Colombian Cuisine Back In OC!

My two-decades-long OC culinary dreams were answered in 2010. I wrote in this column about six months ago about the opening of Tacos Jerez in Huntington Beach, the county’s first straightforward-Zacatecan-style restaurant in an area teeming with hundreds of thousands of zacatecanos. But the lack of a Colombian restaurant irked me more because it made no sense. Colombians represented the largest segment of the county’s South American population in the 2000 Census, a number that only increased in the past 10 years (although I have the feeling Bolivians and Argentineans might supersede them in the latest count). Colombian restaurants were around in la naranja during the 1980s, but the last one closed shop around 20 years ago. Sara’s Mercado in Westminster has existed as a Colombian-only market for nearly a decade, so the market for Colombian food was still there. ¡Ay, ave María pues!

What the hell was going on?

Thankfully, deliverance came in December with the opening of Colombian Cuisine, a restaurant-within-a-restaurant in Laguna Hills. For breakfast, the space is Mitzi’s Kountry Kitchen; for lunch and dinner, it turns into a Colombian affair, with the Macia family offering the greatest hits of its homeland. I had never eaten Colombian food save for buñuelos (more on them in a bit), abstaining from the cuisine until it reappeared in Orange County, and the Macias made the wait worthwhile. Simply put: If you care about food in Orange County, you will speed here to plow through the menu. And if you enjoy great food, you will visit again and again.

The signature dish is the bandeja paisa, a meal of Amazonian proportions, something seemingly created in order to put every possible foodstuff the human body may need for a week on one plate. How else to describe fat slices of plantains; a chorizo link; a gnarled chicharrón strip that looks like a fried timing belt; rice and red beans—cargamanto beans imported from Colombia, both earthier and creamier than pinto; fried yuca; and beef prepared like carne asada or ground beef topped by an egg prepared your way? There’s even a slice of avocado thrown in, as well as an arepa, a small, thick disk that’s Colombia’s contribution to the Mesoamerican masa cult. At $10, Colombian Cuisine’s bandeja paisa out-Norms Norms for a steak dinner, except the meat is juicy and flavorful, the plantains sweet, the yuca far better than French fries, and the chicharrón decadent.

Hijueputa, my column is almost up! I haven’t talked about the smoothies prepared with Colombia-only fruits such as curuba (what we call banana passion fruit), the fried cheese balls called buñuelos, the homemade green ají, the face-wide wafers called obleas smeared with the caramel-esque arequipe that are smushed like a quesadilla. Begin your 2011 the right way, and ensure this restaurant succeeds—and that la naranja never has to live through a colombiano drought again. Oh, and Google “sancocho,” commence drooling, then order it on a January night—trust me.

Colombian Cuisine at Mitzi’s Kountry Kitchen, 25381 Alicia Pkwy., Ste. C, Laguna Hills, (949) 636-5418.

This column appeared in print as “The Colombian Conundrum Solved!”

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