We as living creatures make instinctual decisions based on past experiences. Electro-shock me a couple times when I try to open Door #1 and mostlikely, I'll choose Door #2. After noticing that there's always a long line at the microwave come noontime, I've learned to heat up my lunch at 11:45. So it shouldn't be a surprise that since Las Palmas, a Cuban and Spanish restaurant in the neighborhood, was closed the last time we tried to go, it was in my instinct to call first. I sure as hell didn't want to be roaming up and down Victory Blvd again.
It was open today. Good.
Las Palmas is located in your typically un-refined North Hollywood neighborhood surrounded by gas stations, a U-haul center with a crowd of labor-for-hire outside, and seedy nightclubs. But once inside this teeny tiny eatery, it's bright and pleasant. There is definitely a Caribbean feel to this place; the walls and tablecloths are a bright shade of peach and there are island-y knick knacks adorning the walls. In fact, the menu's printed on peach paper. "Aaah, I wish I could be at the beach now..." was the general consensus, but this was probably the best we could do while stuck in North Hollywood for the rest of the day.
And the leisurely atmosphere couldn't have been any less perfect. The limited-English service was friendly but laid back and slow. Apparently, the kitchen finished our plantains before anything else, so those came to the table first, and we were starving so we dug in. They weren't as caramelized as I usually like my plantains, but their texture was perfect--firm and golden brown on the outside and moist and tender on the inside. They were also good on the ripeness scale: sweet with a tinge of greenness.
First came this...
It was very tempting to finish all of our plantains but the rest of our food hadn't arrived yet and we wanted to save some of the sweet starchy treats to go along with our meal. A few minutes passed and our rice and beans arrived on festive plates. After putting a few spoonfuls of the black beans on our cylindrical mound of rice, we were in rice and bean heaven. They were phenomenal--the white rice was fluffy and had a subtle oiliness and saltiness to it. Our beans were tender and bathed in a velvety liquid that had nice hints of salt and garlic. Again, we were tempted to finish the whole thing but our meat had not yet arrived even after a few minutes of waiting, so we had to exude some serious willpower and stop dead in our tracks.
So we chatted and laughed, checked out the autographed headshots of Latin celebrities on the wall, talked about the possibility of Snow White being a drag queen (long story), all while waiting for our meat to come out. Yes, this was like an island vacation but without the alcoholic tropical drinks. Finally our server came out of the kitchen with our meat and we rejoiced--a reason to eat the rest of our yummy rice and beans, woo-hoo! Two of us, including myself, ordered the Lechon Asado a.k.a. Cuban roast pork. Not the best roast pork I've had, as it was a tad on the dry side and also sat in a brownish-yellow tangy sauce, a preparation that I'm not necessarily used to. I like my roast pork sans sauce, but still fork-tender and moistened by its own fat and then browned to perfect crispiness and saltiness around the edges. Las Palmas' pork did have some redeeming qualities, though. The sauce, as much as I disagreed with its presence, was lip-smacking tasty, and the dark meat on the pork had a nice, salty, roasted flavor.
...and then this...
My other two friends ordered the Ropa Vieja, a shredded beef dish. And what a great name for a dish, because it literally looked like old ropes. Now that's not necessarily a bad thing 'cause shredded beef is, well, shredded beef. Nothing you can do. But here, it was kinda the same case as the roast pork. A little dry and fibery in some parts, but was bathed in a really tasty bright red tomato- based sauce with onions and peppers. Mixed with the wonderful rice and beans, though, the dryness of the meats started not to matter as much.
It took another few minutes to get our check after we had asked for it. But we didn't mind all that much. Sometimes slow and leisurely is a nice change from the harried pace at the office. We're looking forward to trying some of their other dishes next time--grilled pork chops, fish with garlic and lemon sauce, chicken fricasee, breaded steak, amongst many others. Like it always is for me at lunchtime, it's a bummer to leave the little dining "world" that my friends and I had created for ourselves. Today, it was a little Caribbean island getaway. And once again, we had to crawl out of our hole and back into reality. Until the next time, right? Hopefully it'll be open.
11671 Victory Blvd.
North Hollywood, CA 91606