No, this isn't a post about some guy named Al. Al Corral is a nice little restaurante Ceibeño (La Ceiba restaurant) − one we would affectionately call a 'hole-in-the-wall' place in the U.S. Corral is the same word in English. It's called that, I think, because it is an open air restaurant and the fence around it looks a little like a corral.
This is Jorge, the owner. He is a sweet guy. He's usually the grill cook, too. I don't know if he was just taking a night off from the grill or if this is a permanent change. His wife, who usually runs the cash register and works in the kitchen, came in while we were there, so I think he may have been filling in at the cash register for her.
This is a real family place. His son and daughter have been the waiters since they were about 10 years old and the other women working in the kitchen are probably sisters or cousins.
El Jefe and I really like this guy. We have never gone into his restaurant that he hasn't come up to shake El Jefe's hand and give me hug. He calls me "mi amor" (my love) and I like that. During the whole evening, he makes the rounds, to greet people and make sure everyone is satisfied and has everything they need. That is something very rare here in La Ceiba.
It's an outdoor restaurant with a tin roof. Only the kitchen and restroom are walled. He has expanded his little place to almost twice the size it was originally and it's almost always full when we go there. That's a very good sign. It's not unusual to go to a restaurant in La Ceiba and be the only one there.
Al Corral has rustic wooden tables and chairs. I like that. It's a refreshing change from the molded plastic tables and chairs that most places have. He also has decorations on the walls and some antique junk scattered around.
It shows that he cares − that he's trying to make his place a little different and little more interesting. Check out the television in this picture. It looks like someone made a homemade case for it. That radio is almost as big as a TV.
Here's the menu. If you click on it to enlarge it, you can see that the prices are reasonable − around L.100 ($5.29 U.S.) for most meals. A cerveza (beer) is L.22 ($1.16 U.S.) He has some interesting menu items, such as huevos de toro (huevos means eggs and toro is bull, so you can figure out the rest). Other unusual items are kidneys, livers, and turtle eggs (which are said to make the men 'eager'). I stick with the grilled chicken and El Jefe likes the grilled beef.
If you read closely, you'll see that Jorge abides by the sacred food law of Honduras. No meal includes both tortillas and tajadas (fried plantain slices), but if you want to live recklessly, you can order a side dish of tajadas for only L.20 ($1.06 U.S.) or tortillas for only L.5 ($0.26 U.S.).
Now here's the bad part. This picture is of the meat marinating in plastic tubs. These are sitting out at room temperature near the grill. One can only hope that he does such a good business that it isn't sitting there long enough to grow bacteria. Or that the grill is hot enough to burn it away.
I try not to think about this part. Plus I know that it is no different any place you go here. People just have no clue about food safety. I guess it might be better that it is sitting out before it is cooked, instead of after as is common in many restaurants?
This has been a hard article to write. I want to write a positive article about this little La Ceiba restaurant. The problem is the picture of the food. I've been looking at it for a couple of weeks and I know how it will look to you.
Here's our dinner. Remember that I told you that all Honduran food is brown or white? This picture kind of proves my point. But do you see that Jorge has added an excess of carrots to the marinated cabbage? Again, he goes beyond what is normally done. At many restaurants, you are lucky if there is one sliver of carrot in the salad. El Jefe's plate even has a green vegetable, a little jalapeño.
Regardless of how it looks, the food was pretty good and the beef was tender − that in itself is a big accomplishment in Honduras, where the meat is so incredibly tough.
The two dishes in the center accompany every meal at Al Corral. To the left is encurtido de cebollas (pickled onions) and the other is chimichurri, which is similar to a pesto sauce. Chimichurri is generally made with parsley, garlic, vinegar, oil, salt, and pepper. If you are interested, there are lots of recipes on the internet.
All in all, if you ever come to La Ceiba and want to try some real comida tipica (typical food), I highly recommend Al Corral. If you like meat, you'll probably like this place. And don't forget to tell Jorge that La Gringa sent you.