Supposedly the only Ecuadorian restaurant in Los Angeles, El Caserio has always piqued my interest. With its nondescript strip mall location closer to the bad side of town and a large sign advertising a dead website and its ecuadorian-italian menu, El Caserio has been on my long list of “one day I should try” spots. With a humble but comfortable interior, we ambled in for a leisurely and late lunch, with almost the whole two-dining room restaurant to ourselves. A trio serving of toasty warm bread was dropped off alongside a sauce boat of what most resembled a watery salsa, spoonfuls of onions and diced tomatoes submerged in the theatrical blood coloured sauce. Aji is a chili-based condiment and ecuadorian culinary institution, meant to compliment almost anything eaten on the menu. Initially eye-widening fiery, the taste subsides into the sort of tasty heat that tempts your mouth for just one more bite. The menu offered a range of beef, pork, chicken, goat, seafood and pastas; disappointingly, the italian choices at El Caserio seem to be common pastas seen almost on any neighborhood italian menu. But of the ecuadorian choices, there are a few striking temptations that immediately caught our eyes. The first being the fritada criolla with llapingachos; fried pork “riblets” served alongside a cardiac arrest inducing combination of lightly pan-fried potato pancakes (think the love child of a latke and mashed potatoes) slathered with cheese and a fried egg draping it all. With each bite I considered how I’ve become a vocal fan of pork dishes just recently, with swine becoming a more common choice where once beef dominated. The ecuadorian preparation is simple, but like an italian osso bucco or french poulet frites it satisfies a craving for comforting tastes. Seco de chico is a goat stew served with a mound of rice and an accompaniment of fried plantains, the gamy meat cooked hours to a grandpappy’s gums-friendly tenderness.
Strangely, I left unimpressed, despite the believed consensus of all three other diners I was pleased and impressed with my meal. I think its simplicity underwhelmed me initially. But now thinking back, I think I really enjoyed each bite of pork, potato and egg, staples of the ecuadorian diet. I guess I was partly swayed toward indifference because of the sloth south American service which left us unattended after our food was served. Considering its almost midnight and I can still feel my afternoon meal taking a siesta in my gut, I know El Caserio isn’t meant to be a weekly destination. But I think I’ll go back one day when I finally pass the remnants of this meal, and try the humitas (corn tamales), caldo de patas (beef hoof soup), and any of the meat dishes that are served with a plantain and peanut butter sauce that I spied some other diners ordering. That is if I can hail down a waitress….
El Caserio Restaurant
309 North Virgil Avenue
Los Angeles, California 90004-3623