Day 14: Peru
In Peru, ceviche is king and Los Angeles has a couple of great options for it. Tender seafood with citrus, chili, big Peruvian corn, potatoes, yucca, onion…it’s wonderful. But on this day, I was in search of something else that Peru does very well: roasted chicken. If you want Peruvian roasted chicken in Los Angeles— heck if you want any roasted chicken— there might just be only one place you have to go. Pollo a la Brasa.
Embedded in a busy Koreatown intersection like a renegade, bohemian space ship that crash landed and never bothered to move, Pollo A La Brasa is the perfect example of everything that’s great about Los Angeles. Asians and Latinos working behind the counter serving a mostly Latino clientele, smoke seeping out the top, wood piled high out back with a man running it through a splitting machine, Maneki Nekos (the cat shaped traditional good luck charm and apparent requirement of just about every Asian store or restaurant in the world) behind the counter— all coming together to bring you remarkably inexpensive and absolutely delicious Peruvian food. If that isn’t Los Angeles, I don’t know what is. There may not be more good things per square foot anywhere else in the city.
Bosque rumbles up in his fancy bio-diesel old Mercedes, reeking deliciously of french fries and grabbing one of the few parking spots that exist right next to the restaurant. Bosque has been a little sick for the past week, but hasn’t let it deter him from coming along for some serious eating. “Is folk hero Jason Bernstein coming?” he asks. “He’s a maybe,” I reply. Bosque smiles, “He’s always a maybe.” You see, folk hero Jason Bernstein is a serious man. Food, antiques, drinks, life. He is a man who is always up for anything, which means on any given day he could be along for the ride— or just as easily off on some other wild adventure. “Hey, Jason, we missed you at Dar Maghreb the other day.” “Oh,” he might reply, “I was out hunting water buffaloes with Noam Chomsky. How was it?” If Wes Anderson had met folk hero Jason Bernstein we could easily sue him for character theft. But alas, Mr. Bernstein is nowhere to be seen, so Bosque and I make our way inside.
You simply cannot go into this restaurant and not be made by happy by the sight of whole chickens roasting over a wood flame and the delicious smell of smoke and flesh. Bosque and I glance at the chicken specials on the wall and decide to each get a half chicken, but with different sides so we can try more things. To drink, we both go with chicha morada , a cold sweetened drink made from purple corn. After our order is placed, we notice the menu at the back of the restaurant. They offer a lot more stuff, but the anticuchos— skewered beef hearts— catch our eye. I walk back up to the woman behind the counter. “Can we also order three skewers of anticuchos?” She looks perplexed.
“Have you been to Peru?” she asks.
“No.” I reply.
“Then how do you know about anticuchos?”
“From the menu.”
“Oh! I see. But you don’t want anticuchos. It’s too much food.”
Really? Before considering that we could have looked at the menu, her first thought for how I would know to order something from off the menu is that…I had been to Peru? Really? But despite all of her efforts, we manage to order the anticuchos anyway. Knowing GirlfriendBites, she won’t have had lunch when I get home and will enjoy some leftover chicken.
The food arrives and we are ready to dig in. We squirt some of the delicious and very spicy green chili sauce, aji, on it and take our first bites. Wow. The flavor of the skin is out of this world. The seasonings and the smoke come together beautifully. Nothing overpowers. The meat is tender, juicy and delicious, but the greatest part has to be the blackened crispy bits around the edges. Downright heavenly. The fries are fat, greasy and made from real potatoes, the rice and beans are a delight and the salad is…well, a basic salad. In fact, it isn’t dressed. I ask the counter woman and she hands over the big plastic bottle of generic salad dressing. Bosque lets out a “Wishbone that shit!” To be honest, the salad is strangely satisfying and I discover that, hidden under some leaves, is the nice surprise of a few slices of beets.
But now it’s time to try these anticuchos so I attack them like a cave man. They’re a tiny bit on the chewy side, but they are lean, delicious and high in protein (like I need more of that)! Some other patrons around us are fascinated, so we offer them around and after some polite declines, they submit. Everybody likes them and I’m glad I live in a world where I can hand delicious beef hearts to total strangers. But even with their help, there is way too much food here. In fact, “way too much food” is starting to become the theme of this Personal Food Project in Blog Form. I keep meaning to make it simple and only order a couple of things, but then I notice things like beef hearts on a skewer. But lucky for us, on this day, a hero arrives to save the day. In this case, that means the surprise appearance of folk hero Jason Bernstein.
“Hey guys. I had some eggs this morning so I just came by to say hi, but I can see you have a lot of food here so I guess I better get a fork.” Does he have a “ordered too much food” radar? Is he the gastronomic Spider-Man? His appearance is amazing, convenient and just in time. Although I must say I’m a little surprised he doesn’t know all the people working behind the counter and isn’t shaking all their hands. I feel like he should.
The three of us get our fingers (and my camera) greasy chewing on beef hearts and gnawing on chicken bones as we tell stories of dates and girls gone wrong. The guests who shared our anticuchos thank us as they leave, thoroughly confusing folk hero Jason Bernstein (“How do you know those guys?”). The sun is out, smoke is in the air, the day is unfolding beautifully and I can think of no place I’d rather be. This, quite specifically, is what I love about Los Angeles.
Pollo A La Brasa
13619 Inglewood Ave
Hawthorne, CA 90250
764 S Western Ave
Los Angeles, CA 90005
Food Breakdown: 2 non-alcoholic beverages, 3 meals
Distance From My House: 7.1 miles