After seeking out the best eats of DFC, the working-class neighborhood of San Pedro, Belize, I believe I’ve been humbled thanks to a young lady from Honduras and the green bananas she cooked for us.
Recently we joined culinary forces with Rebecca Coutant, the force behind San Pedro Scoop, the most widely read and followed online magazine on this island, and Brad Reeder, recovering comic, local restaurateur and food tour guide. Our goal was to spend a few hours enjoying the most intriguing bites of food in DFC and of course to write about it. DFC is a neighborhood south of San Pedro proper. It is not the area tourists typically visit, however, it is where Amy and I have found some of our favorite restaurants. When I proposed this idea to Rebecca she was all in. Find the link to her essay on our food adventure down below then give her a follow on your favorite social media platform.
Salbutes at La Divina Providencia
Our adventure started at La Divina Providencia on the edge of DFC. We all agree La Divina is one of our favorite places on Ambergris Caye. It’s a grocery store, a restaurant, a nightclub, and a community center. Owner Susana Flores welcomes us with a big smile for Rebecca as they haven’t seen each other in a few months. Rebecca’s been a resident of Ambergris Caye since 2007 and her online magazine has been an influential force here since its inception in 2011.
I believe my favorite dish at La Divina is their salbutes, a sort of mini, open faced taco served on a small, thin fried disc of masa, a paste made from ground corn, salt and water. Masa is the building block of tamales, tortillas, and empanadas and there’s five or six places here where one can buy freshly ground masa. The salbutes at La Divina are served three to an order and garnished with red bean paste, shredded chicken, fresh lettuce, a slice of ripe tomato and a pickled jalapeno slice for the astounding price of $5 BZ*.
Pork Taco at Neri’s Tacos
Neri’s is a favorite of both Rebecca and Brad. The tacos here are a very simple affair of bean puree and braised, pulled pork with fresh lime and cilantro rolled up in a made-this-morning tortilla. Rebecca recommended their warm pork tacos with a freshly made banana juice and that combination sounded dreamy, sadly they were out of banana juice, however we made plans for a return. We paid $4BZ for six pork tacos.
Peanut Horchata at Kenia’s Dely
Horchata, as a beverage, dates back roughly 3,500 years. Yup, humanity’s infatuation of dairy milk substitutes is that old. Horchata found in the US is typically made of rice, almonds, sugar, and cinnamon and across Central and South America its recipe can vary widely and feature anything from tiger nuts to dried fruit, sesame seeds or cashews. At Kenia’s they make horchata with rice, roasted peanuts, cinnamon and honey. And is this stuff ever delicious. So, if you have a restaurant in the southern end of the US and love experimenting with our ubiquitous peanuts, give this a try.
T-Bone Steak at Alma’s Kitchen & Sambo’s Garage
Before embarking on this adventure with Rebecca and Brad, we asked a couple of cab drivers where they like to eat. Two of them responded with “Sambo’s Garage.” Bernard Spain (Sambo) has a big smile and the weathered hands of a professional mechanic. His home is also home to golf carts and autos alike, all in various states of repair. Bernard built Alma a lovely little twelve seat restaurant next to his garage. Alma served us a plate with a small, braised (Belize beef) T-Bone steak, white rice, creamy cabbage slaw, a big bowl of aromatic red beans, a spicy bottle of orange Habanero relish and a bowl of vinegary onions and cabbage for the outrageous price of $8.00 BZ
Lemon Meringue Tart at Nara’s Pizza
Nara offered us a platter of tarts and pies, resplendent with fluffy, toasted meringue, already weeping sugary tears courtesy this island’s relative humidity. Carried in a handmade crust, the meringue floated above a sweet citrus and egg yolk curd. In no time the tips of our noses and corners of our mouths were covered in bits of meringue and custard. Yeah, these things are delicious. And what did they cost us? $5.00 BZ
Marijuana & Garlic Bitters at The Crazy House
Navigating through DFC typically starts with “Do you know where the Crazy House is?” My local barber’s Instagram profile gives directions to his small studio with “by Crazy House.” Crazy House is a three-story-high bar and restaurant and shares a footprint with Nara’s Pizza. Indeed, Nara’s goes by its unofficial nickname of “Crazy Kitchen.”
Gene Lopez the owner, a former police officer and soldier, has several small private rooms and a cool roof top patio. In his main bar he has several bottles of bitters made from local woods and herbs steeped in Belizian rum and vodka. When he offered us a sample of his garlic marijuana bitters, I laughed thinking he was pulling my leg.
“Dude, are you serious?”
Yes, he was. It’s used as a component in several of his unique drinks and as a chaser to a Belikin beer. After sampling a tiny bit, I can say it was simultaneously the most interesting, and one of the worst things I’ve ever tasted. Gene many thank yous for the private tour of your landmark and I’ll enjoy telling this story for many years to come. We were seriously honored and Rebecca said later that as Gringos, we’d earned some sort of award with a private tour of Crazy House.
Bunuelo at La Fe Bakery
Before leaving for Belize I should’ve upgraded my Word program to include a few Mayan dialects, Kriol, and Belizian Spanish. That way I wouldn’t get some many red highlights when typing these stories. Bunuelos are a simple sugar cookie, a light dough rolled out, crispy fried usually in a thin skillet then topped with cinnamon sugar. La Fe makes theirs so crisp they’ll shred in the breeze of a golf cart. Served with a hot cup of coffee before the sun comes up is how these should be enjoyed.
Seared Chicken Tacos with Pineapple Pico at Rinconcito de Sabor
At The Little Corner of Flavor their chicken tacos are made on the comal. A traditional comal is a flat, earthenware plate placed over an open fire and now can refer to any flat grill like the one seen at your favorite grilled cheese establishment. The cut chicken is seared while the tortillas are crisped on the same space. We’ve had plenty of tacos since our November 2020 arrival and most have been made with room temperature, or worse, cold tortillas. A buttery warm bun is the difference between an average burger, or average lobster roll, and a memorable one. The same goes for a great taco with a warm exterior. El Rinconcito has a great chicken taco before adorning them with hand-cut pineapple Pico de Gallo and their homemade pepper sauce. A box of four gorgeous chicken tacos will set you back a breezy $10 BZ.
Tajadas at Honduran Deli Los Cocos
This was the magical moment I’d dreamt about when we decided to spend a year in Belize. Surely I’ll taste something so wonderful, so outside my culinary box, I’ll be able to judge other memorable bites of food against it. My first bite of a doughnut from Hole Doughnuts, the Lobster Roll from Waterman’s in Maine, the raspberry milkshake in a chocolate bag from Domaine Chandon in the Napa Valley, the avocado mousse stuffed, fire-roasted peppers from Mur Mur in Tulum, hot fish and chips served in a newspaper in London, aromatic lamb kebabs in Tangier, Morocco, and conch ceviche served beachside in the Bahamas; all of these standout as singular expressions of the power of food and regional cuisine. Food can and should be a catalyst for a lifelong memory and those usually come at unexpected moments.
When I saw a pile of very green bananas behind the counter of Los Coco I was very skeptical. Estrella, the school librarian at Holy Cross Anglican School in San Mateo, and, along with her husband, chef/owner of Los Cocos sliced them on her handmade mandolin, fried them to a crisp, tossed them with salt and pepper, topped them with freshly made pico de gallo, finely chopped cabbage, tart sureno (local version of crème fraiche), and pickled onions.
“Honduran nachos” she smiled.
Her Honduran “nachos” were also served with a rich piece of marinated, crispy fried chicken. Los Cocos is run by Estrella, her husband, and one other guy and it sits in the middle of a dusty street in the working class neighborhood of San Pedro, less than five miles from the fancy restaurants of this island. We’ve eaten at each of those restaurants, and with the exception of Victoria House, we’ve been disappointed in their many shortcomings. If you’re going to charge me $100+ US for dinner, you’d better be ticking all of those restaurant boxes, and not just a few of them. We won’t remember any of the food we were served at those $100 restaurants, won’t write about them either. That gorgeous box of food from Los Coco set us back a mere $11.00 BZ and whenever my friends ask about a visit to Belize, this place will be top on my list of recommendations. The Tajadas at Los Cocos will provide us a warm smile for many years and we’ll be certain to share her technique with our chef friends. And when those folks ask me:
“Malik, what’s the best thing you had in Belize?”
“Easy. The rustic, warm tortillas from Leonel’s, the dark chocolate bar from Belize Chocolate Company, the dreamy empanadas from Kenny Obando, and that mind blowing dish of fried green bananas and spicy chicken from Los Cocos.”
Long live Los Cocos!
If you’ve got Belize on your travel list, reach out to Rebecca, the San Pedro Scoop, and give her a follow on social media. She has a wealth of information on San Pedro, Ambergris Caye, and the beautiful, intriguing country of Belize.
Brad Reeder has a walking tour of the best street foods of downtown San Pedro and we highly recommend it.
Many thanks to our hostess, Diana Evans at Feathers AirBnB for recommending this idea.
*Two dollars US equals one dollar BZ.
You’re reading the year-long adventures of John & Amy Malik in Belize, Central America. We’re professional chefs, restaurant owners, food & travel writers, adventurers, recovering tent campers, and hikers. We prefer authentic street food over a steakhouse, craft beer over traditional lager, a glass of Spanish Garnacha over California Merlot. Should you feel so inclined, please share this essay with someone you’d take on a rustic adventure, and sign up for our next dispatch from Belize. Just click here.