Arroz by any Other Name

In the South, a New Year’s bowl of hoppin’ john, black-eyed peas simmered with rice, guarantees a happy and prosperous new year. In New Orleans, red beans and rice is a sacrament on New Year’s Day, also on Mondays. Will gallo pinto, moros y cristianos or plain old arroz y frijoles suffice? One would hope, my friend, one would hope. Bambi Bakery. This may be the loudest place in Hollywood on Saturday mornings, with taped marimba music bouncing off the walls, sticky toddlers caroming off glass bakery cases, counterpeople barking orders into microphones, and waves of Central American locals sloshing, smushing and spilling food and drink onto and into themselves and their kids. And while Guatemalan chiles rellenos — soft, pale blobs stuffed with sweetened ground beef, pork and vegetables — are probably not what you dream of when you wake up in the morning, Guatemalan tamales — big, soft pillows of masa, stuffed with chicken and steamed in banana leaves — are just about the perfect accompaniment to coffee, a big plate of black beans and rice, and an airy Guatemalan roll. 1080 N. Western Ave., (323) 462-2624. Open daily for breakfast and lunch. Breakfast for two, food only, $6–$8. Takeout. No alcohol. Lot parking in rear. AE, DC, MC, V. JG $ Caribbean Treehouse. Caribbean Treehouse is perhaps the only local restaurant that currently dishes up the spicy food of Trinidad and Tobago. Service is casual to the extreme — if you want another bottle of pop, you have to walk over to the cooler and take one out yourself. Roti, sort of a Trinidadian burrito made of chicken-potato stew or a handful of curried beef wrapped up in a grilled Trinidadian flatbread, can come amped with the restaurant’s fiery homemade sauce. There are different kinds of pelau, variations on a West African–style rice dish, cooked with pigeon peas or black-eyed peas. On Saturdays, there’s the “sparrow special,” an enormous plate of food that involves jerky-like strips of salt cod, boiled cassava, sautéed onion, tomato and a certain quantity of dense, chewy dumplings. 1226 Centinela Ave., Inglewood, (310) 330-1170. Lunch and dinner, Tues.–Sun. 11 a.m.–8 p.m. Beer and wine. Lot parking. MC, V. Dinner for two, food only, $8–$18. Caribbean. JG ¢ El Colmao. Start with the avocado salad — cool, ripe chunks garnished with thin slices of raw onion and dressed with splashes of vinegar and torrents of good Spanish olive oil; then a heaping plateful of thin, pounded circles of unripe plantains, fried crisp as potato chips and dusted with salt. Next, boiled yucca; a big plateful of moros y cristianos (Moors and Christians), a tasty miscegenation of black beans and rice fried with garlic and gobbets of fat pork; piles of fried fresh ham, pierna de puerco, crisp and brown on the outside and meltingly tender within, topped with an immoderate portion of caramelized onions. For dessert, good flan and torpor — and strong Cuban espresso. 2328 W. Pico Blvd., (213) 386-6131. Lunch and dinner, 10 a.m.–8:30 p.m. Beer and wine. Takeout. Lot parking. Food for two, $9–$28. MC, V. Cuban. JG ¢ El Gallo Pinto. El Gallo Pinto may not seem like much, but some Nicaraguans drive 100 miles on weekends for the tripe stew mondongo, the plain beef-and-tuber casserole called baho, or the Indio Viejo, a mild yet undeniably exotic stew of the sort you might use to fortify yourself on a cool mountain night. And everybody eats the gallo pinto, Nicaraguan rice and beans served in big mounds shaped like family-sized cans of tuna, slightly oily, seasoned simply, with an intense, chocolate-like flavor from the sautéed beans. “This food is not fancy,” says owner José “Chepe” Cabrales, “but we Nicaraguans feel it in our bones.” 5559 N. Azusa Ave., Azusa, (626) 815-9907. Open daily for lunch and dinner, 11 a.m.– 8:30 p.m. Beer and wine. Entertainment on weekends. Lot parking. AE, D, MC, V. South American. JG ¢ Guelaguetza. Oaxacan cooking is among the most exciting cuisines in Los Angeles at the moment, and at Guelaguetza, the best of them by far, you’ll find the sort of Oaxacan dishes you’ve only read about in cookbooks or glossy magazines. At the original Koreatown location of Guelaguetza, not far from the biggest concentration of Oaxacan restaurants and bakeries this side of the Mexican coastal town itself, you’ll find chile-fried grasshoppers, tlayudas the size of manhole covers, killer plates of black beans and rice, and delicious, mole-drenched tamales. The black mole, based on ingredients the restaurant brings up from Oaxaca, is rich with chopped chocolate and burnt grain, toasted chile and wave upon wave of textured spice — it’s as simple yet as nuanced as a great, old Côte Rôtie. 3337 1?2 W. Eighth St., Koreatown, (213) 427-0779. Open daily 8 a.m.–10 p.m. No alcohol. Street parking. AE, MC, V. Entrées $5–$13.50. Oaxacan. JG ¢ El Rincon Criollo. This family-owned café serves hearty, classic Cuban fare minus the grease or frills. Start off with a little fried yucca ($3), lightly salted, with a potato-like consistency. The Cuban roast pork ($7.50) is hard to beat, delicately seasoned and bursting with flavor, served alongside a hefty portion of white rice and black beans. Be sure and complement your meal with a fresh cup of Cuban coffee ($1.50). 4361 Sepulveda Blvd., Culver City, (310) 391-4478. Lunch and dinner seven days, 11 a.m.– 10 p.m. Beer and wine. Takeout; catering. MC, V. Cuban. JG ¢ Rincon Hondureño. There are perhaps a couple of dozen Honduran restaurants scattered around Westlake and Huntington Park; but nowhere, except at Rincon Hondureño, a palace of red beans and rice, will you find sopa de caracol as good, or curry-tinged arroz con pollo, or coconut-infused fish soup that revolves around a whole, fresh rock cod as highly peppered as pastrami. For breakfast, there is hash fish, finely minced whitefish sautéed with onions and peppers, served with red beans, plantains and the inevitable square of salty, white cheese that seems to come with everything here. This is an easy place to spend an afternoon. 1654 W. Adams St., (323) 734-9530. Lunch and dinner, Mon.–Fri. 7:30 a.m.–9:30 p.m., Sat.–Sun. 8 a.m.–9:30 p.m. Beer only. Takeout. Street parking. Cash only. Lunch or dinner for two, $12–$18. Honduran. JG $ El Tepeyac. The burrito is a symbol of abundance, the humble taco transformed into a plump, overstuffed creation. At El Tepeyac, the legendary East L.A. stand whose name has practically become synonymous with the burrito, the Hollenbeck, named after the local East L.A. police division, is more or less an old-line Mexican restaurant’s entire menu wrapped into a tortilla the size of a pillowcase — rice, beans, stewed meat, guacamole and lakes of melted cheese. 812 N. Evergreen Ave., East L.A., (323) 267-8668. Breakfast, lunch and dinner, Mon.–Wed. 6 a.m.- 9:45 p.m., Fri. & Sat. 6 a.m.– 11 p.m. No alcohol. Street parking. Cash only. Entrées $3.75–$12. Mexican. JG ¢

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