Uruguay Café: Traditional Dishes from “the Land of the Tango” in South El Monte [CLOSED]

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Just when it seemed like nearly every cuisine on the planet is represented in L.A., up pops a restaurant like Uruguay Café. Montevideo native Javier Rodriguez opened his café five months ago in South El Monte, on a stretch of Garvey Avenue that’s better known for pho than the traditional dishes of El Río de la Plata, “the land of the tango.”

Rodriguez said Uruguayan restaurants exist in New York, New Jersey and Miami, but Uruguay Café is the only Uruguayan restaurant in L.A. Uruguayan food will be recognizable to people who love dishes from neighboring Argentina, but as we learned, there are some differences.

Uruguayan Restaurant Los Angeles
Rodriguez proudly decorated his restaurant with Uruguay’s flag, a trio of drums for Monday “Clases de Tambor” and a wall of dry goods from his motherland. He even had a satellite news feed from Uruguay on the flat screen TV.

Uruguayan Food Los Angeles
I invited Bill Esparza (Street Gourmet LA) to join me on the fruitful scout, and we ordered every single Uruguayan dish on the menu, starting with a slab of Pascualina ($4.99), a tart loaded with minced spinach, bell pepper, onion and entire hard-boiled eggs. Pascualina proved to be almost all about the savory filling, since the puff pastry crust was so thin.

Uruguayan Food Los Angeles
We also scored a slab of Torta de Atun ($4.99) another puff pastry tart with a simple filling of shredded tuna (no doubt canned) that was folded (and enlivened) with peppers, olives and onions. This was the least interesting dish, but it was by no means fishy-funky.

Uruguayan Food Los Angeles
Since we ordered a spinach tart and a tuna tart, we went with the beef empanada ($1.49), which was fried, featuring juicy ground beef and bits of hard-boiled egg.

Uruguayan Food Los Angeles
Chivito al pan ($8.99) is the national sandwich of Uruguay. If you speak Spanish, the idea that a beef sandwich would be named for a chivo (goat) might be confusing. Apparently the sandwich originated in a Uruguay bar, when a foreigner asked for goat, and since the proprietor didn’t have any on hand, slyly substituted beef. Rodriguez serves his chivito al pan on on telera bread, though it normally appears in Uruguay on an oversized hamburger bun called a tortuga. The soft bun cradles grilled thin-cut Angus steak, ham, melted cheese, fried egg, grilled bell pepper, bacon, lettuce, tomato and mayo. This isn’t an oversized monstrosity. Instead, Uruguay’s Cafe sandwich centered on judicious balance, and achieved it.

Uruguayan Food Los Angeles
Choripan ($5.49) was nearly as good, featuring mild house-made pork chorizo, butterflied, grilled and served on bolillo (called porteño in Uruguay) with tomato, lettuce, mayo and chimichurri sauce.

Uruguayan Food Los Angeles
We finished with a massive slab of Postre Chaja ($4.99), a clever Uruguayan cake featuring masa layered with dulce de leche, peaches, cream, more masa, more cream and crispy shards of meringue. The cake must have weighed a pound, but Rodriguez showed restraint with the dulce de leche, so it wasn’t overly rich.

Rodriguez has a small section of Mexican dishes, including tacos, burritos, quesadillas and plates of carne asada, but don’t hold that against him. The neighborhood is heavily Mexican, he has to sell food, and not every Angeleno is comfortable with ordering Uruguayan food…yet.

Uruguayan Food Los Angeles
We each drank a cup of herbal green mate ($1.99), which seemed to calm my stomach after all the intake. Uruguay Cafe sells three brands of mate – Cruz de Malta, Taragui and Canarias – plus dulce de leche cookies, jars of dulce de leche – Conaprote and Dulce de Leche del Campo – and cans of Aguadito green rice soup.

Even though we tried every Uruguayan dish on the menu, we still found two additional reasons to return; Saturday evenings feature live Uruguayan music and an asado out front.

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Joshua Lurie

Joshua Lurie founded FoodGPS in 2005. Read about him here.

Blog Comments

so this place is closed ?? please say no

Robin,

I hate to break this to you, but Uruguay Cafe closed. Not only was it unique, but it was good, and that’s a hard combination to replace. If you learn of another Uruguayan restaurant, please let me know here.

holagente….me puedene decir si el cafe esta abierto por q llamo y nadie contesta…..gracias ……

Dany,

I just called Uruguay Cafe and I got the following message – “The number you dialed is not in service.” Sad if they closed, and it looks like they did. Not only were they the only Uruguayan restaurant in the area, they were also a good restaurant.

I came to the united staes when i was 7yrs old but i remeber alot of these things because my mom still makes them and so many more uruguayan dishes 🙂 i would live to try this place if i ever go to cali, i live in Tampa, FL now so i’m pretty far away but difently one day i’ll go to cali and visit this place

I have been looking for a Uruguay restaurant in California, I’m kind of far, but i cant wait to go to L.A area to go here. thanks a lot for this post =)

Tania,

You’re welcome. Let me know what you think of Uruguay Cafe after your visit.

[…] original plan to check out Uraguay Cafe before heading over to Gioia for burrata was busted when they didn’t open in time.  All […]

yeah my dad is uruguayan and he owned a mexican restaurant for about four years in the heart of south central during the LA riots, the miracle of the story isnt that his restaurant didnt get burned but that he was able to sell it. i thought of opening a uruguayan restaurant but i wouldnt name it something obviously uruguayan, the bottom line is its a business and if the majority of people dont like it it wont work, alot of armenian restaurants in glendale have mexican food, and even stranger alot of people actually order it,lol, either way i cant wait to go to uruguay cafe,

donde ay jente de paraguay paraver el partido aca por laguna niguel irvine o santa ana

por fabor alguien que mediga donde puedover el partido de uruguay conjente de uruguay el martes aca por laguna niguel irvine o santa ana

This is really awesome! I was born in Uruguay though I was raised here in California. I will definitely check this place out. Kind of strange how they’re serving Mexican food though.

A.B., serving Mexican food is a concession to the neighborhood. If you go, let me know what you think of their Uruguayan food.

Best chorizo (choripan) I have tried in years. You can tell it is home-made. Don’t miss it!

[…] Uruguay via Food GPS vs France via WeezerMonkey […]

Maybe Andre’s former Butter Tart space?!

Sounds very interesting. Wonder if they might ever find their way further west, say Pasadena or Eagle Rock or Glassell Park, or Silver Lake, or ?
Can’t imagine being able to eat that dessert once you tried every item on the menu.

The two of us didn’t eat every dish on the menu, just every Uruguayan dish. They also have Argentinean dishes and Mexican dishes.

Eagle Rock would be an interesting alternate location for Uruguay Cafe, though I’m not sure the area could support it. The rent would probably be too high as well.

Looks good!

man. I remember some people i was hanging out with telling me about this place and setting up a date to eat here that never happened!

One a many drunken nights ago of course, ha ha.

no doubt that the Food GPS would get here first than me! 😀

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