3508 Sunset Blvd.
Los Angeles, CA 90026
Keen readers of this blog know of my love for Cuban food. Unfortunately, being based in Orange County, there are less than a handful of options for Cuban cuisine there. There's the very solid Bella Cuba in Santa Ana, the good, which includes Habana, Porto's, and Moros, and then there's the extremely overrated Felix in Orange. Other than the occasional Cuban sandwich on a menu, you won't find much more than that in OC.
So, since I was on vacation, we made a little weekend getaway trip to LA. We had a family event the next day, and I have had a Cuban place on my list for a long time now. So we brought along one of my favorites among Katie's cousins, Steve and his somewhat average wife, Yvette, who just happens to be Cuban. She claims to be quite the Cuban food expert and is always ready to have her opinion heard, whether it's right or wrong, as she is wrong almost 90 percent of the time. Along with their wonderful daughter Gabbi, we headed to El Cochinito on Sunset Boulevard.
El Cochinito got my attention when they were mentioned in this well-written article as being one of the top 7 places for Cuban food in LA, and also when they won the award for best Cuban sandwich in the world. Since I feel that Cuban sandwiches are the most balanced of all sandwiches, I quickly added this restaurant to my list, and the perfect time to visit finally came about six months later.
Situated in a small strip of stores, anchored by a Baskin Robbins and a Subway, El Cochinito blends into the scenery almost perfectly so it's hard to spot unless you know it's there. Gladys Gutierrez opened this little restaurant in 1988, but unfortunately, she passed away almost 5 years ago now. It's now run by her grandchildren and has not missed a beat.
We arrived here on a Saturday at 7pm and had about a five-minute wait. The restaurant is long and narrow, and not really conducive to big parties, but they managed to squeeze our party of five in near the back of the restaurant. There's probably ten to fifteen tables here, all of which are ideal for two to four guests. El Cochinito was doing a booming take out business on this evening, as there was a steady stream of people picking up their orders throughout our stay.
El Cochinito means the little pig in Spanish, so pork is definitely well represented on the menu. There are plenty in the way of traditional sandwiches and entrees, desserts, Cuban coffee, Cuban soft drinks, and tropical milkshakes listed on their menu. Prices for entrees range between $13 to $18, and a sandwich will set you back no more than $11. Nice for the wallet, but how would everything taste? Let's check it out.
We attacked this Bread Plate when it was placed on the table before we ordered. Nicely toasted and made even better with plenty of softened butter. The bread had a pleasing crunch as well. They were not shy about bringing us more and did not even charge us the 85 cents that the menu listed.
We were pretty hungry after our short drive from Glendale, so we ordered some Tostones ($5) to start with. These smashed and fried plantains were fine on their own but made even better with the mojo de ajo (garlic sauce). These plantains were fried nicely, with an absence of grease. Well done, but I was more eager for the next item that came out for us.
The worlds best Cuban sandwich? I have to admit, this Cubano ($11) is the best I have had in California and rivals the few that I've had in Florida. I'm a big supporter of the Cuban sandwich, calling it one of the most balanced sandwiches around. It's a sandwich that has everything. This traditional version included some well flavored and savory ham and pork, Swiss cheese for a little creaminess, mustard added for tang, garlic sauce for a flavor booster, and pickles to round everything out. The bread is nice and crunchy due to toasting, which compresses the insides of the sandwich together to form a flavor bomb when you bite into it. The only thing I did not like about this was that I had to share with Katie. I should have gotten another one for just myself. No wonder El Cochinito won that ridiculously large trophy you see when you walk through the door. They definitely earned it with this sandwich.
Steve and Gabi split this Bistec Empanizado ($17) on this evening. I think Gabi split this with her dad because she was heartsick over an impending breakup with her boyfriend Blaine. Oh, to be 16 again. Anyways, this breaded steak kind of reminded me of a country fried steak, with a little more heft to it. Even though the breading was a little more puffed up than a normal breaded steak, the beef under it was still present. I had one bite and liked this, but I think I might have become bored with it if I had the whole thing. This came with Black Beans and Rice. The beans were rich and flavorful, which maybe had a hint of garlic to them? No complaints from either Steve or Gabi about this, so I assume they were happy campers.
Even though El Cochinito is known for its pork dishes, it's even in their name, Yvette wanted to give their Palomilla ($16) a try. This is a thin steak, which I think is sirloin, and it is covered with sauteed onions on top. Hard to please Yvette said this was not as good as her mom's, but she did admit it was one of the better ones she's had in a restaurant. Of course, she was selfish and did not share with anyone, so I'll take her word for it. The Madures were delicious here, and I'm not usually even a big fan of plantains, but these struck just the right balance of sweetness for my palate.
The Lechon Asado ($18) is listed as a house specialty, and after I tasted this, I can see why. This is the best pork dish I've had in a while, and I tend to order pork quite often. I've heard they roast their pork for ten hours, and it shows in the finished product. The shredded pork is nice and tender, very flavorful, and had just the right amount of little pieces of fat running through it. Not a bad bite on the plate. This came with some Congri, which is a mixture of black beans and rice, which is the way to go here. Also sharing the plate was some Yuca, which I have never liked, but this version was excellent. It was not dry and starchy like others I have had. A very impressive plate.
Flan ($6) is not something I've ever been too fond of. I only usually order it if there's nothing else on a dessert menu I like. This is one that I would get again and again. This was the best flan I've ever had. It was the perfect texture, had a very good caramel sauce, and was just the right amount of sweet. We all agreed that this was a special flan, and we never agree on anything.
Special is definitely the way I'd describe this visit to El Cochinito. Quite simply, this was the best Cuban meal I have had in California, and they definitely rival the Cuban restaurants I've been to in Florida. They even recently opened a spot in West Palm Beach, so they are not afraid of going toe to toe with the Cuban cuisine heavyweights. No complaints with the food or service on this evening. They took really good care of us, even though we had Yvette at our table. The only drawback I can see about this place is that their parking lot is extremely small, and I'm sure it's frustrating at peak times. It will be very difficult coming back up this way again and not stopping by for one of the worlds best Cuban sandwiches.
Out of five reservoirs, (because this restaurant is located in the Silver Lake section of Los Angeles which is named after a local politician who helped build the reservoir that surrounds this area), five being best to zero being worst, El Cochinito gets 4 solid reservoirs.
For more information about El Cochinito, head to their website here: http://www.cochinitola.com/