Craving Caribbean cuisine? You’re in luck. Squid Ink spies the opening of Old San Juan in Atwater Village, a rare example of an authentic Puerto Rican restaurant serving Taco Town. Coming from owner Ramon L. Galindo and P.R.-born Pinot Bistro and Loteria-vet executive chef Luis Castro, the 91-seat restaurant serves consciously-plated Borinquen staples like bacalao fritters, rice and peas, mofongo with chicharron, arroz con pollo, cuajitos guisados, and three types of flan, as well as a few vegetarian versions to get the meatless hooked. Speaking of hooked, the restaurant will also serve beer and wine, with a small store attached offering essential cooking tools and ingredients. And what’s a good Latin Caribbean restaurant without a pork fixation? Fortunately, Old San Juan’s got everyone covered with a potential whole pig roast in the works for weekends to get them hollering, "Puerto Rico…ho!" What else is appearing on the horizon?
Before you can put down that new copy of This Is How You Lose Her, Digest’s Bill Esparza spots another Latin Caribbean option on the rise in Culver City, featuring distinct cuisine that bears a similar collusion of African, native Taino, and Spanish influences.
Ilonka Garcia, the Dominican chef once found at Camaguey meat market, is now offering Dominican home-cooking at Food Festival, a small space with a "nice sized kitchen." Here you’ll find her D.R.-style empanadas ("the best in town," he says), guisados, mondongo, and what Esparza also calls "the only serious mofongo in town." The chivo guisado in particular sounds like the perfect antidote for Culver City goat-lovers who can’t wait for Fridays to come around at Zam Zam. Pero no hay romo ya. Oh well, can’t win them all.
Clearly, the appearances of two new Caribbean Latin restaurants make for encouraging news amid L.A.’s vast empire of far-flung eats, which includes some middling Cuban spots and a little cross-over of similar influences among our Belizean restaurants. We like to think we have almost a bit of everything in this city if you look hard enough. With the openings of Old San Juan and Food Festival, we’re getting a little bit closer to that dream becoming a reality.
Old San Juan,2830 N. Fletcher Dr. Atwater Village; 323-284-8323.
Food Festival at Thriftown Market & Liquor, 2043 S La Cienega Blvd. Culver City; 323-870-2640.