The Find: Amalia's Restaurant in L.A.
Just north of the traffic-tangling intersection where Beverly, Temple, Virgil, Commonwealth and Silver Lake merge sits Amalia's Restaurant. Secreted away in a refurbished bungalow on a shady stretch of Virgil, it's a surprising oasis where Amalia Zuleta's longtime dream, one that began with her arrival from war-torn Guatemala in 1984, is finally being realized.
The little house has been opened up to create an airy dining room. There are fine wood tables, a modest chandelier over the long service bar and specialty herbs growing outside the kitchen. On the adjacent leaf-shaded patio, tables draped with Guatemalan weavings under glass give a hint of the cuisine's Mayan origins.
Zuleta owned a small catering company in her homeland, but here in Los Angeles, as a kitchen helper at Mi Guatemala, she made little use of her skills. Later, her talents blossomed as head cook at Rinconcito Guatemalteca. There she attracted a loyal clientele that followed her when, in 1995, she opened a simple cafe (not far from her current one), Antojitos Chapines Amalia's, which has since closed.
Those familiar with Guatemalan food won't find Amalia's menu unusual. It's Zuleta's elegant refinements, her talent for fine-tuning mole-like sauces and her selection of good ingredients that turn what is basically rustic cooking into an urbane cuisine that's a magnet for her longtime devotees.
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Photo: A chile relleno at Amalia's Restaurant. Credit: Anne Cusack / Los Angeles Times