The oddest of all the burgers in Burger Land is the tostón burger at the Pincho Factory. Slapping a hamburger between two slabs of fried tostón sounded to me not only unappetizing but an invitation to a heart attack from all the grease. But biting into one, I quickly discovered why the burger has become one of Pincho Factory’s five best-selling dishes: The tostones are served sizzling hot, before they get a chance to turn gloppy and congealed, and they add a manly crunch to your burger. (For the really manly, there’s the Cartel Dog, Pincho Factory’s indelicately named take on the Colombian hot dog.)
Owner Nedal Ahmad decided to open a burger joint after friends wildly praised his work on the grill at a Fourth of July barbecue two years ago. “I probably should have taken into account how much beer they’d been drinking,” he admits. “But it’s worked out OK. We’ve done well enough that we’re going to open another location in Coral Gables soon.”
A Palestinian American from Chicago, Nedal learned the joy of Latin fried food from Nicaraguan street vendors in his Miami neighborhood. Which reminds me: I should point out that the corporate bosses at McDonald’s didn’t know their Nicaraguan franchisee had kept his restaurant open even after commercial relations with the United States ruptured in the early 1980s. When they found out from the harrowing description in Johnson’s novel, they quickly ordered the golden arches torn down and the Mc pulled from the sign.
I was there when McDonald’s officially retuned to Nicaragua in 1998. At the grand opening of the new Managua store I ran into Nicaraguan Vice President Enrique Bolaños, who was there to read an official proclamation and sample the Big Mac. “When foreign investors see that big M, they know we’re not running around in loincloths,” he explained. Plus, he added, the french fries were pretty good: “Much better than the ones at the McDonald’s in Moscow.” There may be hope for the Latin American hamburger yet.