Icon by Peter Hoey
A barely visible sign marks the sliver of a space that constitutes this Cuban restaurant. But there’s nothing skimpy about the traditional sandwich cubano—a thick stack of pork slices, cheese, and pickles inside chewy bread. The place mats depict the restaurant’s namesake, la Virgen da la Caridad del Cobre, who in 1682 rescued two indigenous Cubans and a ten-year-old boy attempting to row a boat across a stormy sea. With $5 sandwiches, La Caridad is still working miracles. » 2137 W. Temple St., Filipinotown, 213-484-0099.
The lechon Cubano is what brings in the crowds: slow-roasted pork served with plantains, rice, and beans for just over $10. But many specialty dishes can be found on the menu; the owner comes from a family of Cuban restaurateurs. A ficus hedge shields the tables from the street, and the bland shopping mall location becomes an afterthought with the first minty mojito. » 3615 Inglewood Ave., Redondo Beach, 310-725-9075.
El Rincon Criollo
The scent of garlic greets diners well outside the door. Inside is an explosion of color: Paintings of Cuban scenes (lots of palm trees and vintage cars) cover almost every inch of wall space. There’s a home-cooked quality to the food that shines in the lechón asado, served with traditional rice, beans, and plantains, and the staff is reassuringly friendly. Splurge—but just barely—for a glass of house-made sangria. » 4361 Sepulveda Blvd., Culver City, 310-391-4478.
The inimitable Tigeorges Laguerre is Haiti’s unofficial ambassador to L.A., moving fluidly from table to table, painting his native country as an enchanted island. It certainly tastes that way at his restaurant, from the chicken roasted over avocado wood to the limeade flavored with Haitian vanilla. The half chicken with two salads and beans and rice ($7.65 at lunch, $10.25 at dinner) is not for the faint of appetite. » 309 N. Glendale Blvd., Echo Park, 213-353-9994.