If you are looking to try something outside of the box, look no further than Latin It Up at Strawberry Fields. Latin It Up operates on the weekend from the Strawberry Fields kitchen, and offess the flavors of Bolivia, Peru, Brazil, Colombia, Venezuela, and Mexico through a weekly rotating menu that you can find on their Facebook page. Their hours are limited to Fridays and Saturdays from 4 to 8 p.m., which makes it the perfect location for weekend date night, or a meeting of friends with adventurous appetites.

It can be a bit confusing when you enter the Strawberry Fields Cafe with the large menu board and coolers full of delicious looking desserts, but keep to your mission and head straight to the cafe cash register. There you will find the Latin It Up menu, pictures of the weekly specials, and ordering cards. They accept debit and credit card if you spend $10 or more. You can fill out an order to eat at the quaint cafe, or have it prepared to go. Deciphering meal versus snack portions on the menu can be confusing, so let the prices guide you. While you wait for your order to be prepared, you are free to peruse the attached market for international delights to accompany your meal. The cafe has several small tables inside and a few outside. The ambiance makes it a nice place to grab a snack and get some work done.

We visited when the weekly specials were designed to celebrate Bolivia’s Independence Day. The chef, Amalia Huanca Thompson, offered to help us pick out items that would fit our tastes. This was very welcomed given that the dishes included some ingredients that I had not heard of before. I asked for something spicy and she was eager to deliver.

We took her recommendation and started with the most popular menu items that are available every week, the empanada and salteña. The beef chorizo, onion, and sweet corn empanada had a rich and spicy flavor from the chorizo seasoning inside and a chewy fried dough on the outside. The salteña, which is a delicious, fried bread pocket filled with beef, chicken, potato, carrots, peas, and hard-boiled egg, was scrumptious with both a sweet and spicy flavor. Some of their other regularly available, traditional snacks include tostones, fried yucas, papas rellenas, and plátanos rellenos. You can get jalapeño salsa or chipotle relish as dips, but I suggest you try the creamy chipotle sauce if you seek something with a real kick to it. Each snack will run you around $3.

For our main dishes, we ordered the two Bolivian specials. The first was Silpancho Latin It Up style, which is a very thin steak lightly breaded and fried topped with a runny fried egg. The dish came with grilled plantains, batido de tamarindo (spicy cabbage slaw), and white rice.  The dishes came out piping hot. The presentation was beautiful, the portions were gigantic, and the taste was incredibly fresh. We also order the Feijoada, which is a thick black bean and beef stew. It was accompanied with batido de tamarindo, white rice, and perfectly cooked yuca fries. Yuca was new to me, and my first experience with it was delicious. Yuca is a starchy root vegetable, similar to a potato, prepared with a hint of lemon and garlic (also called cassava). I hope to see yuca on more menus around town. Each special plate is priced at around $10, which is a great value for the quality of the food.

As a drink, the server suggested we try tamarindo water. Tamarindo is a fruit that is a little sweet, a little sour, and overall very refreshing. The drink looks a lot like cloudy ice tea when it arrived. At an affordable $2, it went perfectly with the spicy and savory dishes. Their alfajores cookies, which I am told are very popular, looked amazing to my eyes, but my stomach simply did not have the room. However, they are definitely something I plan to save room for the next time I visit.

Even with the many dining options around the C-U area, you can still find something different at Latin It Up. The chef takes pride in her work, the service was fantastic, and the food was quality. If you are looking for somewhere new to dine next weekend, don’t miss this hidden gem!

Latin It Up
(Located inside Strawberry Fields Cafe)
306 W Springfield
Urbana
F + Sa 4t to 8 p.m.

Photos by Madeline Trimble