ÎCali Viejo. Come here for the picada, and come hungry: This is one huge ceramic platter heaped with grilled lengths of thumb-width Colombian chorizo, peppery nubs of fried beef, pungent blood sausage, crisp chunks of fried pork, and the peculiar though typical Colombian chicharrones, grids of crisply fried pork fat anchored to sweet, ultrachewy pigskin. And though the picada is ostensibly served for one, the $10 platter will probably serve three, augmented by an order of the wonderful corn-crusted empanadas or a batter-fried plantain stuffed with cheese. 7363 Van Nuys Blvd., Van Nuys, (818) 994-2930. Sun.–Thurs. 10 a.m.-9 p.m., Fri.–Sat. 10 a.m.-10 p.m. Dinner for two, food only, $12–$18. No alcohol. Lot parking. ATM, AE, D, DC, MC, V. Columbian.JG $
ÎCarlito’s Gardel. The most famous dish here must be the baked-garlic appetizer, a naked halved bulb on a plate, ready to pulp onto the house’s quite decent bread. As with most Argentine restaurants, Gardel revolves around its parrillada, a cavalcade of grilled meats — sweetbreads, blood sausage, skirt steak, short ribs, Italian sausage — served on a smoking iron grill, accompanied only by a small bowl of well-garlicked chimichurri and a large plate of mashed potatoes. 7963 Melrose Ave., Los Angeles, (323) 655-0891. Open for lunch, Mon.–Fri. 11:30 a.m.- 2:30 p.m. and for dinner, Mon.- Sat. 6 p.m.- 11 p.m. Sun. 5 p.m.- 10 p.m. Dinner for two, food only, $25–$45. Beer and wine. Live music. AE, DC, MC, V. Argentine.JG $
El Caserio. The cornerstone of the Ecuadorian kitchen is the fresh-chile sauce aji (pronounced ah-hee), whose tart, fiery taste accents Ecuadorian dishes the way the taste of smoked chiles sparks Mexican food and the saltiness of fish sauce does Thai. El Caserio’s aji is spicier than most, juiced up with onion and fresh tomato, one of the best salsas imaginable, spooned straight over big, puffy white-cheese empanadas, or over the fresh-corn tamales called humitas. 309 N. Virgil Ave., Los Angeles, (323) 664-9266. Open Thurs.-Tues. 11 a.m.-9:30 p.m. Dinner for two, food only, $12-$18. No alcohol. Takeout. Lot parking. MC, V. Ecuadorian. JG $b
Fogo de Chao.Churrascarias, southern Brazilian steak houses, are not new in Los Angeles. But Fogo de Chao is less a restaurant than a sizzling theme park of meat, a quarter-acre of sword-wielding gauchos, smoldering logs, and soaring walls perforated with bottles of the heartier red wines. It is a land of razor-sharp knives and double-weight forks, A1 sauce and chimichurri, and all the dripping, smoking flesh you can eat carved off swords at your table: $48.50, cash on the barrelhead. 133 N. La Cienega Blvd., Beverly Hills, (310) 289-7755. Open for lunch Mon.–Fri. 11:30 a.m.–2 p.m. and for dinner Mon.–Thurs. 5–10 p.m., Fri. 5–10:30 p.m., Sat. 4:30–10:30 p.m., Sun. 4–9:30 p.m. Full bar. Valet parking. All major credit cards accepted. Prix fixe, food only, dinner $48.50 per person. Southern Brazilian. JG $$Â
La 27th. The fritanga plate, in all its magnificence, is a crunchy tower of protein and shaved green bananas reaching almost halfway to heaven. You will find the well-marinated Nicaraguan-style carne asada on the plate, slivers of pork, and perhaps a few spareribs, rubbed with chile and deep-fried to a spurting crispness. There are also chorizos, skeins of plump, peppery sausage that half encircle the plate like a retaining wall, the requisite pickled cabbage, and fried bricks of salty cheese that squeak like Wisconsin Cheddar curds when you bite into them. But La 27th’s fritanga is a formidable plate of food. 1830 W. Pico Blvd., Los Angeles, (213) 387-2467. Breakfast, lunch and dinner Mon.–Fri. 9 a.m.–10 p.m., Sat.–Sun. 8 a.m.–10 p.m. Beer and wine. Takeout. Lot parking. AE, MC, V. Food for two: $12–$22. Nicaraguan.JG $b
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Los Balcones del Peru. The ceviches at Los Balcones are very good, not just the camarones a la piedra but also the tart assemblages of marinated raw fish and shellfish and purple squid tentacles garnished with puréed sweet potatoes, onions and marble-size kernels of the imported Peruvian corn called choclo, which are alarmingly large the first time you run into them. And then there are those warm marinated shrimp. I have never seen camarones a la piedra outside the pages of a Peruvian cookbook — Los Balcones’ owner swears that the dish is unavailable anywhere else in the United States — and I wonder where it has been hiding all my life. 1360 N. Vine St., Hollywood, (323) 871-9600. Open Sun.–Thurs. 11 a.m.–9 p.m., Fri.–Sat. 11 a.m.–10 p.m. Dinner for two, food only, $18–$28. Beer and wine. AE, MC, V. Validated parking at ArcLight Cinema parking. Peruvian. JG $
Paseo Chapin. Paseo Chapin’s pepian is a forceful version of this Mayan stew: ground, spiced squash seeds, fortified with burnt bread and toasted chiles and thinned out with broth, overwhelming the boiled chicken that floats in it, but also giving the rather ordinary bird substance. And once in your life, you should try a real Guatemalan mole de platano, tart slices of fried plantain in a thick, dangerous sauce of the bitterest chocolate, flavored with cinnamon and dusted with seeds, intricate as a Guatemalan weaving. 2220 W. Seventh St., Los Angeles, (213) 385-7420. Open daily 10 a.m.- 9 p.m. Lunch or dinner for two, food only, $12–$19. Beer and wine. Validated lot parking. Cash only. Guatemalan. JG ¢
Rincon Chileno (Chile). Humitas, Chilean tamales, are terrific here, sweetly spiced, intensely corn-flavored, with the consistency of a steamed pudding. Pastel de choclo, a pan-Andean favorite, is a sweet, nutmeg-laced corn pudding that conceals a chicken leg at its core. But the restaurant’s great specialty might be the appetizer erizo matico, marinated giant sea urchin, the powerfully nutty iodine smack nearly tamed by the flavors of citrus and finely minced onion. The erizo is delicious, crammed full of aphrodisiac nutrients, but really too rich to eat more than a few bites. 4354 Melrose Ave., Los Angeles, (323) 666-6075. Open daily 10 a.m.- 9 p.m. Dinner for two, food only, $18–$25. Beer and wine. Takeout. Parking around the corner on Heliotrope. AE, CB, DC, MC, V. Chilean. JG $b
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. 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 ¢b