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Serving up Latin comfort food

DINING OUT:

August 25, 2007

No matter where you come from, nothing tastes better than those home-cooked, comfort foods you grew up on. There is something about those familiar dishes that simply takes the edge off a bad day. After eating dinner at Cafe Colombia in Burbank, I realized it does not matter if you cannot pronounce the names of the entrees — comfort food has a language all its own.

Reinaldo and Gabriela Alvarez opened Cafe Colombia in 1999. Traditional Latin American dishes are the centerpiece of their menu, but the emphasis is on informal home-cooking with common ingredients.

Although the country is best-known for its rich coffee, Colombian cuisine is based on corn, beef, chicken, pork, yuca, plantains and a variety of exotic fruits. Yuca is a root vegetable that’s starchy like potatoes and used in a variety of dishes, including deep-fried and seasoned chips. Plantains are similar to bananas in appearance but taste much better cooked and sweetened.

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The quaint interior of Cafe Colombia, with ceiling fans and small tables, makes you feel like a world traveler in a local establishment. Forget air conditioning and stuffy leather booths. Here you will find a dozen or so tables, a display case showcasing a few Spanish pastries, and a shelf on the far wall with a variety of imported food items from Colombia.

Ron and I took the table in the far corner. The waitress brought us our menus; and after a moment, I heard a disgruntled sigh from Ron. The titles of the entrees are all in Spanish. Even though there are clear descriptions in English, the menu can be a little confusing.

We started with empanadas and pandebono. The empanadas were made from cornmeal and deep fried to a crunchy golden brown without a hint of grease. The filling was a delicious mix of beef and potatoes flavored with garlic, tomatoes and onions. Yuca flour gives a light texture to the cheese-filled rolls, pandebono. I also suggest trying the very popular yuca chips for an appetizer. They are marinated in garlic and deep fried.

While we were still munching on our appetizers, the waitress brought us our dinner salads. I went for the Colombian salad thinking it would be the superior choice, but I found it to be more like coleslaw without the creamy dressing. The house salad with baby greens, tomatoes and onions in a light vinaigrette that Ron ordered was by far the better choice.

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