When a chef I respect tells me about his or her favorite hole in the wall, I listen. So when Ryan Boeve, executive chef at the excellent Pomona Bistro & Wine Bar and the forthcoming Lila, told me about La Sabrosura, I knew I had to check it out. The small Latin American market sits in the north 301 strip mall that's home to Miss Saigon, just an 11-minute stroll from Pomona's Rosemary District digs.
The setup is instantly recognizable: a counter with Sigue and Ria phones up front and long aisles of specialty goods, spices, pantry items and refrigerated stuff, with a butcher station in the back, next to a small counter serving bodega basics. La Sabrosura—Google tells me the name means "Tastiness"—is owned by the same people behind La Sabrosita Tortilleria Y Taqueria on 17th Street, but the menus are slightly different. At La Sabrosura, you'll find tacos, tortas, quesadillas, gorditas and antojitos, built around different styles of pork, beef, chicken and chorizo.
The restaurant seats 17 at seven small tables. At 12:30 on a Monday, it's packed, with nary a vacant chair. The crowd is mostly all men. They munch on lunch, sip beers and text their friends. Conversation competes with a cranked set tuned to Univision and the sound of frizzling meat on the grill.
Over at the butcher counter, hunks of pork belly, tripe and seasoned chicken legs chill behind glass. On top of the box sit jars of cueritos—pickled pork skins. Nearby shelves carry plantains, cheap spices and industrial-sized cans of beans. On the far side of the restaurant you'll find an impressive spectrum of sodas from all types of Jarritos to Yoli (lemon), Manzana Lift (apple), Popular (cola) and more, plus nectars and juices from all the fruits.
A single taco will run you between $1.75 and $2.39, depending on your meat. Three make for an outstanding lunch. Pork two ways is a highlight. The carnitas is seared and crispy around the edges, but still juicy, ditto for the pastor. The meat comes wrapped in doubled-up corn tortillas and dotted with raw white onion and cilantro. Boeve champions the salsa verde, but I'll put in a good word for the salsa roja, too. It provides both heat and that little bit of sweetness you're looking for.
The pork tastes just as good stuffed inside a quesadilla ($7.99), where it's cradled by melted cheese. The flour tortilla has been toasted to a nice golden brown; shredded lettuce and slices of tomato offer freshness.
The tongue taco, meanwhile, is a disappointment: The lengua chunks are still a bit chewy. The stuffed yuca ($1.89), basically a log of mashed yuca wrapped around ground beef or cheese, is just OK.
To drink, opt for fresh juice. A trio of clear containers bubbles away behind the counter. A large Styrofoam cup of fresh watermelon juice ($3) is thick and flavorful and not overly sweet. For a sugary finish to your lunch break, browse Sabrosura's collection of Latin American candies and cookies. Mamut cookies—marshmallow pressed between cookies and dunked in chocolate—offer nothing in the way of creativity or nutrition, but they're a pleasure.
Bottom line: Thank you, Ryan. I thought I had eaten at every decent bodega on north 301, but you showed me the error of my ways. Is La Sabrosura as good as La Brisa Tacos Y Mariscos, located right up the road? No. But it would rank well in a listing of the boulevard's best Latin American spots. Not that I've tried every last one of them yet. Got a favorite? I'm all ears.
La Sabrosura is located at 560 N. Washington Blvd., Sarasota. Call (941) 346-6954 for more info.