On November 11, Colombians celebrated Independence of Cartagena, the day when the colonial port city declared their independence from Spain, laying the foundation for the current state of Colombia. The festivities in the city of Cartagena include a colorful parade and the pageant and coronation of the new Miss Colombia; the same pageant where current Miss Universe and Colombian beauty, Paulina Vega , was crowned Miss Colombia in 2013. You’ve never heard of this holiday? Well, good thing for you, I’m here to keep you up on all things Latin American, and while I can’t promise you a ticket to Miss Colombia, here are the best places in Los Angeles to explore the rich cuisine of Colombia.
Whether you’re looking for a spice mix for ajiaco (creamy chicken soup with vegetable and capers), making some arequipe (caramel), stocking up on gaseosas (Colombian sodas), or grabbing some Colombian trinkets, this Hawthorne one-stop-shop Colombian deli has the best selection around. On the weekends you can snack on some delicious Colombian empanadas served with aji (spicy sauce), or go big with a tamal valluno, a large chicken, pork and vegetable tamal from the Valle del Cauca department of Colombia.
Colombian Delicatessen, 14159 Hawthorne Bl., Hawthorne, 310-970-1092, colombiandelicatessen.com
The young team at this catering company explores the exciting flavors of Colombia, Chile, Peru, Ecuador, and Venezuela, specializing in arepas—corn or flour discs that are topped with regional stews or split open and stuffed. Call them up and have them put on a Colombian arepa party to get a homemade taste of a celebrated street food in Colombia and Venezuela thats a rare treat here in town.
Comida, various locations downtown, 323-577-2328 comidala.com
Back in August I found a long lost love; the Pacific coast Colombian seafood restaurant (that had done a vanishing act 5 years ago) with a regional style from Tumaco, Colombia. They’re better than ever and the only place, perhaps in the U.S., to get dishes like ceviche made with lime and aji amarillo (chili pepper), the paella-like arroz de mariscos (rice with seafood), or seco de toyo (shark stew). It’s a refreshing break from the typical menus, mostly from the capital, Bogotá, and the surrounding Santander department, or Antioquia, to a cuisine not even familiar to many many Colombians.
La Perla del Pacifico, 5219 E. Beverly Bl., East L.A., 323-331-6917
Patricia Blancheteau’s has been in business for more than 20 years, first with Antojitos Latinos, the post where you grabbed a handful of Colombian empanadas after surviving the Van Nuys DMV, and now in her fancier Colombian restaurant serving the menu you find at most Colombain restaurants. There’s bandeja paisa (hearty national plate of meats, eggs and beans), sancochos (stews), patacones (plate-sized, flattened plantain covered in shredded beef or over stews) and a handful of Colombian savories–not different than the other dozen Colombian restaurants around town, just executed a lot better.
Mesón Criollo, 15713 Vanowen St., Van Nuys, 818-904-1099
L.A. best Colombian restaurant also has many of the classics you may have tried: sobrebarriga (steak in a Colombian sauce), huevos pericos (Colombian scrambled eggs), or pandebono (Colombian cheese bread) but the flavor in all dishes from from Cali in the Valle de Cauca department. Dishes like tamales vallunos (Valle de Cauca-style tamales) and manjar blanco (a Colombian dessert) help give this restaurant regional character, but there are also tamales tolimenses (large Tolima-style tamales) and beef tongue cooked in a caper sauce with yucca that make this Westlake restaurant a destination for great cooking and a few dishes you won’t find here in L.A.
Sabor Colombiano, 847 S Union Ave., Westlake, 213-388-0150