CEDAR FALLS | There’s a new bistro on College Hill with cuisine comfortable enough for Midwesterners but bursting with Latin American flavors.
La Calle, Spanish for “the street,” opened its doors just two months ago and it’s already garnered a reliable lunch crowd. The gourmet burger and hot dog joint with a Latin twist is nestled between Sharky’s and SudsUpstairs.
“A burger and a hotdog are universal foods that you can find in any country in the world,” said Redgie Blanco, owner of La Calle and a Venezuelan native. “But in Latin America, the street is the place where everybody meets and everybody eats.”
Some of the cuisine includes La Mariachi, a beef burger topped with Mexican cotija and Pepper Jack cheese, crunchy cabbage and an La Calle’s own spicy chipotle mayo.
The Tango burger channels Argentinean and Uruguayan traditions like chimichurri, a fresh, tangy sauce made in-house from cilantro, parsley and oregano.
When Gina Owens, 21, of Fairbank, joined as a server, the idea of mixing mayo and cabbage didn’t sound so savory.
“I’m a super picky eater but there’s nothing on the menu I don’t like,” Owens said.
The Shuco Guatemala tops a hot dog with crispy bacon and chorizo sausage, shoestring potatoes and guasacaca sauce. Pronounced “wah-sah-kah-kah," this blend of avocado, green peppers and garlic is popular in Venezuela and Colombia.
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Blanco recreated memorable dishes from his own mother’s kitchen in Caracas like the cornflour flatbread called “arepa.” The dough can be deep-fried and made into a sandwich.
“In my family the reunion is in the kitchen, that’s where all the conversation happens. I learned a lot from my mother and I think she was the one who inspired us to develop our own tastes,” Blanco said.
La Calle is open for lunch and dinner Monday through Saturday from 11-2 p.m. and 5-8 p.m. An array of wines, sangria and Mexican "Beers of the dead" are also for sale.
Gradually, more traditional flavors will seep into recipes but Blanco didn’t want to scare away the Iowan audience right off the bat. But Blanco encourages his cooks, servers and customers to offer suggestions for new products.
On Thursdays, Blanco buys seasonal produce from the College Hill Farmers Market and fires up new dishes available on that day only. Market visitors may find Blanco passing out sliders with fresh strawberry sauce, testing local taste buds for his next commercial creation.
In 1999, Blanco left Venezuela with a degree in tourism already under his belt. He studied English for two years at the University of Northern Iowa's Culture and Intensive English Program.
While working on a second tourism degree at UNI he met his wife, Sara, and they started a life together in Cedar Falls. Blanco built an extensive resume in hotel and restaurant management before deciding to start his own dining experience.
“It’s a way for me to bring the diversity and flavors from where I’m from,” Blanco said.