>> Portobanco's Restaurant | Eat the World Los Angeles

Monday, 26 April 2021

Portobanco's Restaurant

NICARAGUA 🇳🇮


COVID-19 UPDATE: Indoor dining is open with restrictions. A large outdoor tented dining area has been set up in the back parking lot with heat lamps. Pickup and delivery is best setup through their website.

As is the case with such a large percentage of restaurants in Los Angeles, Portobanco's began from the owner's intense cravings for the foods missed from back home. Husband and wife Heberto Portobanco and Flor Reyes came originally from Granada, Nicaragua and felt these cravings. They now live here with their five sons and Los Angeles is greater because of their restaurant.

When you walk into Portobanco's and see the families seated at big tables and others waiting for them to free up, you realize what these humble beginnings have become. If there is any place in the city that is the center of Nicaraguan gathering and community, it is probably this three year old restaurant. As the city opens back up after a disastrous year, it is nice to see dining rooms like this start to look like they used to.

You could say gallo pinto, the beloved Nica-style rice and black beans shown above with fried cheese and sweet plantains and served as part of salpicón, is an essential part of breakfast in Nicaragua. But that might do the dish a disservice, as you will probably see it on most tables for lunch and dinner as well.

You can come here late in the morning any day and have it with eggs, put it in tortillas, or maybe with some crema. Order a coffee and enjoy the leisurely wakeup call.

To focus on something that is unique to Nicaragua, try the vigorón ($11.95, above), a dish of cabbage salad, steamed cassava, and fried pork skin known locally as charrasca. You may sometimes find this dish served by vendors and restaurants in the city of Granada wrapped and cooked in, then served on banana leaves. Head down to the city's municipal market and prepare to eat the dish with your hands as is custom.

Its textures and flavors come in three components that are all opposites coming together perfectly, with each bite what you make of it. Here at Portobanco's you will probably see most people attacking it with a knife and fork, but feel free to do it right.

The aforementioned salpicón ($14.95, above) is a dish commonly referred to as a meat salad. The name itself refers to the mashup of ingredients, including minced beef, onions, and peppers. Squeeze a good bit of lime juice over the whole combination and supplement bites from the plate of gallo pinto as desired.

Another breakfast-specific item beloved by Nicaraguans on weekends but here available daily is the nacatamal ($8.95 or $7.95 to go, below). The fatty moist masa of a nacatamal is combined with on-the-bone hunks of pork, peppers, rice, potatoes, tomatoes, and onions, wrapped and cooked again inside of a banana leaf.


More beautiful closed, but more delicious opened.

This dish is often a meal on its own, served sometimes with a small bolillo. Untying the nacatamal is a pleasure on its own, as the steam and smells are let go into the air.

For anyone that has memories of travels in Nicaragua, covering long intercity journeys on retired yellow school buses that have seen better days, there is one food that you will have had many times. While this kind of travel creates wonderful stories, the most comfortable and relaxing time is spent at the roadside pit-stops that happen every few hours. At almost every one of these, there is at least one vendor making quesillo, the simple form of which is a grilled tortilla with cheese, pickled onions, and cream.


The quesillo ($8.95, above) at Portobanco's could be called fancy, but even it gets straight to the essence of the dish, a slightly griddled corn tortilla wrapped around shredded cheese and drizzled with cream. The pickled onions are on the table in a jar, but are necessary so add them accordingly for a sour and spicy kick.

Sometimes when you buy these on the street, a vendor will offer small chunks of certain meats for a more hearty meal, but a first experience with a quesillo should always be its simplest form. On this occasion a lack of meat was not an issue as it was also joined on the table with the mighty fritanga ($18.95, below), a plate of Nicaraguan favorites that includes three types of meats.


A crunchy salad of chopped cabbage, an enormous portion of gallo pinto, some fried sweet plantains and salty plantain chips join a link of delicious chorizo, pork, and beef, all of which have been cooked over the grill. The marinades on these are superb, and the size of the dish makes it feed two easily.

A triangle of fried salty cheese finishes out the plate and should not be forgotten. Some will not enjoy the texture of this, but it is fun to eat as it squeaks with each bite.

📍 1225 Venice Blvd., Pico-Union, Central Los Angeles

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