I love hole-in-the-wall restaurants. Let’s be clear about what that does and does not mean. It does mean a place that probably has not been reviewed in Zagat. It does not mean a place that is dirty. It does mean a place that may not get much foot traffic, as the storefront may be off the beaten path. It does not mean someplace that people avoid. It may mean a place where the clientele regularly speak a language other than English. It does not mean a place where you will not get served because you speak English.
Gourmet Laguna Restaurant is almost a hole-in-the-wall. It is located just off the main road (Central Avenue) and is a “blink and you’ll miss it” kind of place. I discovered it while using back roads to escape traffic and said to myself, “Ooooh, hole-in-the-wall. Gotta try it.”
In the immediate interior, there are a few tables and the counter area. The counter area also has a few steam trays with various stews and other items. However, as I walked in, I saw someone at a table eating a huge sandwich and thought to myself, “That’ll work.”
My girlfriend and I took a seat in the front. A gentleman I assume was the owner (he had that air) asked “Would you like to try the patio?” A patio? Where is there a patio? He ushered us through to the backyard where there was a little fenced in area with tables and umbrellas. “We call this The Jungle.” I was digging this place more and more by the minute.
We started off with the Chips & Guacamole ($5.95). I make guacamole often and I usually like it simple: ripe avocado, lime, and kosher salt. This guac was simple and delicious. There was some strips of raw white onion inside, but nothing to overpower the dish. The portion was very generous, plenty to share. The chips may have been made in-house as they tasted very fresh and surprisingly un-salty. The guacamole itself could have used a pinch more salt, but that was easily remedied with the handy shaker on the table.
The Steak Cemita ($7.50) made me roll my eyes and groan with my first bite. SUPER! The menu states that each sandwich comes with mayo, Oaxaca cheese, avocado, hot pepper, papalo herb (if available). Meat choices are steak, chicken, chorizo, pork and milanesa. Our waitress asked if we would like it spicy with jalapeño or chipotle. My girlfriend went with jalapeño. The bun was very similar to the bread used on the burger at Veselka in the East Village. The steak was chopped and grilled to perfection with plenty of tender, meaty flavor shining through. The Oaxaca cheese was shredded and plentiful. The portion of avocado was very generous. The jalapeño added some additional flavor, but those who fear heat should not be fearful. The mayo and cheese definitely cool the sandwich down.
The Chicken Torta ($7.95) is served on something closer to a club roll than a hamburger bun. Inside is lettuce, refried beans, mayo, tomato, onion, Oaxaca cheese, and avocado. The meat options are more varied and include ham, skirt steak, roasted pork and more. I opted for the chipotle on this dish. While I think it gave the sandwich a certain tang, my girlfriend was tearing up after a few bites. I had the option of grilled or fried chicken (I went with grilled). The meat was tasty and the portion generous. I can definitely recommend it to poultry eaters, and I was very happy with the sandwich, but the steak may be more exciting overall.
I will offer a warning to diners: Most of our dishes included slices of raw onion. If raw onion is something that gives you indigestion you should ask the server to leave it out of your meal. They were very friendly and accommodating, so I don’t imagine that you will have any problem.
The appetizer and sandwiches were a very filling meal. We were unable to try any of the deserts which included Tres Leches Cake, Homemade Flan, and Strawberries con creama. Maybe next time.
Not that I am an expert on Mexican food, but the menu and meal seemed considerably closer to Mexican than Tex-Mex. While I was full, I didn’t have the weighty lump in my stomach that comes with a Tex-Mex meal that includes cheddar, monterey jack, and sour cream. It is an excellent place for lunch or a low-key dinner. According to their menu, catering is also available.
Gourmet Laguna Restaurant
10 Cross Street
White Plain, NY 10606