High Living

Lake Street's Los Andes Makes the High-Altitude Cuisine of Ecuador and Colombia Accessible, Affordable, and Awfully Good

Actually, having it all, and eating it too, might as well be Los Andes's motto: Most of their entrees are three- and four-part platters, which average humans will be hard-pressed to eat in their entirety. One great option is a sort of South American pot roast, sobrebarriga a la criolla ($12.99), a big chunk of flank steak long-cooked in a mild, tenderizing sauce of tomatoes and onions until the meat echoes with deep flavor. It's served with a mess of red potatoes cooked alongside the meat, as well as stewed cassava and a pan-fried sweet plantain. As if that weren't enough, your server will present a second plate filled with sweet, earthy beans and rice.

One of my friends who lived in Central America declared Los Andes's bistec a caballo ($12.49) to be the most authentic Latin American home-cooking she'd yet seen in the Twin Cities. Los Andes piles a plate with a piece of sirloin, cooked like the pot roast I just described, and serves it with two fried eggs, red potatoes, cassava, a sweet plantain, and another side plate of rice and beans. "This much meat would feed a family of four down there," she said. "That's why people come here. But this is great. I'm bringing my family."

Speaking of family, the place is absurdly, wonderfully kid-friendly. The servers whisk out platters of house-made chicken fingers and fries ($5.50) for fussy kids with a speed that puts other so-called family-friendly restaurants to shame. Without being asked, they even split the house specialty fruit smoothies ($3.49) into special lidded cups. The smoothies are made with fruits you know (mango, passion fruit, blackberry) and ones you may not, like naranjilla, a tart, funky, almost mushroomy fruit, or lulo, or guanabana. The smoothies can be blended to order with milk and topped with whipped cream (agua o leche) or on their own (jugos naturales).

Jayme Halbritter
All this and TV, too! Manager Virginia Lazo with Los Andesís South American home cooking

But back to the entrees. Los Andes offers a few items that are not strictly meat and potatoes—though remember, the Andes are the birthplace of the potato, so these folks know their spuds. Some of the most interesting dishes here have deep Amerindian roots, like that mote, or the stewed goat ($10.99), in which big, tender chunks of gamy meat are accented with sweet spices and stewed until they fall apart at the touch of a fork. It's great stuff. Guatita ($10.99) is an Ecuadorian specialty with an African touch—a buttery, creamy, almost custard-like tripe stew made silky by the addition of ground peanuts and made herbal with cilantro. You probably won't believe me, but this tripe stew bears a family resemblance to melted vanilla ice cream. (You can get the guatita tripe stew, the goat, and the restaurant's remarkable ceviche in one big combo platter, the Bandera, $12.99, so-called because the various dishes are supposed to resemble the Ecuadorian flag.)

Chaulafan is a soy-sauce-dark fried rice with shrimp that tips a hat to western South America's long history of interaction with Asian cultures and foodways. Arroz con camarones ($11.99) is a picture-perfect, light and tender version of saffron-bright Spanish rice with shrimp. Never mind that the coloring comes from traditional South American achiote, the shrimp were so tender, the rice so flavorful with peas, carrots, and sweet bell peppers that even though it isn't paella, it is still better than most of the paella in this paella-disaster of a town.

I have, however, saved the best for last. I'm betting the crowd favorite at Los Andes will be the absurdly generous mixed-grill plate Picada Los Andes ($12.99). For this humdinger of a whizbang, the kitchen brings out a huge ceramic plate heaped from one end to the other with marinated, sliced, grilled flank steak; marinated, sliced, grilled pork loin; sweet, juicy, sliced, grilled sausage; and cross sections of sweet, buttery, salty, creamy, rich, dangerously good skin-on bacon chunks (chicharon), all served with smashed-flat slices of deep-fried green plantain and a whole ripe, sweet fried plantain—oh my! All these delicious meats and meats and meats; all these delicious plantains! You can even pair your meats and meats and meats with a glass, or a bottle, of good South American wine, like the spicy Argentinean Altos Las Hormigas, for a mere $5.50 a glass or $21 a bottle. It's like eating at downtown's hot Brazilian steakhouse, Fogo de Chao, at a third the price, while catching up on Univision tabloid news at the same time. Chupacabras—are they coming for you?

If you don't want to catch up with chupacabras, Los Andes might not be for you, as the restaurant is less about serenity than it is about hanging out in your favorite Ecuadorian aunt's busy kitchen. The general vibe of the place is white walls, 1970s-looking stained-glass lamps, lots of televisions, a Pepsi cooler stocked with beer and imported Colombian and Ecuadorian sodas, and lots of nice, friendly people with good English skills. It's about food and presenting a bit of true family-style Ecuadorian and Colombian culture, not interior design. Still, I predict the place will slowly gain a devoted following, and when it does, there will be one north central United State that thinks about the foods of the Andean nations of Ecuador and Colombia quite often.

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