The distance between Puerto Rico and Killeen disappears with the first whiff of homemade delicacies at Sabores De Mi Tierra in Killeen.
Liz Figueroa, 48, owner and chef, cooks traditional Puerto Rican dishes that has customers lining up daily even before she opens at 11 a.m.
“We’re not a restaurant where you sit and wait for your food,” Figueroa said. “It’s food-to-go business serving freshly-made dishes that no one else is making.”
She calls her type of business “chincorro boriala” — a place to eat that is inexpensive and not fancy — which she said is common and popular in Puerto Rico. Sabores De Mi Tierra is the first of its kind in Killeen.
Figueroa’s husband, Gilbert, an 11-year Army veteran, built counter tops and set up much of the cooking equipment to transform a former beauty shop into the Sabores De Mi Tierra kitchen.
“It’s is a great place and a new concept in town,” he said.
The exterior of the small building is painted yellow with blue trim and a purple porch. Liz Figueroa, a native of San Juan, Puerto Rico, wanted the bold colors to reflect the friendliness of her country. Three tables with chairs sit on the porch for those who want to relax while eating, which happens often on weekends when customers also play dominos.
Before moving to the United States, Liz Figueroa worked in San Juan as an executive secretary to government officials for 22 years. At night, she cooked in her own place, Carolina Puerto Rico.
In 2008, the Figueroas moved to Fort Hood. When her husband was deployed, she was alone and bored, so she began cooking as a way to make friends and to give herself something to do.
“I started in a positive way, when I shared my food with people in my husband’s unit,” Figueroa said.
Soon she was catering for parties and advertising on a Facebook page. Customers called in and picked up their orders from her home. In March 2014, she opened her business in its new location.
While she does all the cooking, her brother-in-law, Juan Acava, helps with the food prep.
The menu changes daily, but some of the dishes include steak and onions, pork chops and chicken, plantains, mofongo — fried green plantains mashed together with broth, garlic, olive oil and pork cracklings or bits of bacon — an empanada — a baked or fried stuffed pastry — and rice and beans.
Yolanda Rodriguez, a regular customer already, loves the authentic taste.
“They make me feel like I’m in Puerto Rico again, and when I don’t want to cook, I come here,” she said.