It all started with empanadas. Before she opened her takeout shop in 2011, Vicky Ramos was making empanadas for friends and family, even bringing trays of them to hungry factory workers. Ramos' mother is from Colombia and, at first, the fried turnovers hewed to a traditional Colombian recipe: beef and potato or chicken and potato.

But Ramos began fiddling. First she substituted cheese for the potatoes, and added new fillings such as pork, shrimp and three cheeses. Then her imagination began to run wild: "Hawaiiana" empanadas stuffed with ham, pineapple and cheese; "Macarrones con queso" stuffed with mac n cheese; "choco-banana" stuffed with Nutella and bananas.

In all, Ramos sells 21 varieties of empanadas, ranging from $1.25 to $2 each. But her friendly little shop offers a fairly complete survey of homestyle Latin-American cuisine: pupusas, fat corn griddle cakes stuffed with cheese, pork and beans, from her father's native El Salvador; pernil, slow-roasted pork shoulder from Puerto Rico that's too tender to be cut with a knife; textbook Cuban sandwiches; Mexican tacos; plus stews, soups, tamales, burritos, quesadillas, sandwiches and sweets.

The chicharrón, fried pork rinds whose preparation is entrusted exclusively to Ramos' boyfriend-partner Erik Gonzalez, deserve special mention; they are as crisp and light as rice cakes -- though considerably more appealing.

Almost everything she makes (except the sweets) starts with a classic sofrito, the aromatic Latin American flavor base. At Vicky's it's made with culantro (a related but distinct herb from cilantro), green peppers, onion, ajicitos dulce peppers and garlic. "Lots of garlic," notes Ramos.

Vicky's Casa del Sabor

771 N. Wellwood Ave., Lindenhurst

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