>> Joan & Sisters Belizean Restaurant | Eat the World Los Angeles

Monday, 2 May 2022

Joan & Sisters Belizean Restaurant

BELIZE 🇧🇿
Western Avenue facade

COVID-19 UPDATE: The restaurant remains takeout only and tables have been removed.

There are some places in Los Angeles that have been part of the city's fabric for so long that the pandemic came along and never even phased them. They can measure their existence in the amount of times fresh blue paint was needed to apply to the morning sun-soaked facade and have survived so many milestones before this latest.

The generations who have been part of the 40 years or so existence of Joan & Sisters on Western Avenue have adapted to a lot more before COVID-19. They took the pandemic in stride, moving the few tables to storage and focusing on takeout, which was the bulk of their business already. Their dining room is now just open space but is still surrounded by bursts of color on the walls and the feelings of tropical coastal Belize.

A takeout order of two dishes

Newcomers will direct their eyes to the handwritten menu board to the left of the counter, but note that many items are only available on certain days of the week. Cowfoot soup and boil up will need to wait until the weekend, while other things are available Monday or Thursday only. It is a rhythm that has been in place for years if not decades, so asking for a dish that is not available on the day you walk in is an immediate way to stand out from the loyal patrons.

But do not let that stop you, as the friendly folks here that run the place will be smiling behind their masks and are always really welcoming. Some things do not have any description and some foods have names you may be unfamiliar with, but do not hesitate to ask about anything. This is food they are proud to make for their community, and are happy to describe to people that are new to the cuisine of Belize.

Second takeout order

Belize is a country that identifies more strongly with its Caribbean island neighbors than with the other countries of Central America or México, but that does not mean that their food is not clearly rooted on the mainland. It has the distinct influences from precolonial Mayan cuisine that are familiar to those that enjoy foods from Guatemala, the Yucatan Peninsula, and Chiapas. But since it was eventually colonized by the British, it also shares the names, shades, and spices that many of the English-speaking islands do, and some of the food mashups like meat pies.

Joan & Sisters is open at 09:00, the best time to show up for these and other baked goods and pastries which you will see in the case at the counter. Some of these will still be warm, while others are wrapped in plastic from the previous day like the jam roll seen at the top left of the photo above. Either way, by lunchtime a lot of these will be gone for the day.

Chicken tamal
You will see the "e" at the end of tamale in English-speaking Belize.

The Belizean tamale (above, also called a bollo but not here) is probably the way their food culture most intersects with the other neighbors in Central America. This large banana leaf-wrapped and steamed beauty is full of on the bone meats, sometimes pork but here a full chicken drumstick in spicy stew first encased in spicy masa and then a plain one. Grab at least one of these two-toned tamales each time you go, it is just about big enough for a meal for one person but more fun to share.

Available daily are stew beef and stew chicken (below), which is ready in both dark and light meat versions. Either way, ask for a little extra juice as you will hear other customers do and always say yes to the question of whether you want potato salad and onion sauce. The latter might remind you of Salvadoran curtido but is laced with habanero peppers and should be applied with care.

Stew chicken with white rice and stewed beans

Each plate is always available with your choice of white rice and stewed beans (above) or the common combo (below) of rice and beans which Belizeans consider part of their national dish. This combo has rice browned from stewing with chicken broth and the whole thing is thickened by coconut milk and tastes most of garlic and onion.

The price of oxtail has skyrocketed everywhere, but a plate of Joan & Sisters oxtail (below) is worth every penny. They load their takeout containers with far more than it should ever hold, so be mindful to keep your bag upright or there could be trouble. The pieces they use are all grade A and very meaty with just the right amount of fat. The gravy is addictive and will make you wish you had an extra container to drench everything else in your refrigerator with.

Oxtails plate

The biggest influence from the British Isles comes in the form of a meat pie (below), but instead of being in the form of a patty as seen in Jamaica and other Caribbean islands, the meat pies in Belize resemble those in England, Australia, and New Zealand or look more like a muffin like this one.

Inside of the crisp exterior is a beef and potato mix that certainly has the touch of grandmas everywhere, but this one would never be found in Britain as it would kill them with spice. In Belize you will often eat these for breakfast, and the heated case at Joan & Sisters will only have a few left at lunch, but if you grab them for warming up later they are just as delicious at night.

Meat pie

A few tarts pop out the most visually from the case in the counter, and ordering and eating one will cement the fact that this restaurant is doing great things with their baked goods. The coconut tart (below) is a great option for a sweet tooth, filled with sugar, condensed milk, and nutmeg.

It must be obvious by now that nothing is disappointing, so go ahead and order those conch fritters and whole red snapper if you are more in the mood for seafood than chicken and beef. The recipes that have survived everything Los Angeles and the world has thrown at them for the last 40 years are always going to satisfy new and old customers alike.

Coconut tart

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