La Colombiana. 1640 N. El Camino Real, San Clemente. 949.441.7656.
Even if you’re not from Colombia, even if you spell it with a “u,” and even if you couldn’t pick it out on a map, you’ll probably still feel at home at La Colombiana.
That’s because the restaurant is no bigger than a living room, and it feels like one too. Brightly colored walls and cozy chairs invite, while the clang of the open kitchen feels like aunts and uncles preparing Sunday dinner. Conversation with the waiters is easy, and most importantly, the food has an assertively home-made quality and is served in the heaping portions grandma would pile on your plate.
The sobrebarriga with salsa criolla is a fine example of what La Colombiana can do. It’s a traditional Colombina dish that calls for slow-cooking a traditionally tough flank steak until it pulls apart like carnitas. It’s simmered in the salsa criolla—peppers, tomatoes, onion, garlic, cumin and other spices—and served with rice, potato, yucca and an arepa, a slightly sweet, rich and doughy flatbread. The yucca is starchy and has that hallucinogenic zip, but blends with the criolla to create a unique bite. The long-grain rice stars on its own, and carries the interluding forkfuls between the many options on the plate.