We recognized Mi Latin Kitchen by the Colombian flags on the side of the building. Charming outdoor tables caught our attention but the traffic noise pushed us inside. There we saw framed photos of Bogota, a stack of Colombian newspapers, South American music videos, and a cabinet of imported products that brought a smile to the face of my daughter's Colombian-Scottish boyfriend. Mi Latin Kitchen has only recently opened so there aren't too many customers. However, Andrew, the owners' son and our waiter, makes us feel at home.
We start with empanadas, naturally. The chicken one stands out, its stewed, spiced filling abundant and flavorful. They also offer cheese, beef and spinach empanadas, all of which, at $1.50 each, would make wonderful midday snacks. The empanadas come with a bowl of aji, everyone's favorite sauce. The aji recipe is a family secret but we sense cilantro, lemon, green onions, red pepper flakes and some kind of green chile, probably jalapeno. It's somewhere between chimichurri and salsa verde.
For our main dish, we opt for some specialties of the house. The bandeja paisa is a platter of Colombian treats anchored by slices of grilled flank steak ($13). Sides include chicharron, a long chewy strip of fried pork belly. Flattened and fried plantain rounds are perfect rafts for spoonfuls of aji. On the other hand, arepa, an unleavened bread made of ground maize, is an acquired taste. Like a large, chewy communion host (any other Catholics out there?), it's not big on flavor. The bandeja paisa's red beans are dark and rich tasting, the white rice glistens in an attractive mound. A fried egg stares unblinkingly from the top. The beef is good, but not as good as the tender, grilled outside skirt steak in the garlic-infused dish, Entrana al Ajo ($15).
Watching the couple at the next table dig into their generous lunch special, I realized I needed to come again. If I were working in one of the many nearby film- and television-related businesses, I'd come to Mi Latin Kitchen for the rotating daily lunch specials (Monday to Friday, 11 to 3). A mere $6.99 or $7.99 will get you a bowl of soup and a full home-cooked meal. On Tuesday, I had what Andrew simply called pasta soup but which actually had pasta, potatoes, chicken, cilantro and carrot shreds in a chicken broth enriched by a unique flavor. Is it achiote? Again, a family secret. The main meal featured simple but heartwarming fare: stewed chicken, boiled golden potato, steamed yuca and rice with endless amounts of aji sauce. The meal is definitely not part of a low-carb diet but it keeps you going all afternoon.
Another reason to stop in to Mi Latin Kitchen is to enjoy a quick cafe con leche and guava pandebono. The coffee is made to order with imported Colombian beans and the chewy bun with guava jelly filling is created with a bit of pungent quesito, a Colombian cheese. It's pleasant to sit under the four tropical ceiling fans and watch the world go by the big windows. They also serve a few breakfast combinations centered on the ubiquitous arepa alongside eggs, rice, beans and meat. Wash the arepa down with one of the exotic juices like guanabana (soursop), curuba (banana passionfruit) or mora (blackberry).
My first foray into Colombian food has me thinking it's similar to Cuban and Peruvian food but a bit earthier. There are salads and ceviches but between the root vegetables (potato and yuca), the starches (arepa and rice), and the dense meats (chicharron and steak) it's good, stick-to-your-ribs food.
Where: 3803 W. Burbank Blvd., Burbank
When: Daily, 11 a.m. to 9 p.m.
More info: (818) 238-0038
LISA DUPUY writes dining reviews for the Los Angeles Times Community News. She can be reached at LDupuy@aol.com.