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Pan-Latin

Café Atlantic. This Cuban café from Xiomara Ardolina serves authentic, gently priced Cuban cuisine with a high-quality sheen that may provoke some Versailles die-hards to quibble with the term authentic. But Cuban cooking in general, and this menu in particular, are a rhapsody of garlic and onions, sofrito (sautéed aromatic vegetables), and mojo. Here, the flavors are as bold and spirited as the Cuban jazz on the tape deck. Don’t miss the fufu de platanos con chicharrones, the rich mash of semiripe plantains and crunchy pork rind. 53 E. Union St., Pasadena, (626) 796-7350. Breakfast, lunch and dinner seven days, 6 a.m.-10 p.m. No alcohol. Takeout. Street parking. AE, D, DC, MC, V. Entrées $11–$14. Cuban. MH $$ ¤

Cafe Brasil. Mostly, you’ll find grilled animals at Cafe Brasil: pork chops, lamb chops, steak, shrimp and fish, all profoundly salty and resonant with garlic, charred at the edges, fragrant with citrus and a little overcooked. With all this protein come truckloads of rice glistening with oil, sweet fried plantains and spicy black beans. Cafe Brasil also serves wonderful feijoada on weekends, less offal-intensive than some versions but meat-fragrant in the best possible way. 10831 Venice Blvd., Los Angeles, (310) 837-8957. Open daily 11 a.m.–10 p.m. No alcohol. BYOB. Lot parking. MC, V. Entrées $7–$16. Brazilian. JG ¢ *

El Caserio. The cornerstone of the Ecuadorian kitchen is the fresh chile sauce aji (pronounced ah-hee), which has a tart, fiery taste. El Caserio’s aji is spicier than most, juiced up with onion and fresh tomato, one of the best salsas imaginable, spooned over empanadas or fresh-corn tamales called humitas. The shrimp dish sango de camarones revolves around a strange, thick sauce made with green plantains and peanut butter — probably unlike anything you have eaten before. 309 N. Virgil Ave., Los Angeles, (323) 664-9266. Lunch and dinner Thurs.–Tues. 11 a.m.–9:30 p.m. No alcohol. Takeout. Lot parking. MC, V. Dinner for two, food only, $12–$18. Ecuadorian. JG ¢ ¦

Ciudad. The design of Susan Feniger and Mary Sue Milliken’s downtown restaurant is bold — those yellow chairs, those retro drinking glasses, those seed-encrusted vertical-standing crackers! The menu is a Pan-American pastiche, complete with Old World footnotes. Days see lunching office workers; at night, it’s conventioneers and an arty Silver Lake/Echo Park crowd. 445 S. Figueroa St., downtown, (213) 486-5171. Lunch and dinner daily. Full bar. Valet parking. AE, D, MC, V. Entrées $17–$28. Pan-Latino. MH $$ ¨

Cobras & Matadors. Despite its name, this is, finally, a good tapas restaurant — and who knew how convivial a series of shared small plates with walloping flavors could be? Crimson walls, a hearthlike wood-fired oven and swinging jambons create a hip, Barcelona-style coziness. C&M is strictly BYOB, but the adjacent liquor store has a smart, handpicked selection of South American and Spanish wines, and corkage is $5. 7615 Beverly Blvd., Los Angeles, (323) 932-6178. Dinner Sun.–Thurs. 6–11 p.m., Fri.–Sat. 6 p.m.–midnight. BYOB. Valet parking. MC, V. Tapas $3–$15. Spanish. MH $ ¨

El Loco del Pollo. The tastiest roast chickens in the Los Angeles area, if not the Western Hemisphere itself, are the smoky rotisserie fowl beloved by the Peruvian community, the shotgun marriage of plump birds, roaring wood fires, and a sharp marinade made with citrus, chiles and immoderate amounts of garlic. And the best chickens of all may be a couple blocks from the Glendale Galleria at a restaurant named El Loco del Pollo. With the chicken comes a small crock of aji, the doctored chile purée that serves as a universal Peruvian condiment, and maybe some hand-cut French fries, stewed beans, or the mayonnaisey potato salad that is for some reason a Peruvian standard. It is enough. 230 N. Brand Blvd., Glendale, (818) 956-5888. Lunch and dinner Mon. 11:30 a.m.–3 p.m., Tues.–Thurs. 11:30 a.m.–9 p.m., Fri.–Sat. 11:30 a.m.–10 p.m. Beer and wine. Takeout and delivery. Lot parking. Lunch or dinner for two, food only, $10–$22. MC, V. Peruvian. JG ¢

Madre’s. Jennifer Lopez’s new restaurant in Pasadena is old-fashioned and charming, with lots of ruffled shabby-chic linen, damask and crystal chandeliers. The place will make you sentimental for that rose-loving, big-hearted grandmother you never had — not to mention the heirlooms you never will inherit! The service is terrific, the food similar to what you’d find at a fancy Cuban wedding: fufu, yuca, roasted pork, oxtails, mojo-drenched chicken and shrimp — all in heaping portions. 897 Granite Drive, Pasadena, (626) 744-0900. Open Tues.–Sun. 11 a.m.–3 p.m.; dinner 5–10 p.m. Full bar. Bar open 11 a.m.–11 p.m. Valet parking. Dress code. Major credit cards. Entrées $10–$30. Cuban. MH ¤ ¨ Ü

Paladar. When it comes to food, Paladar’s kitchen is as allusively postmodern as its décor. I’d call the cuisine Cubanesque — food that starts out from a Cuban idea and then is embroidered, expanded, refined, if not always improved upon. In the best cases, the basic sensuality of Cuban cooking — the broad lash of garlic, the clarifying douse of citrus, the luscious sweetness of plantains and caramelized milk, the savory sauté of flavor-enhancing, aromatic vegetables, or “soffritto” — makes it through the translation to trendy Hollywood dinner item. Try the skirt steak, Caribbean roast chicken or soffritto rock shrimp. 1651 Wilcox Ave., Hollywood, (323) 465-7500. Lunch and dinner Mon.–Thurs. 11:30 a.m.–11 p.m. and Fri. 11:30 a.m.–midnight; dinner Sat. 5:30 p.m.–midnight and Sun. 5:30–10:30 p.m. Full bar. Street parking. AE, MC, V. Entrées $13–$22. Cuban. MH $$ ¤ Ü

El Pollo Inka. Beyond the roasted chicken that earned the chain its reputation, El Pollo Inka’s menu is filled with the seafood dishes typical of Lima’s industrial port suburb, Callao: hotly spiced ceviche; crisply fried catfish fillets garnished with a sort of Peruvian pico de gallo; and noodles tossed with various tentacles. The fish soup parihuela is close to the classic version, dark and pepper-hot as a superior Louisiana gumbo. 15400 Hawthorne Blvd., Lawndale, (310) 676-6665. 1425 W. Artesia Blvd., Gardena, (310) 516-7378. 23705 Hawthorne Blvd., Torrance, (310) 373-0062. 11000 Pacific Coast Highway, Hermosa Beach, (310) 372-1433. Lunch and dinner daily (some locations close late on Fri. and Sat.). Beer and wine. Lot parking. AE, CB, DC, MC, V. Entrées $5–$17. Peruvian. JG ¢ *

Pollos a la Brasa. Peruvian-style chicken — pollo a la brasa, chicken on a spit — is the stuff to turn to when you’re looking for roasted chicken with lots of taste. The meat is remarkable, well-garlicked, slightly spicy, permeated with that pungent smoke. The flesh is juicy, the herbal flavor clear, the skin caramelized and crisp. With the chicken comes a salad and little plastic cups of aji, a smooth, mint-green cheese-and-chile purée that is almost hot enough to sear the skin off your lips. 764 S. Western Ave. (also at 16527 S. Vermont Ave., Gardena), Los Angeles, (213) 382-4090. Lunch and dinner Wed.–Mon. 11 a.m.–10 p.m. No alcohol. Takeout. Lot parking. Cash only. Food for two $5–$10. Peruvian. JG ¢

Rincon Hondureño. There are perhaps a couple of dozen Honduran restaurants scattered around Westlake and Huntington Park; but nowhere, except at Rincon Hondureño, 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., Los Angeles, (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 ¢

Xiomara. Funny, extroverted restaurateur Xiomara Ardolina now serves big-flavored Nuevo Latino cuisine with a Cuban accent in her long-lived Old Town digs. Try the sea bass, the long-marinated leg of pork and its lovely byproduct: pork hash. The dining room is calm, elegant, even sedate but all the liveliness and spirit you’d want arrives on the plates — and in the housemade mojitos, the classic Cuban rum drink made with cane juice that’s extracted, fresh, at the bar. 69 N. Raymond Ave., Pasadena, (626) 796-2520. Mon.–Fri. 11:30 a.m.–11 p.m., Sat.–Sun. 5–11 p.m. Full bar. Valet parking. AE, D, MC, V. Entrées $20–$25. Cuban/Pan-Latino. MH $$

Zabumba. Zabumba is less a center of xinxin and jungle-fish stews than a place to gulp a shrimp pizza and a glass of passion-fruit juice between band sets. In fact, it’s the center of expatriate Brazilian life in Los Angeles; headquarters of the local samba club; a hive of Brazilian karaoke; and a steady venue for all forms of Brazilian entertainment this side of Xuxa look-alike competitions. In the evenings, Zabumba seems more bar than restaurant, with a long list of exotic cocktails. 10717 Venice Blvd., Culver City, (310) 841-6525. Dinner Tues.–Sun. 5 p.m.–2 a.m. Full bar. Takeout. Street parking. AE, MC, V. Dinner for two, food only, $14–$25. Brazilian. JG $ ¨

Got a burning culinary question? Try us: askmrgold@laweekly.com

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