L ala’s Grill is quintessential L.A. On a Wednesday night, the place was crowded. A film crew was filming just outside the restaurant, while the valet charged restaurant patrons $3.50 to park cars.
Lala’s offers both patio and inside seating. The tables inside the restaurant are so close together that you can’t help but eavesdrop on the conversations around you. However, the dimly lit restaurant and the orange glow radiating from the ceiling tiles distract you long enough to tune out the rest of the world.
To start the night, I ordered a mojito made with Jinro, a Korean rice wine. I’m not sure if this is a reflection of the diverse culture in Argentina, or a creative way to avoid having to pay for a full liquor license, but nonetheless it was refreshing. For $5.95, it came in a tall glass, which lasted throughout the course of the dinner.
Warm rolls with chimichurri sauce were served before the meal. The chimichurri sauce is most likely why the restaurant was so busy. It was an olive oil, garlic and minced herb mixture, and I became an instant fan.
Next came the appetizer. Empanadas are legendary in Argentina, and the combo appetizer ($11.95) lived up to its legacy. It comes with your choice of three empanadas, chorizo, and a tortilla de papa.
My friend and I chose a beef, a chicken, and a spinach empanada for the appetizer plate. The empanadas were the crowning glory of the plate and by far trumped the chorizo and tortilla de papa.
The empanadas were flaky and crusty on the outside, and each were served with sautéed onions on the inside. They were accompanied with a tomato salsa that resembled bruschetta. The chimichurri sauce was a perfect complement to the empanadas.
The chorizo tasted more like a breakfast sausage link. The tortilla de papa, a potato and cheese quiche, was more akin to a large, yellow baked potato. My friend and I tried it, then avoided it, not wanting to fill up before our main course arrived.
My friend ordered the Milanesa ($12.95), a breaded, thinly pounded fried steak – a popular dish in Argentina. The Milanesa arrived overlapping the plate, topped with marinara sauce and melted cheese, served with a side of mashed potatoes.
The Milanesa was not impressive. The steak was a little tough. It took some sawing to wrangle off a bite-sized piece.
I ordered the Arroz del Campo ($9.95), a rice dish served with sautéed garlic, onions, green and red bell peppers and mushrooms, a creamy tomato sauce and topped with feta cheese. For $2 more, you can add chicken or sausage, or salmon for $3. I decided to order the dish as is, and appreciate a vegetarian dish for a change.
The dish arrived in a huge bowl, one big enough to feed four people, or feed one person for four days.
The Arroz del Campo was creamy. The cheese melted on the yellow rice, while the garlic and onions gave the dish a full-bodied flavor. The sweet taste of the bell peppers and tomato sauce counteracted the strong flavors from the garlic and onions.
Overall, I was surprised at how well the ingredients of the dish complemented each other.
For dessert, we couldn’t resist the Flan con Dulce de Leche ($3.95). This custard dish was served chilled, drizzled with caramel sauce and served with whipped cream.
It’s not at all rich, like some desserts that make you wish you wore stretchy pants to dinner. If you couldn’t possibly eat another bite, this dessert would save well for the ride home if you decide to have a midnight snack later.