working-class neighborhood where Spanish is heard more often than English. In a siren song to the largest possible constituency, the kitchen also offers Mexican and Salvadoran dishes, the latter including papusas, hand-patted masa flapjacks filled with cheese or meat. These come heaped with curtido, a Central American slaw that, in this case, could use lots more vinegar. The same flaw mars the poetic-sounding pescado frito estilo Lago Yogoa ($11). Named after a lake in western Honduras known for bass fishing and bird-watching (with 35 varieties sometimes seen in a single tree, according to my guidebook), the dish here is a largish pink snapper expertly fried and smothered in a glistening sauté of onions and bell peppers. It seems like a riff on Spanish escabeche, but with the tartness toned down. As with most main courses, it’s served with well-oiled rice, refried black beans, and a dab of crema.
Honduras was the original banana republic. Since independence in 1821 it’s been dominated by multinational fruit conglomerates through dozens of alternating coups and elections. The U.S. influence is obvious in the food, not only in the replacement of homemade hot sauce with American ketchup, but in the general blandness of the fare. This doesn’t mean, however, that the food at Honduras Maya isn’t good—more often than not it’s very good. Nothing is more esteemed in Honduras than steak, and the restaurant excels in beefsteak pounded thin into tenderized cutlets ($7). You can have it strewn with onions in bistec encebollado, breaded and fried in bistec empanizado, or moistened with Creole sauce in bistec en salsa. For two dollars more you can scarf plato tipico hondureño ($9), a seriously massive spread: steak with onions, rice, beans, fried plantain, an avocado-and-corn salad, slice of avocado, plank of white cheese, crema, and a tiny dish of a zingy garlic-and-parsley condiment that resembles Argentine chimichurri.
Hondurans’ coequal passion is seafood, and a couple of distinguished meal-size soups serve as verification. Sopa de caracol ($10.50) is the national dish, a conch chowder with plenty of the rubbery beast interspersed with yuca, plantain, and carrots in a broth whitened with coconut milk. It’s a trip to the tropics in a bowl. Sopa de jaiba substitutes three whole crabs for the conch. Though it’s somewhat tastier, wrestling with the shells will spatter soup all over you and your friends. Apart from the steaks and soups, the most distinctively Honduran dish, and one that will win over the waitress if you order it, is baleadas. These are pancakes made in the kitchen (hear the slap-slap-slap when your order is placed), folded over a filling of beans, cheese, and crema. Cheap and filling, two make a perfect light meal. Just remember—bring your own hot sauce.