Sunday, April 5, 2009

Better Know a Strip Mall: Cuban Food at 1253 Vine

Whenever I have visitors from out of town and tell them I'm taking them to a fabulous sushi bar or the best Thai food in town, they are inevitably shocked to learn that the restaurant is in a strip mall. Apparently, outsiders find it hard to believe that an excellent restaurant would share its parking lot with a 7-11, a nail salon or a Korean video store.

But we know better. Southern Californians know that some of the best food in the city, really the country, can be found in LA strip malls. We are not phased by the proximity of other businesses, the lack of parking or the apparent tackiness. Hell, this is LA, what isn't in a strip mall?

There are strip malls out there that are true culinary gems. The San Gabriel Valley has some amazing strip malls like the one that combines Luscious Dumplings and Vietnam House or the San Gabriel mall featuring Mei Long Village and J&J, but few strip malls can match the sheer diversity of 1253 Vine.

This Hollywood strip mall on the southwest side of Vine and Fountain boasts a stunning array of cuisines: Argentinian, Eastern European, Cuban, Armenian, Thai, Mexican and Japanese. It's a microcosm of LA's multicultural life, expressed in fried pounded meats (available at four of the establishments), dumplings and noodles.

I hadn't really noticed this mall before, but given its dramatic culinary diversity, I had to dive in, so I proudly present our first in what may become a series of, with apologies to Stephen Colbert, Better Know a Strip Mall. Over the next few weeks, I will be sampling some of this mall's diverse eateries and dutifully reporting back. We start with the Cuban restaurant El Floridita.

El Floridita is a Cuban restaurant with live music and a dance floor. It has many of the Cuban standards, but I particularly enjoyed the appetizer combo with potato balls, ham croquettes, empanadas, fried yuca, chicharron, tostones and a tamal. Whoever is working the frier in this place knows what they're doing. Roast chicken was very good. The roast pork came in a delicious, drink-it-by-the-spoonful sauce, but the pork itself was dry. One of my favorite things may have been the simple lemon-butter-garlic sauce served with the bread. I could bathe in that stuff.

El Floridita
1253 N. Vine St.
Hollywood, CA 90038
(323) 871-8612

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