In late April 2020, I posted an Instagram story of El Cochinito. The photo was simple: two takeout containers, side-by-side, packed with maduros and black beans. It wasn’t a good picture. But nonetheless, exactly three replies flooded my inbox: my best friend Maya, her older sister, and younger brother. The conversations went something like this:
“AHHHHHHH MY FAMILY’S FAVORITE PLACE!”
“We’ve been going there since we were in our mom’s stomach.”
“I got that a few weeks ago! The old owners went to my graduation party…”
“Dude, I’m so high. My mouth is watering.”
To be clear, these are real quotes. Their reactions speak to how beloved El Cochinito is, a family-run restaurant in Silver Lake that’s been a cornerstone of LA’s Cuban community since 1988.
The first thing you notice here isn’t the neon pig sign or giant, glittering trophy sitting behind the cash register. It’s how laidback everything is. El Cochinito took a strip mall on Sunset Blvd. and turned it into a day in Havana: the patio always has a warm breeze, string lights sway overhead, and regulars chat amongst themselves while nursing ice-cold lagers.
Fun fact: They also make the best Cubano in the world. And no, we’re not being hyperbolic. In 2018, El Cochinito took first place at the International Cuban Sandwich Festival in Ybor City, FL, in the “Best Traditional sandwich” category. The award-winning Cubano arrives on a perfectly seared bun - crispy but not burnt - and is brushed thick with garlic oil. Pickles are sliced razor thin and the pork is so tender and juicy, we’d happily eat it as its own dish.
The pollo empanizado is also a standout, a family recipe passed down by original owner Gladys Navarro to her grandson Daniel. Breaded chicken is smashed down flat, then deep-fried and placed on a platter the size of a second-place U.S. Open trophy. This needs to hit your table, or, as I was politely reminded by Maya, you’re doing it wrong.
The wine and beer program here is vibrant and robust, in line with ones found at Same Same or Sushi Note. Wines range from elegant skin contacts and sangrias to a bubbly Chilean wine that Bon Appetit once called “enormously gulpable.” You’ll also find Mexican-style lagers and kinky blond ales that remind me of the ’80s even though I technically wasn’t even alive yet. In essence, El Cochinito is Silver Lake on its best day. A place perfect for lunch dates, romantic evenings, and of course, whenever you need an Instagram reply from a very specific family.
The serving size for this fried chicken is huge - definitely enough for two or even three people. It’s prepared a little differently than the usual recipe, opting for a more smashed, thin chicken breast that’s nice and crispy, then hit with a squeeze of lime. Order this with a side of maduros: the slick, caramelized plantains arrive the color of ochre and are the perfect complement to this salt-heavy dish.
A holy medley of ham, roasted pork, pickles, mustard, swiss cheese, and two slices of firmly pressed bread, our Miami writer says the Cuban sandwich is just as important to Miamians as, “their own social security number or the chorus to Pitbull’s ‘Culo.’”
A good accompaniment to your meal or dessert if your sweet tooth never fully grew in. In essence, the platano batido is a banana milkshake (thick, creamy, and rich with potassium), but also pays homage to the original owner’s father, who owned a restaurant in Cuba that still stands today. It only serves two things: banana milk shakes and guava sandwiches.
Cuba’s national dish. The stewed flank steak is shredded super thin - so tender you’d think it was a week-old bruise. It sits in a rich tomato sauce flavored with onions and bell peppers and comes with a side of rice and black beans.
If we could frame this flan and hang it up in our house forever, we would. Unfortunately, it’s extremely perishable - but also very delicious. It jiggles like it knows choreography and comes drenched in a sweet, sticky caramel sauce. The custard is so creamy. We love this dish.