On the corner of Olive and Ontario is a touch of South American soul; an outside mural depicts Peruvians with mischievous expressions, traversing a mountain path to a thematically expected Machu Picchu. Their amusement is obvious, and contagious.
Once inside, one half is a no-frills kitchen counter, the other a fan-cooled room the color of butternut squash and desaturated green, combining to emit a homely and friendly aura. Romantic shows in Spanish, soccer matches, or even the SyFy Channel* may blare from one wall.
Let's talk about why we came here: brilliantly combined, nap-inducing Peruvian fare. The Pollo Saltado has a thicker sauce than most, almost a brown stew of dark chicken meat, red onions, sodden french fries, and tomato quarters. Together they become an integrated meld of deep character. I am thankful for the plastic plate and its raised edges that keep the liquid contained, yet saddened when I finish, because I could easily devour half again what was there.
The Combination Saltado--chicken, shrimp and steak--is heaped even higher in a gleaming array of purple and beige. The steak is well-done and firm, soaking up the sauce, while the shrimp is curled and bursting and trying to keep up with the steak and chicken.
When one orders a saltado dish, one expects an iron-sizzled mess of Heaven, with a stolid heap of white rice on the side for juice-soaking purposes. Choza Mama introduces an unexpected flexibility, in that you pick two sides. White rice is available, yes, and you should probably choose it because you need to drizzle green aji sauce on it, because I said so.
However, the available sides raise an interested eyebrow. The Lentils are soft like Indian daal, slices of red onion pulling out earthy richness. There are really nifty Peruvian Beans, almost like gently refried beans, if the beans happened to be great northern beans and therefore larger and softer. Both sides are quite tasty, but have no capacity for liquid absorption, being nearly liquid themselves.
Essential to Peruvian fare is the aji, a pale green paste that ranges from a vegetal hiss to nostril-flaring burn. Choza Mama's is fairly mild. They also offer a butterscotch-colored sauce that is similar but hotter, with almost a curry/hummus flair.
There is a tight batch of spaces behind, but otherwise beware of street signage, mostly telling you not to park on Ontario during the day, ever, on pain of being forced to work at one of the nearby corporate Disney buildings.
Ah, yes! The Peruvian count:
Mario's: Best Chance for Being Carted Home in a Basket
Los Balcones del Perú: Classiest Place for Making Yourself Useless
Lola's: Best Chicha Morada
Mamita: Most tongue-spanking Aji sauce
Peru's Taste: Most savory sauces
Puro Sabor: Best Lomo Saltado
Choza Mama: Most comfortably home-style
* Have I ever told you how silly I think this name-change is? What's wrong with the "SciFi Channel"? People know what Sci Fi is. The new name just says "siffy" in my head. As an old-school speculative fiction and fantasy enthusiast, I demand sensibility. The defense rests.
( Categories: Cuisines (by Region), Peruvian, Burbank/North Hollywood )
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