Dining Out Reviews Simple Pleasures

Gloria’s Cafe – Los Angeles

We spent yesterday in Los Angeles as a quick stop along our trip from New Hampshire to Hong Kong. Our friends Todd and Jenna were in town and took us out to dinner at a delightful small Salvadoran/Mexican restaurant called Gloria’s Cafe.

I should mention that Jenna is a huge fan of food truck cuisine – an amazing revolution in quality restaurant food on wheels, akin to the gastro pub revolution which hit England by storm a couple of years back, in that ordinary eating locales have been upgraded with gourmet and foodie offerings. In Los Angeles, the food truck movement appears to be the result of chefs being able to set up a food truck for a mere fraction of what it costs to open an immobile restaurant, and with lower overhead and more flexible hours as well.

So why is the food truck movement relevant to Gloria’s Cafe? It’s because Jenna was trying to find a spot where we could dine at an assorted set of good food trucks (something she tracks via Twitter feeds from the truck chefs), but last night they had scattered with the wind, all over the greater Los Angeles area. Had we been available a week ago, for First Fridays, we could have enjoyed them all on a particular hopping street in Venice Beach, however.

With food truck gastronomic nirvana out of reach, Jenna went to Plan B, and that was Gloria’s Cafe, in the Culver City section of Los Angeles. Gloria’s is in a little strip mall with limited parking, but definitely make the effort to find a parking spot even if you have to walk a bit. You won’t regret it.

The sign for Gloria's Cafe can be seen from afar at night
The sign for Gloria's Cafe can be seen from afar at night

Something about Gloria’s looked familiar to Linda, and when we got to the front door she finally figured it out – she and Bas had seen the restaurant featured on Guy Fieri’s Food Network show, Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives (making it the second such restaurant I had been to with Todd – we visited China Bandido in Phoenix, Arizona together in March 2009).

Gloria’s is tiny – seating perhaps three dozen people, and featuring a rustic sort of ambiance and a pleasant homey convivial atmosphere. We arrived at around 7pm, early enough to get seated within minutes. We started with one of the house specialty libations – a pitcher of Sangria, which was very good indeed (Jenna and I polished off a second pitcher over the course of the evening).

One of Gloria’s sons, a wonderfully congenial man, soft spoken yet exuberant about the food served in his mother’s restaurant helped guide us through the menu. We settled on a number of typical Salvadoran items for our appetizer, include green tamales which were almost creamy in texture, chicharron (fried chunks of pork), and papusas.

Papusas, as Gloria’s son passionately explained, started with corn flour – masa – which was specially treated to created round fluffy (and, oh my, were they fluffy!) pancakes. A filling is placed on one pancake and then a second pancake is sealed over the top. The fillings available all included a Salvadoran cheese, and then either pork, beans, or herbs (or nothing extra at all). You then eat the papusa with a pickled cabbage called “curtido” and some non-spicy salsa. We split three different types of papusas amongst us and were very happy. Add the green tamales served with a Salvadoran cream similar to sour cream but cheesier in flavor and we were in masa heaven.

Our main courses all came on huge platters featuring rice and beans, refried beans, and the main course itself. Linda chose the house specialty, Carne Adobada – simmering chunks of pork in a wonderful sauce. Jenna had the garlic shrimp which were swimming in a pungent and heady garlic butter sauce (as were my pork chops), and Todd settled for well marinated steak in the form of Bistek Encebollado.

Mama Gloria came by several times to check on us herself and make sure we were enjoying her food (which, without doubt, we were).

Dessert was another delight – with a nice thick flan offered (reminding me of Quesillo, the local flan we can sometimes get on Bonaire), and an dessert empanada, featuring a sweet milk custard wrapped in a sweet plantain (banana) shell, and sprinkled with sugar. Terrible for our low carb lifestyle, but oh so delicious.

Gloria’s was an excellent plan B, and I am already contemplating ways to arrrange a return visit. And maybe we’ll see actor Brian Doyle-Murray there again – he was there last night, and had to wait for a table for quite a bit longer than we did.

Thank you Mama Gloria! And thank you Jenna & Todd!

Jake with the gracious Gloria and one of her wonderful sons
Jake with the gracious Gloria and one of her wonderful sons