For the last 19 years, Don Lencho has been grilling whole fish over mesquite just like they do on the beaches of his native El Salvador, which has become a top surf destination in recent years for adventurous types. Mojarra frita, or whole fried fish is in practically every Latino cuisine represented in L.A., but grilled whole fish is rare.
On the outside, Don Lencho’s faded paint job mixed with the barred doors and windows on a rather dull strip of Normandie Ave. make the place appear shuttered. I must have driven by a thousand times and thought the same. But walk up the driveway on the northern side of the restaurant and you’ll see benches full of Central-American and Mexican families under a warped plywood shed covering a section of parking lot ordering the specialty of the house: mojarra asada.
For $13.99, you get butterflied tilapia, with skin blackened by mesquite served alongside thick, fluffy Salvadoran tortillas, tangy chirmol (think pico de gallo), limes, and a small cup of cooked whole beans. Regulars deftly remove the bones in one careful motion, learned from many Sunday afternoon visits with the now wheelchair-bound Don Lencho.
There’s carne asada, a really nice full-flavored chorizo, grilled ears of corn, and likely the best pupusas in town. It's the standard pupusa selection—chicharrón, loroco (a delicious flower bud native to Central America), bean, cheese, and revuelta (a combo of bean, cheese, and chicharrón)—but they’ve got an excellent texture, offering a soft bite that's wonderfully contrasted by plenty of char from being cooked the old-fashioned way, right over the fire.
You won’t find a place or a set-up like this anywhere else in L.A., not even at Don Lencho’s #2 on Broadway in Southeast L.A. Make no mistake: this seemingly run-down restaurant is a true diamond in the rough.
Don Lencho Restaurant, 6119 S Normandie Ave., South Los Angeles, 323-751-7533