Daily Dish

The inside scoop on food in Los Angeles

Category: The Find

Colombian comfort food at El Mesόn Criollo

Here's a sneak peak at what's coming in this week's Food section:

Antojitos Latinos' owner has added a full-scale restaurant down the street in Van Nuys, where fans can savor sancochos and other Colombian comfort foods. A small-plates gastropub-style meal could easily be assembled from any combination of antojitos with the freshly made soup of the day at El Mesόn Criollo. Ideal candidates might be papas chorreadas with their delicate cheese sauce, or corn-crusted empanadas de carne, eggshell-thin-crusted turnovers stuffed with juicy seasoned shredded beef.

Then there's the pizza-like patacon pisao, whose tropical "crust" is a whole lengthwise-sliced and flattened green plantain that's deep-fried. Topping choices include beef or chicken braised with onions and tomatoes or with seasoned vegetables. With these, regulars love to order a batido, the Colombian milkshake or ice-blended juice made from imported tropical fruit purées such asguanábanaguayaba or lulo (a.k.a. naranjilla), a mini tomato-like fruit.

Read more: "The Find: El Mesόn Criollo."


-- Delicious deals: More budget-friendly restaurants

-- A Hanukkah meal draws from lesser-known customs

-- Canter's chocolate cheesecake

Thai meets Laotian at Tom Yum Koong

Tablescape Here's an early look at what's cooking in this week's Food section:

Traffic flows past Tom Yum Koong in a stream of steel and rubber, pouring off the nearby freeway into the concrete delta of Westminster strip malls and suburban churches. The restaurant is looked at and looked over. To some, it may look like just another neighborhood Thai restaurant: salads sluiced with lime juice and chiles, broad rice noodles snaking through puddles of soy sauce. But the kitchen maintains a distinct duality, capable in Thai and Laotian cooking. That's just one of the reasons why it's our "find" of the week. Read more: "The Find: Tom Yum Koong."


Photo gallery look at Tom Yum Koong

Photo: Some of the dishes on the menu at Tom Yum Koong. Credit: Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times

The Find(s): Red Chili and Red Chili Express in Northridge


How many restaurants can boast an alter ego? Red Chili can. The Pakistani restaurant in a strip mall in Northridge serves dishes such as chicken tikka and saag paneer, but with a Pakistani twists.

At the opposite end of the same mini-mall, there's Red Chili Express. In place of curries and kebabs at this stylishly converted doughnut shop are sandwiches that almost seem lifted from menus of the hippest of gastropubs: a chicken tikka burger -- above -- topped with pepper jack cheese or mango barbecue sauce; a wasabi steak melt; a veggie melt with chipotle coleslaw. There are buffalo wings and a couple of teriyaki bowls too.

Read on for our find(s) of the week:

Photo credit: Al Seib / Los Angeles Times

The Find: Green Zone

It's not easy being green in the frenetic, food-obsessed San Gabriel neighborhood where Green Zone put down roots almost four years ago. At first, the modest restaurant's organic offerings generated little enthusiasm from those who preferred to prowl the area's malls and boulevards lusting after obscure regional Chinese dumpling varieties or caustically spiced Hunan stir-fries. "People would stand outside and argue about whether to come in and try us," remembers co-owner and Green Zone creator Jilian Cam.
Today, things are very different for the restaurant. You're lucky if you can snag a seat without a lengthy wait at peak mealtime hours. Read on about Green Zone, which is our Find of the week.

Photo: Katie Mac and her son Kyle Fung, 21-months-old, have lunch at Green Zone, which specializes in fine organic cuisine. Credit: Christina House / For The Times


The Find: Western Soondae and Moobongri Soondae


No matter what you order at Western Soondae and Moobongri Soondae restaurants in Koreatown, whether it's the ice-cold spicy noodles or the luscious raw oysters drizzled with tart chile-infused sauce and wrapped in soft cabbage leaves, you'll be getting a generous side of soondae, the juicy, snappy-skinned blood sausage that's one of Korea's culinary obsessions. The two restaurants are Koreatown's newest shrines to soondae. At both places, the moist links are worked into stews, soups, appetizer platters — all designed to quell a nostalgia for the street-side hole-in-the-walls and tiny market stalls in Korea that craft the specialty. Read on:

Moobongri Soondae's soondaekook soup is seasoned to taste at the table with ingredients such as spring onions, mustard seed and chile paste. (Mariah Tauger / Los Angeles Times)


The Find: La Huasteca in Lynwood

Chef Rocio Camacho, who made her mark at Moles La Tia, is focusing on pre-Columbian cuisine at La Huasteca in Lynwood. Camacho brings many of her moles with her, but at La Huasteca the focus is on a wider exploration of pre-Columbian cuisine. It's a passion for the native ingredients and techniques of Mexico owed to her Mixtec ancestry and the inheritance of four generations of Oaxacan culinary tradition. Which all explains why La Huasteca is our Find of the week. Read more on La Huasteca.

Photo: Glenn Koenig / Los Angeles Times


The Find: Mottainai Ramen in Gardena


Here's an early look at our Find of the week, being published in Thursday's L.A. Times Food section:

Your best introduction to Mottainai Ramen in Gardena might be if you slink in exhausted, after a long day of work, needing some comfort. Duck your head through the Japanese curtains that hang in Mottainai Ramen's entryway and you'll be hit by a soothing fog of pork and garlic, as waiters and waitresses shout hearty Japanese greetings and farewells, and somebody lights a wok on fire. Wait, what? A flaming wok? Indeed: Over Mottainai Ramen's tidy collection of two-person tables and pleasant wooden counters, you'll often catch, in the open kitchen, one of the chefs expertly flipping a wok. They're toasting the miso for a serving of the most unique of Mottainai's three specialties: Sapporo Lover, a pork-intensive ramen saturated with toasted miso. Read on:

Photo credit: Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times

The Find: Merry's House of Chicken


The eastern edges of the San Gabriel Valley might be Greater L.A.'s epicenter of Indonesian cuisine. Sprawling across strip malls and city lines is an archipelago of food-court cafes and full-fledged restaurants, some serving offal-intensive curries and others sweetly lacquered barbecue. But there isn't a single stick of satay at Merry's House of Chicken; the restaurant instead purveys classic Javanese cooking. That's why it's our "find" of the week: Read on.

Photo: Ayam Goreng Kremesan is one of Merry's House of Chicken's signature dishes. Credit: Mariah Tauger/Los Angeles Times

It's all in the details at Uyen Thy Bistro

In Little Saigon, modest fortunes have been made on spring rolls alone. Entire legacies have been decided by the buttery crunch of a warm baguette. Diners anoint only the most exacting items: fresh-pressed sugarcane juice with muddled kumquats, whole baked catfish with skin caramelized into candy. Here, restaurants are immortalized in the details.

It's with that diligence that Uyen Thy Bistro in Westminster so often succeeds. This is a restaurant innately aware of its strengths even when the immensity of its menu sometimes indicates otherwise. Uyen Thy Bistro is our Find of the week: Read on

Photo: Lawrence K. Ho / Los Angeles Times

The Find: El Bolivar in Chatsworth


El Bolivar is an unusual place. It's smack-dab in the middle of the Valley, basically in the middle of suburban nowhere. It's a small, neat, nice-looking place, fancier than most Central American restaurants in L.A. It's also a little more expensive than you might expect for Colombian food, but this is a higher level of Central American cuisine than we're used to getting. Read on.

Photo: Bandeja Paisa, a dish made up of fried pork, sausage, egg, fried plantains and avocado is on the menu at El Bolivar. Credit: Anne Cusack / Los Angeles Times


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Daily Dish is written by Times staff writers.