At the serpentine and truly dangerous intersection where Virgil meets Beverly meets Temple meets Silverlake Blvd, stands yet another anonymous Los Angeles strip mall housing EL CASERIO. "Fine Ecuadorian and Italian cuisine" proclaims the sign, somewhat schizophrenically.
A single, lonely parking attendant negotiates space for twenty cars in an area fit for five. He insists we take the keys with us inside, which later results in some mid-meal interruptions to maneuver the jalopy. Highly annoying.
The space inside is informal, inviting. Patrons are a mixture of Latino families and knit-cap and five-o-clock-shadow wearing Silverlake grungsters (mrs rabo representing the former contingent, yours truly representing the latter).
First thing to hit the table is a basket of crusty bread, shaped like a Mexican bolillo. Delish. Served alongside is a gravyboat of benign-looking, pico-de-gallo-ish salsa, which I slather on with abandon. Turns out this innocent looking concoction is liquid Hades. For the next ten minutes, it feels like someone is scraping my tongue with a scalding switchblade. Wonderful.
We want to order apps, but chilly waitress informs us that they are out of empanadas and tamales---at 6PM on a Saturday. So, straight to the mains:
SALTADO DE CAMARONES---mrs rabo's choice. Good-size portion, plenty of plump little shrimpies. A little sweeter than the Peruvian variations we've tried (seemingly due to the onions). Thumbs up.
LLAPINGACHOS CON FRITTATA---as recommended by Frosty the Waitress. Flat, substantial potato patties (a Latin lattke you would not want to meet in a dark alley), smothered in peanut sauce, with a barely cooked egg cracked on top. Mix all together, scarf. Heavy, but pretty tasty. Gladly, the peanut sauce, whilst having a good peanutt-y thing happening, was savory, rather than sweet.
The real star of this dish is the "grilled pork ribs" served alongside the frittatas. Wonderfully charred to a crisp on the outside, tender and pleasantly stringy, every mouthful an ecstatic journey down to the most porcine depths. Very much like carnitas, very much ass-kicking.
I ask for an espresso to round things out. They're out, to my great surprise.
Menu has some other interesting items: tripe in peanut sauce, goat meat sauteed in bitter orange juice (next time!), and various exotic fruit juices. A few different bowls of soup whizzing by our table look delectable. "Italian" portion of the equation covered by some pasta entries.
Good food, decent value (all of the above + 2 Cusquenas (absolutely flavorless Bolivian beer) = $34. Service is prompt, but, as noted, hovers near the freezing point.
Muchos gracias to all Hounds who have previously reported on this place. A good neighborhood joint.
El Caserio Restaurant
309 N Virgil Ave
Los Angeles, CA 90004