If you wanted to rank L.A. courthouses by approximate distances to good food -- places to console your stomach before or after, say, dealing with a moving violation or outstanding warrant -- the monolithic Superior Court building in Van Nuys would easily rank near the top. Where else could a jury duty-sanctioned lunch include options like avocado-smeared cemitas, tamales criollos, roasted hunks of lechon asado or a sinus-clearing portion of bun bo hue?
It was during a post-court day spent driving along Van Nuys Boulevard that the bold Ruscha-esque sign for Takatis Pollo a la Brasa first came into view, flanked by an off-brand mini-mall and a swap meet filled with replica Chivas jerseys fluttering in the wind.
Pollos a la brasa joints are not lacking in this neck of the woods; Takatis isn't even the only one on the block. You can sniff out the good ones by the plumes of rotisserie smoke, or by the lines of overall-wearing mechanics picking up roasted chicken and fries on their lunch break. You can get a reliably crisp-skinned bird at Lola's, just down the street, or at Nazca nearby, a pan flute-soundtracked spot better known for its lomo saltado.
But there is a certain modern swagger at Takatis that is less readily available; a hip menu board scrawled in multicolored chalk; a sleek wood-fired oven retrofitted in the back counter. If you were a fan of Chimú, Mario Alberto Orellana's stellar-but-shuttered Peruvian takeout counter at Grand Central Market, walking into a place like this might inspire renewed pangs of excitement.
It would hard to pass over somewhere like Mo-Chica or Los Balcones for the seafood dishes here; the ceviche is cured a bit too long in lime and the broiled mussels overcooked to a slightly rubbery quality. But if your affection lies with glistening seasoned chicken, plump with spice and hot fat, or maybe a long skewer of slightly charred beef hearts, then Takatis is undeniably satisfying. A tall styrofoam cup of chicha morada, a vaguely sweet, cinnamon-dusted drink made from purple corn, is a mandatory order, too -- easily one of the best in town.
The arroz chufa, a sizzling scallion-studded fried rice, and tallarin saltado, a beefy stir-fry made with chow mein noodles, are pretty good, each cultural relics lent by Peru's sizable immigrant Chinese population. You can not only have lomo saltado with rice, but folded into a burrito too, if you so desire (it gets rather messy). The papas a la Huancaina, cubes of boiled potato and hard-boiled eggs smothered in a vibrant yellow cheese sauce, are pleasantly sharp and spicy, a fine improvement from the more common bland versions.
It wasn't until a few visits later, though, that the sanguchon arrived at the table, a maximalist creation that falls into the category of what one would describe as dream-haunting sandwiches.
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A sanguchon consists of a large bolillo roll split and grilled crisp on the flat-top, then layered with tender bits of succulent roast chicken pulled like Lebanese shawarma, a couple rounds of fried yam, shredded lettuce, a tomato slice or two, a hard-scrambled egg and a dense blanket of melted cheese -- the Peruvian equivalent of a Big Mac, worthy of its own theme song. There is a kind of special sauce, too, perhaps a tweaked version of Thousand Island, and a handful of those little Andy Capp fries that are a favorite street snack in Lima.
You take the two creamy aji sauces on each table -- one red, one green -- and lubricate the massive Dagwood until your jaw is able to wrap around like a python seizing its prey. Is it possible that a street cart food could be any better engineered for a night filled with too many Cusqueñas? or the morning afterwards? It's truly a sandwich for all seasons.