La Morena is a family-run spot serving up a slew of Ecuadorian eats and staples from Latin America.
Tamales, humitas, empanadas, bolones — if you've never tried them, or just want them all in front of you at the same time, I highly recommend this cozy spot for your Latin food fix.
A family affair helmed by Graciela Riofrio (the eponymous "morena" of the household) and her ex-husband Marcelo Rosero, you'll also likely find their kids Andres, Gabriela, and David in the kitchen and behind the counter.
Bring the vastness of the Ecuadorian cuisine on to one menu, La Morena brings dishes from the mountainous north (like Quito, where Marcelo is from) and Graciela's more tropical recipes.
Plaintains, potatoes and corn are the most essential components of this menu, and frankly it's shocking how many dishes can be made from this trio of ingredients.
Empandas are all made in-house, and unlike most other purveyors of this cross-cultural staple, La Morena offers three savoury styles.
Argentinian-style flour empanadas $3.50, Colombian corn flour empanadas ($2), and an Ecuadorian version made with a rice shell ($3.50).
It's my first time trying the latter and it's hands down the best empanada I've ever had. Make sure to ask for some of their housemade mustard and carrot hot sauce on the side.
Hefty tamales are stuffed with chicken, pork, or veggies. Before steaming, these banana leaf beauties made from corn masa are given a ladle full of sofrito sauce, made from tomatos, garlic, onions, and herbs, for added moisture.
While similar in concept, humitas ($4.50) are also steamed but made from freshly ground corn. They're sweet and creamy, with cheese inside.
Ceviche is offered on weekends only, and comes with shrimp swimming in a zesty sauce, a side of popcorn, patacones (flattened and fried plaintains, similar to tostones), and little plaintain chips.
Bolones de platano, or Ecuadorian plaintain dumplings ($12), are stuffed with chicharron, cheese or both.
The end result is a hulking fried ball that you should definitely eat while hot.
Hornado ($14.95), a slow roastd pork shoulder dish, is another famous Ecuadorian must-try.
Marinated in beer and bitter oranges, the pork is a multidimensional ticket to Flavour Town, served with hominy corn and a pickled onion mix.
Maduro con queso is yet another plaintain-based jaw-dropper, splitting open a fully ripe plaintain, simultaneously drizzling, stuffing, and sprinkling cheese on top of it.
A handful of juices ($3.50) include naranjilla (lulo), gaunabana (soursop) and maracuya (passionfruit).