I was driving through sweltering Northridge last week when I stopped at the convenience mart to pick up a cold bottle of water. I picked up a local weekly news rag and turned to the dining section, the part with the fat man that rambles on and on, and skimmed his review of a cuban spot somewhere in van nuys. Not knowing the valley to well, I drove on victory and found the place. Its called El Criollo. It is in a minimall right next to a 7-11. Really a little place with few tables, clean and with air conditioning.
I was greeted by the owner, William, and seated with a menu. I ordered the Ropa Vieja, which is beef stewed wine and other ingredients. Goood Lord. The meat was tender, juicy and full of the flavor that only comes after simmering for a long period of time. ANd the portions were huge!! Its funny how various cultures have the same philosophical take on preparations of food...the dish reminded me of coq au vin or osso bucco..both dishes that use the same types of long slow cooking...the Ropa Vieja comes with fluffy white rice, smoky saucy beans with a distinct herbal note and some fried platanos/maduros/plantains. I also ordered the yuca with garlic which was tender and full of robust garlic flavor-the soft buttery yuca working well with the sharp garlic. All this with a malta drink. Delicious. This place is better than Versailles, at least the Ropa Vieja is; I think Versailles at times lives on a combination of reputation/availability/lack of competition.
THis was last thursday when the paper was published, around noon. I actually showed the new times article to them-which they hadnt seen-and the chef and owner, Niurca, came out from the kitchen to say hello. She explained to me that everything was prepared fresh, in the estilo casero/homestyle. Worth the trip from LA.
El Criollo, at 13245 Victory Boulevard in nearby Van Nuys 818-508-0865