Colombian cuisine is slowly conquering Orange County one griddled arepa at a time. Take even a single bite of Colombia’s hearty, tropical cooking and it’s easy to understand why. It’s an intriguing lattice of both familiar and unfamiliar flavors, dishes that somehow feel elaborate and homey. And there are few better introductions to the South American cuisine than its many humble, flavorful stews.
El Portón in Huntington Beach is a jewel. It’s sleek and inviting, the staff unfailingly friendly. There’s cazuelita marinera, a coconut-based seafood stew buoyed with fish, shrimp, clams, and mussels. But everyone should try the cazuelita paisa (right), a country stew served in an earthen crock. It’s basically Colombia’s famous bandeja paisa in a bowl: a base of bean soup studded with crunchy, fatty fried pork, nubs of chorizo, a scattering of corn, potatoes, and plantains, with a side of rice and avocado slices and a mini arepa, those fluffy, ubiquitous corn cakes. It’s one of the most satisfying dishes you’ll ever encounter.
At Donde Adela in Orange, many opt for the cazuela de frijoles, a classic country bean stew. Like El Portón’s version, Donde Adela’s also includes cubes of ripe plantain, a sweet addition that elevates an otherwise understated dish. On Friday, the restaurant ladles up ajiaco, a chicken and potato stew from the Colombian Andes. It’ll cure whatever ails you—a restorative chicken soup studded with all kinds of potatoes and drizzled with sour cream.
Down in San Clemente, La Colombiana brings Colombian cuisine to the beach. All of the quintessential dishes are here, including the weekend-only sancocho. The soup has it all: hunks of beef, plantain, fried yucca, potatoes, and corn. It’s a homespun favorite with soul to spare.
HUNGRY FOR A LIGHTER BITE? Keep it simple with El Portón’s arepa de choclo con quesito. The sweet corn cake is enriched with a square of melted butter and slab of creamy, mild cheese. Try it alongside any of the restaurant’s meatier offerings.
8863 Adams Ave., Huntington Beach
1707 W. Chapman Ave., Orange
1640 N. El Camino Real, San Clemente