In the second installation of Xpress‘ new monthly food column, “Fresh Dish,” we join Iris Rodriguez, the co-owner and chef of Little Chango, on her restaurant’s sunny South Slope patio to discuss seasonal dishes and cooking tips. The business, which she operates with her husband, Jose Busto, is the couple’s first venture into the food and beverage industry.
A former banker, Rodriguez changed careers in 2016, when she enrolled in culinary school at A-B Tech. After working in a few kitchens, she and Busto launched Little Chango in November 2021.
“We’re trying to put Hispanic food out there,” Rodriguez says, noting the restaurant’s focus on Puerto Rican and Cuban dishes. “I like street food. We try to portray that, and I think we found the best little spot for that type of food.”
Xpress: What’s a good seasonal ingredient underrepresented in home cooking?
I don’t think people use rice enough. I come from rice country [Puerto Rico], so I could eat rice every single day. White rice, brown rice, red rice, purple rice, wild rice. And we do grow rice in North Carolina. We actually have a farmer here, Lee’s One Fortune Farm, who we use at home. They have a farm in Marion. It’s superinteresting that he’s doing that in this area.
What is a current dish on your restaurant menu that you feel is not getting the attention that it deserves, and why do you think it’s being overlooked?
You know, we have a good mix. But I would say it would be the vegetarian arepa, the jibara. It’s a black bean mash made in a sofrito base with sweet plantains, avocados, queso fresco and a pepita sauce. It is so good. It’s really fresh, really filling, and it really brings the flavors out. It gets ordered but mostly by vegetarians. I think more people should taste it because it really represents the flavors that we’re trying to bring in.
Outside of your own restaurant, what’s a local dish that you’ve tried in the last month that completely blew you away, and why?
I love pastries, I have a sweet tooth.
There is this bakery in Richmond, [Va.] that is called Sub Rosa Bakery. They do wood-fired baking. And they do this amazing spiral croissant done with tart cherries and pistachios, and oh, it’s the perfect bite. It’s tart, buttery, crispy, and the layers of the lamination are perfect, and the flavors are really well balanced. When you bite into, it melts in your mouth.
Closer, OWL Bakery is amazing. And they do a really good job with lamination. I go there at least once a week. I love their Danish options.
I don’t actually get to go out to eat a lot lately because I’m always here. I’m superbusy. But there’s a lot of new really good restaurants popping up. I went to Tall John’s, and I really liked it. And I always have really good options at Leo’s House of Thirst.
What cuisine would you like to see represented more in Asheville?
Well, you know, I don’t think that we have a good representation of all the Hispanic cultures. So, we can definitely grow in that area. But I always find myself craving Cantonese food — like, casual Cantonese food.
We need a spot like that in West Asheville and in downtown. Just a little hole-in-the-wall. I think we can support it, and I think people will love it.
What’s a favorite food destination within driving distance of Asheville that readers should add to their list?
I haven’t been out of Asheville in two years. It’s hard when you’re busy. But I am an island girl — I was born and raised in Puerto Rico, so this is the first time that I am not living coastal. So, when I try to get out, I go to Charleston and the Folly Beach area. And when I get there, I eat seafood because I miss it. I just go to like shacks near the beach and get oysters.
And in Charleston, there’s a place I like to go called Chez Nous, a little French eatery. They change their menu every day, and they have really fresh ingredients. You can see the cooks making the pasta. It’s really nice.
Who would you like to see us dish with next month?
To piggyback with the need for more Cantonese and Chinese food, I nominate J Chong as the next chef!