Viva Colombia!

Antojo Latino injects new life into Southside scene

Attention, lovers of Latin food, there is a little jewel I'd like to bring to your attention: Antojo Latino, a new Colombian restaurant on Posey Street, just off Abercorn.

They are located in the little house where Rancho Alegre once resided (before moving to their bigger establishment downtown). I always hoped such a charming casita would not remain empty, and when I saw the little notice in the back of La Voz Latina, I had a feeling it would be something special.

I love Mexican food, but it's so good to see another variety of Latino cooking available here in Savannah, and Antojo Latino's Colombian cuisine is well worth waiting for. This is a family-owned establishment, full of friendly faces and delicious food cooked by the owner's wife, and served by kin and a few good friends.

Rafael Reilitz, from Cali, Columbia, has brought together the recipes of his mother, grandmother and aunts, along with the considerable kitchen skills of his wife Yulima. They've woven them all into a warm and wonderful blend, spiced by his own passion for good food.

Reilitz was eager to explain that he wanted to share this native cuisine with local lovers of Latin cooking who may have, up until now, had been limited to mostly Mexican restaurants.

He speaks rapturously of the exquisite taste of Colombian churrasco, steak grilled to perfection and served with chimichurri sauce, or the delights of their empanadas wrapped in a golden corn dough and stuffed with shredded, spicy meats.

Antojo Latino is a clean, cheerful eatery with incredible scents to tempt the hungry diner, as well as lively salsa and merengue to intrigue the ear.

The servers, so pleasant and welcoming, can tell you all you need to know about the menu, which is full of Colombian goodies like their spicy shrimp ceviche or the Tripleta, a simply divine — and huge! — sandwich packed with roasted pork, ham, tender steak and Swiss cheese.

If you're not sure what to try first, get the Antojo Bandeja Paisa, an amazing plate with a variety of favorites like the golden, crispy goodness of pork crackling (chicharrone), fried chorizo, a juicy steak, fried egg, a bowl of gently seasoned red beans, white rice, avocado, fried egg and arepa (here, a small cheese-filled corncake). It could easily feed two ladies, or one very hungry man!

Weekends are really the best time to go, because Rafael has specials then you won't find during weekdays, such as San Cocho, a delicious soup with a big chunk of beef or pork, so tender it comes right off the bone, corn-on-the-cob pieces, plantain and yucca.

They also have karaoke and sometimes bands come in to play, so call and see what's up for the weekend, or check out their Facebook page to see who's playing whom in the futbol games.

The beer is cold, with selections for many Latin American countries, and while you're there, have a shot of Antioqueño, Colombia's excellent aguardiente, with your empanadas and tasty wings slathered in a Jack Daniels BBQ sauce.

Vegetarians never fear — there are plenty of choices, with salads, rice and beans, sautéed or grilled fresh vegetables, plantains both sweet and tender, fried yucca, corn cakes and seasonal fruit plates.

For those with a sweet tooth, Antojo Latino serves a beautiful caramel flan, creamy, dense and smooth, or choose a sweet empanadas stuffed with cream cheese and guava.

For those who love a chilly treat on a hot day, try the cholado, a perfect summer concoction of tropical fruit, sweet syrups and condensed milk served over shaved ice.

Keep in mind that Antojo Latino does close between 3-5 p.m. Monday through Thursday to prepare for dinner, though service continues all day Friday and Saturday, from 11 a.m. until 10 p.m.; Sundays they close early at 3 p.m.

The restaurant is not large, but still, it had room to accommodate me, my husband and six friends at one table for their Colombian Independence Day party last month, so if you need a big table, just call ahead.

Antojo Latino, 44 Posey St., 912/335-7352

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