Morris Park is one of those neighborhoods where presumably “nothing happens” and residents like it that way. A little over a year ago, La Masa happened. And although the Colombian restaurant is in obvious contrast to the area populated by Italian eateries, it has settled right in.
It’s probably because La Masa, which translates to “the dough”, is family owned and operated by husband and wife duo Josh Montalvo and Laura Valdez, who also treat their customers like family. But, the authentic Colombian comfort food they make has a lot to do with it too.
I had the opportunity to visit recently and dug right in. I started with the traditional Colombian breakfast, typically made from the previous night’s leftovers in working class homes, Josh explained. However, La Masa executes this inspired dish with fresh ingredients. The arepas con queso slices (corn dough flatbreads covered with a layer of cheese) garnished with avocado slices beat all the hipster avocado toasts on Instagram combined. But the pericos (scrambled eggs with chopped tomatoes and onions) were a little outshined by their name, which means cocaine. It’s a funny surprise for customers who are familiar with the term. The real star of breakfast though? The calentado (white rice and beans)—humble but so hearty and warming it was hard to stop eating it.
Chicken Empanada (left) and Spinach and Cheese Empanada (right)
It wouldn’t be a traditional Colombian menu without empanadas and La Masa has over 25 to choose from. I especially loved the crunchy corn flour shell on the chicken, which was a nice surprise since I’ve only had plain flour empanadas. I tried 2, but that was enough to make me recommend them. And no, you can’t keep those cute mini, metal deep fryers they’re served in.
Patacon (left) and Maduro (right)
Plantains are apart of a lot of Latin and Caribbean dishes, often times as a side. However, the patacon and maduro relleno at La Masa won’t come cotched on the edge of your other order (unless you ask for it to in which case they’d gladly do it). The patacon (fried and flattened green plantain or toston) comes with your choice of protein and toppings, but you can’t go wrong with the melted cheese in the el carrilero. My pork patacon el carrilero was so savory. I also really enjoyed the sweet maduro (ripe plantain), which I got stuffed with shredded chicken. I ended up cross-breeding these two dishes, pairing the saltiness of the melted cheese and shredded pork topping with the sweet maduro base, and went to heaven. I would definitely love the see the option on the menu, which Josh says they’re always expanding.
If you know any curse words in Spanish, now would be the time to use them. The bandeja paisa is another traditional Colombian dish. It is a meal so generous, with so much variety, they have to serve it on a tray. It includes steak, chicharron, chorizo, maduro, rice, beans, arepa, avocado and a fried egg. Everything paired together really well. The meat was filling, the beans added texture, the sweet maduros gave a playful contrast to the other flavors, and the egg and avocado lifted the dish. To make a long ingredient list short, it’s amazing.
Mora fruit juice (left) and Lulo fruit juice (right)
For drink options I tried 2 of La Masa’s all-natural fruit juices. The mora is made from blackberries, and the lulo is citrusy with a sweet taste similar to pineapple. Although both are incredibly refreshing, the blackberry was hands down my favorite. Note, anyone who likes their juices strongly flavored and very sweetened may want to opt for something else. I don’t so I really enjoyed them.
To round out my visit, I ended with a dessert empanada! Confession: I’m always intrigued by salty snacks converted into sweet treats. Ironically, I usually also avoid fruit fillings. That considered, the guava and cheese empanada was a toss up…until I ate it. I liked the sweet but tart taste, and the flaky shell covered in powered sugar was the perfect finishing touch.
La Masa’s goal was to represent for the Colombians among the Latin cuisine of The Bronx’s culinary scene and it has definitely succeeded.