By Natalia Carter
Finding authentic Hispanic food places in Los Angeles is not a difficult task. Thanks to the large number of immigrants from Latin America and Spain, the offer of authentic dishes is great.
The Mexican and Central American communities lead the gastronomic market in the city with an outstanding number of establishments. It is relatively easy to find a good plate of homemade-style mole, or tacos like those sold in the streets of Tijuana. The same is true of Salvadoran pupusas, nacatamales or baleadas.
Additionally, the number of South American restaurants in the area is growing, perhaps driven by the rise in popularity of Peruvian food at this time, both locally and globally.
Spanish cuisine is increasingly present in this region. Outstanding chefs of international stature, such as José Andrés, have opened the doors of their establishments in Los Angeles and with those restaurants came the increased popularity of dishes from the Iberian Peninsula.
Below you will find a list of some of my most recommended places to enjoy authentic Hispanic food in Los Angeles and its surroundings. Each place provides an opportunity for to really experience of each of these cuisines.
To taste some good chilaquiles or exquisite chiles en nogada, you have to go to the city of Bell, where La Casita Mexicana is located. Some of the highlights on their menu are the fish (cooked in the best style of Jalisco) and the chamorro de res (beef shank). Other great suggestions are their chiles rellenos (stuffed chiles), especially during the month of September.
If you were looking for some delicious street style tacos you have two great options: Yuca’s in Pasadena and Guisados, which has locations throughout LA County. At Yuca’s I recommend the cochinita al pibil— specialty of the house—as well as the juicy carnitas. Both dishes, in tacos or burritos, are equally rich. At Guisados, the best way to enjoy their flavors is ordering the taco sampler—then you can know for sure which of those tasty tacos to order during the next visit.
And for mole lovers, in Los Angeles here’s a great option: La Guelaguetza, named by acclaimed food critic Jonathan Gold as the best Oaxacan restaurant in the country. Some reasons for the honor? Well, it could be their tlayudas, or their enmoladas, or the empanadas de mole that they offer as well. A few visits to the restaurant and you’ll see for yourself.
Central American Food
Housed in the Grand Central Market is one of the most famous Salvadoran establishments in the city, Sarita’s Pupuseria. As its name says, its star dish is the pupusas, although breakfast plates, tamales, and yuca frita with chicharron are also served, among other dishes.
Just a couple blocks from the Vermont/Beverly metro station stands Atlacatl, another of the most popular Salvadoran establishments in Los Angeles. In addition to a great collection of authentic dishes, such as fried plantains with beans and cream, the horchata stands out. Do not leave the restaurant without trying this refreshing drink.
Driving a little further south, check out El Paraiso Restaurant which offer homemade and authentic food, as well as a place for Orange County residents to calmly indulge their cravings.
Nicaraguan food has good representation in California with Portobanco’s Restaurant and its famous fritanga (beef, sausage, pork, gallopinto, salad, cheese and ripe plantains). Another good place to taste the unique food is La 27th Restaurant with great carne asada dishes—don’t forget the cacao.
Mofongo’s brings the flavors of Puerto Rican food to the city of Los Angeles. As the name implies, its specialty is the mofongo(fried mashed plantains), but also try pork dishes, pasteles and asopaos. And if you crave filled-potatoes, medianoches sandwiches, refugiados and flan, the place to go is Porto’s Bakery & Cafe, which has locations in Glendale and Burbank. Porto’s offers Cuban snacks with the best flavor of the island.
South American Food
For a good Bandeja Paisa, head over to Melrose avenue and enjoy it at La Fonda Antioqueña. There, you can also order some crispy Colombian empanadas, and if you arrive early, enjoy a Paisa style breakfast.
Very close to this restaurant is another jewel of South American cuisine: Lala’s Argentine Grill (which has three locations in Los Angeles). Lala’s is famous for its grilled meats, milanesas, and its appetizer of French bread with chimichurri, which—fair warning—can leave you without much appetite while you wait for your main course.
A little further south, in the Long Beach area is El Pollo Imperial—a restaurant with authentic, homemade Peruvian food. Its specialty is grilled chicken served with a bowl of soup, salad, rice or french fries. Complete the dish with a refreshing chicha morada and aji sauce.
And as for the O.C., check out Mil Jugos, the place where Venezuelans (and fans of Venezuelan food) have the opportunity to enjoy delicious stuffed arepas and cachapas, accompanied by fresh fruit juices and other typical dishes of the South American country.
It’s a little more difficult to find authentic Spanish food in the area. Restaurants have opened proclaiming their “tapas” are like the traditional ones of the Iberian country. However, this rarely the case. If you want to enjoy a paella like those made in Valencia, or some bocadillos of chorizo, serrano ham, cheese and piquillo peppers, you have to go to La Española Meats, in Harbor City. And if you go the last Saturday of the month, you can enjoy live flamenco music and taste the best wines of the winery—he complete experience!