This is the ninth in a series of articles featuring immigrant-owned restaurants in enclaves located outside of major US food hubs.
Two years ago Maritza Castellanos opened Rincon Catracho, a Honduran restaurant in Plymouth, Indiana. There were many hurdles: She speaks very little English, and the paperwork seemed insurmountable.
"She prayed that somehow God will direct her to finding the right people that will help her through the process," said Carlos Perez, who served as translator during my visit to the restaurant. He and Castellanos belong to the same church.
And so God directed Castellanos to the landlord of the building in which the restaurant now sits. It had previously housed a pizzeria and paintings of Italian villas still hang on the walls. The landlord—a white guy, they noted—helped Castellanos get permits and connected her with qualified contractors.
Rincon Catracho sits next to a foaming creek on a quaint main street of Plymouth, which you'd come upon after driving through about 20 miles of farmland after leaving the interstate. Like Castellanos, 4 percent of the city's 10,000 residents were born in Honduras. Castellanos hails from Yocon, a town almost exactly the same size as Plymouth that, also like Plymouth, sits in the middle of the country. Her mother ran a loncheria and some of Castellanos' fondest memories are of helping her mother serve food to townsfolk. Drawn by the dozen or so Hondurans who'd already made it their home, she moved to Plymouth in the mid-1990s. She worked as a housekeeper—she still does—and, after inviting friends for dinner, she quickly gained a reputation among the expatriates for making the best Honduran food in town. Rincon Catracho ("Catracho" is a nickname for someone of Honduran descent, and "Rincon" is Spanish for "corner") opened with much anticipation from the Honduran community.
Crowds now flood the place, especially on Fridays and Saturdays, for la parita catracha—enchiladas, sort of.
"There is no translation," said Cesiah Perez, Carlos Perez's wife. "Mexicans will call enchiladas one thing and Hondurans will call it a different thing. It's a corn tortilla, ground beef, potatoes, cabbage salad, salsa, chimol, which is like pico de gallo, Honduran cheese."
On my visit, I ordered a sopa marinera, a creamy, rust-colored seafood soup resembling a coconut curry that's eaten with rice. It came with tostones—smashed, fried green plantains—topped with pickled onions and beets. I also bought a large platter of grilled and stewed vegetables, steak, chicken, shrimp, chorizo, beans, and rice, which I continued to eat for days after.
Despite the restaurant's weekend popularity, Castellanos struggles to make the economics pencil out. She is the only paid employee, which means when the rush hits, its volunteers, like the Perezes or Castellanos' family, who keep the kitchen moving.
"That's a way to start. There's no other way, really, if you really want to build something," Cesiah Perez responded to my shock when I found out she was working unpaid. "It's our nature. If you need help, if I can help you, why not?"
Cesiah also serves as one of the restaurant's ingredient suppliers. She pointed to a bottle of D'Olancho chile sauce on the table. I asked her where the restaurant got it from, assuming a Chicago distributor.
"Honduras," she said. "I go to my country once a year and I bring things back—mostly the spices, the ones that you really can't find here. She tries to be very authentic."
She paused and made eye contact with her husband.
"And only the ones that immigration will allow," she said, smiling. "Not everything."
Immigration, and ICE, are major topics of conversation in the restaurant. Although he spoke highly of the broader community in Plymouth, Carlos Perez admitted that he has felt rejected because of his skin colour, and that there is sometimes racial tension in the area. He mentioned an undocumented friend who, after a few traffic violations, was deported.
"Would ICE walk in here?" I asked him.
"Not unless they want to eat," he said calmly.
"At one time I felt like I needed to please the American customer by giving them what they like, like hamburgers," Castellanos said through Perez's translation. "But to my surprise the majority of them will tell me, 'I came here not for American food, I came here for Honduran food.'"
One day, a white customer took her hand.
"He said that was the best steak that he could ever have eaten, that God will bless my hands to keep cooking that way," Castellanos said, beginning to cry.
"Know that I come from a small province," she said. "Not in my wildest dreams did I think I could come to this point and to let the way I cook and my food bless America—to be able to cook Honduran food and to be able to give that to people to taste, and to the world."