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May 21, 2009 12:00 PM

Puerto Barrios: tasty but slow Guatamalan

I've gone by this place so many times - it's on Fletcher at La Clede, between Riverside and San Fernando Road - but never at a mealtime. Yesterday Mrs. O had the day off and we were running errands in the area, so we decided to check it out. It was a little disconcerting to find the place deserted, except for the owner and whoever was in the kitchen, but we were greeted graciously, seated and given menus. We ordered a couple of tamarindos, which arrived with some good fresh chips and a salsa unlike any we'd had before, the color of cream of tomato soup but quite delicious and with a very definite slow burn. The room was very nicely furnished and decorated, and the money that had obviously been sunk into it was, alas, reflected in the menu - appetizers started at $4 for one tamal to $9.25 for the garnachas chapinas, and entree plates go from $10.99 for a fancy-dressed tortilla to $25.99 for the tapado, a seafood soup, with most items hovering in the fifteen-dollar range. Mrs. O was muttering about the $12.99 shrimp cocktail when the owner came by again with the daily-specials menu, and her mood lifted considerably when she saw the lengua plate offered at $9.99. The other ten-dollar special was gallina in crema, chicken cooked in a cream sauce, so of course I ordered that.

And then we slowly ate all the chips and salsa, sucked sporadically at our tamarindo, conversed about this and that...for a very...long...time. Did they have to cook everything from scratch? Make the tortillas and cook the rice? And what would they do, we wondered, if there had actually been any customers besides us? Eventually, of course, the food did arrive, and our attitude quickly became one of forgiveness: it was all really good. The rice was much like what we get at La Caravana, the Salvadoran place near our house, a big mound of richly-flavored rice studded with peas and bits of carrot. The tomato sauce and chunks of tongue were superb, tender and delicious, and my chicken and sauce were wonderful too, only a bit more difficult to eat because everything was on the bone. There was a plain but very good salad of iceberg lettuce and a wedge of tomato with a light and tangy vinaigrette on each plate as well, and the tortilla basket had four nice fresh ones of the thick'n'fluffy variety.

Whether the special includes drinks or the guy was just sorry for making us wait, I don't know, but the tab came to $21 with tax. This is obviously not a place for a working person with a strict one-hour lunch break, which I'm sure explains why we were all the crowd they had, but the owner said things usually pick up after 3:00 or so. I want to try more of their stuff and will...when I have the time!

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  1. I drive past this place everyday. Good to know it's worth checking out.

    11 Replies
    1. re: chinchi

      Just don't be in a hurry!

      Neglected to mention that the lunch specials are offered only on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday. The lengua and the chicken are the Wednesday offerings; don't remember what the others were. You can get breakfast until 11 AM, and there's a breakfast buffet on weekends from 9 until noon.

      1. re: Will Owen

        A city for reference would be nice. I have no idea where Fletcher at La Clede, between Riverside and San Fernando Road are. Thanks!

        1. re: Joani Macaroni

          This'd be in that ambiguous chunk of land best described as East Atwater, which has Glendale proper to the northwest, and various funky parts of Northeast Los Angeles around the rest of it. To the extent that the area, once upon a time, had coherent and cohesive identity, the imposition of first the 5 and later the 2 freeway kinda busted stuff up.

          1. re: Joani Macaroni

            I guess we could call it Atwater-Village-Adjacent, or Glendale's Near South Side, or maybe Damn Near Eagle Rock. Or you could just go out and buy a Thomas Guide like the rest of us... Seriously, Costco has'em for cheap, and even with a GPS I wouldn't be without one.

            1. re: Will Owen

              Long live Thomas Bros.....F GPS! I think that would be considered South Atwater, if you want a lifetime area residents opinion, actually back in the day it was Frogtown.

              1. re: Will Owen

                I call this area Elysian Valley, although I must admit no one has ever had any idea what I'm talking about, but it sounds quite nice, no?

                I've also been curious about this place, but have never quite made it in. Curious if on the specials days they run all day or lunch only?

                1. re: lucygoosey

                  Lunch only, I believe, though I have no idea what their specific hours are, aside from breakfast. They're probably trying hard to generate some traffic - I asked the guy directly (perhaps a bit impolitely) about the apparent lack of lunch business, and it's clear he was suffering a bit.

                  I'd love to get in there for breakfast sometime; we noted with some amusement a menu item called "Polished Sausage". I wonder how shiny it is...

                  1. re: Will Owen

                    Not sure if I could ask for the polished sausage and keep a straight face

                  2. re: lucygoosey

                    Call it what you will but Elysian Valley is off Sunset and where Dodger Stadium sits.

                  3. re: Will Owen

                    You originally mentioned "between Riverside and San Fernando Road " which to some of us might suggest it was somewhere in Riverside, as in Riverside County - a county which many of us in Orange County and eastern San Gabriel Valley have friends or retired parents (i.e. Hemet and vicinity), and we'd love to have somewhere new and novel to take the folks out to.
                    By the way, I DO have an L.A. & Orange County Thomas Guide, bought at Sam's Club, and a GPS (Burger Boy, I'm with you on the reliability of GPS!) but without a street address or city name to start only the locals would have any idea of where you're talking about (although it seems that no one really knows what to call the area for sure . . . ! ).

                    1. re: Joani Macaroni

                      According to the contentious LA Times mapping of neighborhoods Puerto Barrios is in Atwater-
                      I would agree with this.
                      I drove by here last Sunday afternoon and noticed the parking lot was full...