Heading back to work at Spark after an early-evening meeting, I decided to head through the South Side of Bethlehem to see if any new restaurants had opened. After all, I had 2-3 hours of work ahead of me and doing it on an empty stomach was unthinkable.

I immediately noticed General Zapata near Nawab. I peered in a large picture window and saw a handful of tables and tasteful décor. The temptation of Caribbean-Mexican fusion food was too compelling to pass up.

The BYOB restaurant has eight tables and seating for 25. An earthy brown-orange color scheme exuded warmth, as did the wood floors and wall shelves displaying pottery and ornate brown bottles.

Caribbean-Mexican fusion is somewhat of a misnomer. General Zapata offers Caribbean/Hispanic food and Mexican food, not a combination (though a “jerk chicken taco” experiment would be worth trying). Nine combination platters offer a selection of traditional Hispanic foods, such as fried pork chops, onion steak, roast pork and fried chicken, each served with rice and beans or pigeon peas and small side salad.

General Zapata’s menu exhorts: “Try our famous hot sauce.” I complied, pouring copious amounts on my rice and beans. Good move. The tomato-based sauce had spicy notes and a citrusy, piquant finish that would have been ideal on Mexican food.

A post-meal conversation with owner Rick Garcia established that General Zapata’s is worth supporting. He and his family cook all the food from scratch and from traditional recipes. They use quality ingredients and supplement the herbs and spices with ample quantities of old-fashioned pride – something you cannot get from a homogeneous chain. Restaurants like General Zapata add true flavor to the Lehigh Valley’s dining scene.

This post was written by Lehigh Valley InSite guest blogger Michael Drabenstott, who also writes the Beyond Scrapple blog.