Ali McGhee is a journalist, creative writer, and academic. Her work has appeared in The Edgar Allan Poe Review, Romantic Circles, Symbiosis: A Journal of Anglo-American Literary...
What's not to love about the humble sweet potato? Packed with nutrients, cheap, and versatile, it's been a staple of thrifty home cooks and southerners who love to douse it in brown sugar and marshmallows for a long time now. And this month, it gets some special recognition from local restaurants. September marks "Fiesta de Camotes," a month-long celebration of the sweet potato that area Mexican and Latin-inspired restaurants are using as an excuse to get inventive. We sampled two dishes, from Chupacabra Latin Cafe (50 N. Merrimon Ave.) and Sonora Cocina Mexicana (89 Patton Ave.). The results were just as delicious as you might imagine.
The first stop on our Sweet Potato Grand Tour was Chupacabra Latin Cafe. Perched high up in Reynolds Village in Woodfin, this hidden gem gained notoriety recently for winning the Taco Throwdown with their Banh Mi tacos, featuring crispy pork belly and Asian slaw. Chupacabra has always been one of my favorite Latinx-inspired spots in town, so I was excited to try their sweet potato enchiladas, debuted for the Fiesta de Camotes. I was not disappointed. The portion was large, enough for two people to share (and still take home a little bit). Three enchiladas filled with mashed sweet potato, corn, and other vegetables made this a hearty and healthy meal. I've long been an avid spokesperson for using sweet potatoes in enchiladas, and I'm so glad Chupacabra made this choice. Here, they made the perfect filling.
The enchiladas were topped with cheese, house-made green chile salsa, slices of fresh avocado, and a sprinkling of chopped cilantro. Drizzled on the side were two other salsas: a deep, rich red chile sauce and a fruitier, lighter sauce that cut the richness of the meal. The enchiladas were served over Mexican rice and alongside a colorful salad full of ripe tomato, red onion, and other vegetables.
We got some chips, salsa, and guacamole to accompany this feast. Because my dining companion hadn't been to Chupacabra before, I had to get a prize-winning taco for her to try as well. By the time we'd left, we were full and happy. I also took advantage of the opportunity by ordering one of Chupacabra's refreshing margaritas, a staple for any visit.
Every time I go to Chupacabra, I bemoan the fact that I don't go more often. This dinner was yet another complete success, and it ensured Chupacabra's unrivaled position for my favorite creative Mexican in town.
Next up: lunch at Sonora Cocina Mexicana in downtown Asheville. Sonora is about to celebrate their year anniversary. They've been dishing out flavorful tacos, tortas, enchiladas, and other Mexican comfort food staples from their light-filled storefront on Patton Ave. with a focus on locally-sourced products and food grounded in tradition. Their entry for the Fiesta de Camotes was the "Canoe de Camote" (literally, sweet potato boat), a baked sweet potato filled with spicy chorizo, topped with a mild green chile salsa, cotija cheese, fresh cilantro, and Valentina salsa.
The concept was simple, and Sonora pulled it off. It was a perfect lunchtime treat that was hearty enough to keep me full for the rest of the day and well into the evening. The flavors were vibrant and fresh, and the dish overall managed to feel like a healthy meal, even with the chorizo. I could see this being an affordable lunchtime staple for patrons who want to be health-conscious but don't want to just order a salad. This dish has also given me a lot of inspiration about how to gussy up my twiced-baked potatoes.
After sampling these dishes, this steadfast sweet potato fan has now become something of a fanatic. I'm all about bringing the sweet potato into the limelight more often. When it takes center stage, it's clear the results are only positive. Oh, and mega bonus: the recipes from the month are all available online. Get thee to a sweet potato and make these, pronto! Or (even better), visit one of these fabulous restaurants and have them dish you up something spectacular.
Note: “Fiesta de Camotes” is a promotion of the NC Sweet Potato Commission and was funded through the USDA Specialty Crop Block Grant Program.