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Many Roanokers don't know that Rico Pizza on Williamson Road also offers authentic Colombian cuisine.
STEPHANIE KLEIN-DAVIS | The Roanoke Times
The beef rib soup at Rico Pizza on Williamson Road.
STEPHANIE KLEIN-DAVIS | The Roanoke Times
Rico Pizza sells a variety of fruit smoothies called licuados, including this strawberry-flavored version.
Red wine poured in a glass
Thursday, May 16, 2013
Rico Pizza on Williamson Road is a small, family-run restaurant with a large and varied menu of pizzas, pastas, and sandwiches. What many Roanokers do not know, however, is that Rico excels at preparing and serving authentic Colombian cuisine.
Ramiro “Rico” Guacheta opened Rico Pizza about 14 years ago, but he said he decided to add cuisine from his native country five years ago, after noticing that a lot of Latinos were moving to the area. Sharp-eyed guests can find Colombian folk art on the walls, but there are few other clues about the Latin food that sets Rico apart from other pizza and sub shops. These offerings range from blended fruit drinks to the almuerzo completo, or “complete dinner.”
During two recent visits, my family started by sampling the milk and fruit smoothies called licuados. These are simply not to be missed, and are a good value at $2.50 for a 12-oz. drink. The hardest part is choosing your poison — banana, melon, mora (blackberry), lulo (kiwi), maracuja (passionfruit), tamarindo (tamarind) or guanabana (soursop). The drinks are blended to order, so if you are concerned about sugar, ask for less. Banana is the most traditional and is a good place to start; for the more adventurous , I would recommend passionfruit or tamarind, both of which have a tartness perfectly complementing the sweet milk base.
Other Colombian snacks available include maduros (fried plantains, $2 ), chicharrones (pork crackling, $2 ), and arepas ($2 ), the staple breadlike corn cake of Venezuela and Colombia, served hot and topped with white melted cheese. Dense and slightly crumbly, the arepa’s subtle corn sweetness is nicely offset by the slight tanginess of the cheese.
The Latin menu also has dinner platters, each featuring a meat such as a pork chop or beef steak served with rice, red beans, fried plantains and a small salad. The bandeja paisa ($10 ), one of the country’s most beloved dishes, is a combination plate that includes chicharron, sausage, marinated flank steak and a fried egg. All of the meats were good, but the homemade chicharron was excellent: a large, savory slice of juicy pork with a crunchy layer of crackling.
Another star attraction at Rico is the rotating menu of homemade soups, available by the bowl ($3 ) or as part of the complete dinner ($12 ) on weekends. On Saturdays, the soup is another Colombian favorite called sancocho de gallina, a chicken broth with vegetables. The rich and flavorful broth was made with chicken legs, one of which was nestled in the bowl with carrot, potato, sliced avocado and a chunk of corn on the cob, all under a sprinkle of cilantro. With a squirt of lime, the sancocho makes a fine light meal on its own.
In addition to the soup, the almuerzo completo came with a fried pork chop, rice, red beans, fried plantains and a small salad. The pork chop was thin, and while not bad, it was nothing special. I would recommend ordering the bandeja paisa and a bowl of soup on the side, which is well worth the extra dollar of ordering a la carte.
And the rest? The Italian baked goods we tried were all good. The small pizza ($5 ) had an excellent thin, flaky crust, although it was somewhat dry and could have used a bit more sauce. The large, almost calzone-size pepperoni roll ($4.50) and the sandwiches were also tasty. We also tried the cheesesteak ($5.50) and the gyro ($5.50), which came with a smooth, green cucumber sauce that was different from the typical dressing and was surprisingly delicious.
This more familiar menu makes Rico a good choice for mixed groups of those who want to try the delights of the Latin menu and others looking for less unusual choices. Menus are available in both English and Spanish, and there is a children’s menu.
Perhaps fairly described as a hole-in-the-wall, Rico Pizza is not long on ambiance, but it does have a small dining area with six tables and amenities like high chairs. Its bare-bones seating area fills up on weekends, although it seems to do a fair amount of its business in take-out. During the day, there may be only one person manning the operation, both serving and cooking. At peak times, they have three people.
As they are cooking food to order, this means that food and service are not lightning fast — but the service is friendly and the food tasty, and for those wishing to try Latin American food different from more familiar Mexican and Tex-Mex offerings, it is well worth the wait.
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