Strictly Latin fare in a clean, friendly new spot

You might think of mac and cheese as comfort food, or maybe for you it's chicken soup. But for me, growing up as one of five kids, it was my dad's chicken cutlets. We had cutlets a lot.

Dining recently at Chaparro's in Danbury, all the good memories and tastes associated with that meal flooded back to me. Having lunch at this new Latin family restaurant, I realized cutlets evoke happy thoughts of my parents and growing up.

My pollo empanizado, breaded chicken, was so evenly crisp on the outside and soft in the center, it reminded me of my parents' cutlets, which were always pounded out to tender perfection.

What differs at Chaparro's from my Italian family's cuisine is, of course, the Latin flavors that accompany the dishes -- a nice departure. My entree included sweet plantains with fresh grill marks, billowy corn cakes and crispy, coated fries. The sides also came with the rib eye steak my friend ordered and enjoyed.

Chaparro's is a free-standing restaurant that looks new and clean. The West Street building, opposite a Latin deli and dollar store, is not walking distance from downtown Danbury, but it's only a short drive. It's also close to the Danbury Fair mall. It's owned by Elmer Palma, who is also owner of another Danbury restaurant, Elmer's Diner. Soon, the owner said, Chaparro's will have outside dining next to a narrow creek there.

The food at Chaparro's reminded me of a special vacation in the Miami area, where I returned a few times in a week to a Cuban cafe that was walking distance from the beach. The Miami feeling lingered as my friend and I dined beneath a Casablanca fan next to a window.

I took notes about the decor and worried I'd forget its simple details. But what's memorable are freshly painted walls and lacquered floors, tables spaced comfortably apart, and service at a blue-and-white mosaic-tiled counter. Our waitress was sweet. She spoke softly and smiled as she worked.

From the garlic bread with basil mayonnaise, to the smooth shake made of strawberries and kiwi, I imagined what it would be like to travel through Latin America. Mealtime, I imagine, is easygoing and relaxing.

My friend remarked on how wisely she'd chosen from the "thousand and one things" on the menu. When her steak came, it was tender and done very well, she said.

A more daring diner might want to try chicharrones de pollo, fried chicken skin.

At his Padanaram Road diner, Palma does offer some Latin choices, but it's more of a mix. At Chaparro's, Latin cuisine is definitely the focus. "I believe in presenting different types of food in Danbury," said Palma, a native of Guatemala.

Another interesting entree to try at Chaparro's would be the New York steak. It comes with roasted jalapenos, rice, beans, quacamole, plantains and tortillas. Or you might try Colombian steak, which comes with egg over pork skin, plantains, rice, beans and arepa (corn cakes).

For seafood lovers, there's shrimp in Creole sauce. There's also shrimp rancheros, served over sauteed vegetables, rice and beans; it comes with avocado and soup.

Chaparro's also serves breakfast and has a children's menu. There's cappuccinos and desserts, plus anything on the menu is available for take-out.

There is no liquor served, but feel free to bring your own.

dchristopher@newstimes.com/ Twitter: @dchristopherct

Chaparro's, 123 West St., Danbury, 203-798-3673.

HOURS: Sunday-Thursday 7 a.m.-10 p.m.; Friday, Saturday, 7 a.m. - 11 p.m. CREDIT CARDS: American Express, Master Card, Visa, Discover

PRICES: Soups $5.95-$9.95; main dishes $5.95-$15.95; combination dishes $13.95-$17.95; children's menu $4.95-$5.95.