Restaurant review: Enjoy tastes of Honduras and Ecuador in Lawndale

Seco de pollo is served at Rinconcito Ecuatoriano, a Lawndale restaurant that specializes in Ecuadorian cuisine. (Photo courtesy Yelp)
Seco de pollo is served at Rinconcito Ecuatoriano, a Lawndale restaurant that specializes in Ecuadorian cuisine. (Photo courtesy Yelp)
Islas de la Bahia is a modest Lawndale restaurant that draws dedicated local diners looking for their favorite Honduran tastes — and an opportunity to catch up with friends. (Photo courtesy Yelp)
Islas de la Bahia is a modest Lawndale restaurant that draws dedicated local diners looking for their favorite Honduran tastes — and an opportunity to catch up with friends. (Photo courtesy Yelp)

ISLAS DE LA BAHIA

★★

Address: 14405 Prairie Ave., Lawndale

Information: 424-269-0680

Cuisine: Honduran

When: Breakfast, lunch and dinner, every day

Details: Soft drinks; no reservations

Atmosphere: Mini-mall Central American gathering spot for the neighborhood, with everyone knowing everyone else, lots of chatter, soccer on the TV and a cheerful vibe, along with tasty dishes from south of south of the border

Prices: About $15 per person

Suggested dishes: Breakfast ($6.50-$10), Fried Baleadas ($2-$3.50), Pupusas ($1.75-$1.90), Soups ($10-$15.95), Seafood Dishes ($8.50-$12), Chicken Dishes ($8.50-$10.50), Beef Dishes ($9.95-$10), Platillos Tipicos ($3-$12)

Cards: MC, V

 

Rinconcito Ecuatoriano

★★

Address: 14607 Prairie Ave., Lawndale

Information: 310-973-1150

Cuisine: Ecuadorian

When: Lunch and dinner, Wednesday through Sunday

Details: Soft drinks. Reservations not necessary.

Atmosphere: Tiny mini-mall space dedicated to the rarely encountered cooking of Ecuador, with flavors of both the Equator and neighboring Peru, served in a family setting at a handful of tables

Prices: About $12 per person

Suggested dishes: Patacones ($4), Maduras ($4), Empanadas de Queso ($2), Bolon ($4), Seco de Chivo ($10.99), Seco de Pollo ($9.35), Lomo Saltado ($10.25), Pollo Saltado ($9.35), Churrasco ($10.50), Guatita ($10.99), Ceviche de Camaron ($11.95), Pescado Frito ($11.75)

Cards: MC, V

I’m not sure that two restaurants, just a few blocks apart, make for a “Little” anything. But the presence of a Honduran restaurant just three blocks from an Ecuadorian restaurant on generally industrial Prairie Avenue, just south of Rosecrans Avenue in Lawndale, is worth noting.

Let’s call it a Very Little Little South of South of the Border strip, where you can delve into two of our least- represented Latin American cuisines.

And where, I should add, you get the distinct sense that you’ve left “here” and gone “down there.” In both cases, the restaurants are gathering spots for the community, with locals showing up to exchange news and gossip, watch and talk about the always prevalent soccer matches, and generally enjoy the pleasures of a taste of home faraway.

Islas de la Bahia is both the larger and the livelier of the two restaurants, with fans dropping by to buy pastries from a small case, a sizable crowd who all seem to know each other, and who definitely know their football. The scoring of a goal while I chewed on a baleada caused the place to go into a virtual tizzy, with folks standing up to cheer, wave their arms and call for rounds of Banana Tropica and Kola Champagne. (The match was between Mexico and Iceland. You can guess who they were cheering for.) (And where do soccer announcers get That Voice? They could probably be heard on the far side of the moon!)

Baleadas certainly need a bit of explanation. They’re a cousin of the quesadilla and the pupusa, a chubby tortilla wrapped around fried beans, melted cheese, a cream sauce, and a sundry of meats or not. I like the model made with a particularly spicy chorizo, a lot of food for $3. But then, nothing at Islas costs all that much. The pupusas are all less than $2, the platillos tipicos are almost all under $10, even the seafood dishes are mostly under $10. If you want camarones al mojo de ajo, you’ll pay $9.75. And that’s for a full plate of food.

And if you happen to be on Prairie Avenue in the morning, Islas is also a great place to go for a very substantial breakfast, once again all for $10 or under, gut-busting plates of cheese and eggs with fried green plantains and fried beans; pork chops with eggs, beans, cheese or sour cream and tortillas; or even a grilled steak with eggs and avocados. And of course tortillas, always tortillas.

The Ecuadorian eatery Rinconcito Ecuatoriano sits just a couple of blocks south of Islas and is far easier to miss, for its sign is as tiny as the restaurant itself, just five tables next to a taco shop. But it’s a cheerful family-run and family-popular eatery serving dishes that overlap with the adjacent (and better known) cooking of Peru and that stand out as the chow of the land.

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Which means there’s a tasty ceviche de camaron, spicier than most and refreshing on a hot summer day. Far more substantial are such dishes as the patacones, ridiculously crispy fried green plantains, also known as tostones. Or perhaps the guatita, a beef tripe stew not often found beyond the Ecuadorian borders. Though the local dish I really went bananas for were the bolon: green plantain dumplings stuffed variously with cheese, chorizo of chicharrones.

Wandering back over the border, there are cheese empanadas, lomo saltado and pollo saltado. And a sizable churrasco, so substantial you have to wonder how it gets cooked in the restaurant’s tiny kitchen. But then, like a lot of deeply ethnic eateries, Rinconcito manages to do much with very little.

During a trip some years ago to Ecuador, in Quito to recover from the mal de mer of sailing around the Galapagos, I came upon one fonda after another, not much bigger than a closet, serving an amazing array of dishes. Rinconcito is very much like being Down There, but without having to go through customs. That you can take a journey so far, on a couple of blocks in Lawndale, is reason enough to put up with our gridlock. A small price to pay for a big adventure.

Merrill Shindler is a Los Angeles-based freelance dining critic. Send him email at mreats@aol.com.

Islas de la Bahia

Rating: 2 stars

Address: 14405 Prairie Ave., Lawndale

Information: 424-269-0680

Cuisine: Honduran

When: Breakfast, lunch and dinner, every day

Details: Soft drinks; no reservations

Atmosphere: Mini-mall Central American gathering spot for the neighborhood, with everyone knowing everyone else, lots of chatter, soccer on the TV and a cheerful vibe, along with tasty dishes from south of south of the border

Prices: About $15 per person

Suggested dishes: Breakfast ($6.50-$10), Fried Baleadas ($2-$3.50), Pupusas ($1.75-$1.90), Soups ($10-$15.95), Seafood Dishes ($8.50-$12), Chicken Dishes ($8.50-$10.50), Beef Dishes ($9.95-$10), Platillos Tipicos ($3-$12)

Cards: MC, V

 

Rinconcito Ecuatoriano

Rating: 2 stars

Address: 14607 Prairie Ave., Lawndale

Information: 310-973-1150

Cuisine: Ecuadorian

When: Lunch and dinner, Wednesday through Sunday

Details: Soft drinks. Reservations not necessary.

Atmosphere: Tiny mini-mall space dedicated to the rarely encountered cooking of Ecuador, with flavors of both the Equator and neighboring Peru, served in a family setting at a handful of tables

Prices: About $12 per person

Suggested dishes: Patacones ($4), Maduras ($4), Empanadas de Queso ($2), Bolon ($4), Seco de Chivo ($10.99), Seco de Pollo ($9.35), Lomo Saltado ($10.25), Pollo Saltado ($9.35), Churrasco ($10.50), Guatita ($10.99), Ceviche de Camaron ($11.95), Pescado Frito ($11.75)

Cards: MC, V

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About the Author

Merrill Shindler is a Los Angeles-based freelance dining critic. Send him email at mreats@aol.com. Reach the author at mreats@aol.com .