When I walked into Andrés Restaurant for the first time, the smells wafting out of the kitchen were so good, I almost didn't ask for a menu. Just give me whatever's cooking, I wanted to say.
1235 Morena Boulevard, Linda Vista
The family-owned and -operated business has been serving Cuban and Puerto Rican food nearly 35 years from its location on Morena Boulevard, near Bay Park. Beyond the simple, colorful dining room, the property contains enclosed patio seating, and a small market selling Caribbean and South American foods and spices.
For lunch, I deliberated over a saffron-tinged arroz con pollo, but ultimately couldn't resist the ropa vieja. That's a stewed beef and tomato dish usually associated with Cuba, yet popular on both islands. The shredded beef in the dish is said to resemble old clothes, which is what ropa vieja translates to from the Spanish.
The long simmered beef is cooked with onions and bell peppers, and finishes in tomato sauce till it falls apart. Served with rice and black beans for about $14 ($17 at dinner), the dish isn't much to look at. The tender strands of beef have plenty of chew to them, and the comparison to a pile of old clothes seems about right, especially in contrast to the plump, bright green peas tossed on top of the meat after plating.
But the flavor! The savory mix of garlic, bay leaf, and — I'm guessing — paprika marries with the sweet acid and umami of the stewed tomatoes, I was won over. This wasn't solely responsible for those tantalizing kitchen aromas, but a big reason the restaurant has been drawing customers.
There's no way I can discuss even a terrific Caribbean restaurant right now without referring to the catastrophic aftermath of hurricane Maria. While the restaurant's namesake founder, Andrés Mera, hails from Cuba, the family and staff these days have strong ties to Puerto Rico.
In late September, the business's Facebook page posted, "We at Andres have family in Puerto Rico, and like many of you, do not have communication with our love ones. So we wait till cell towers go back online and pray in the meantime."
In the time since, Andrés Restaurant has become a collection point for donations of bottled water, clothing, and other supplies (scheduled to ship to Puerto Rico October 12). And from noon to 5pm on October 22nd, Andrés will host a fundraiser dubbed Puerto Rico se Levanta, featuring food, musical performances, and a silent auction.