Restaurant review: El Gaucho, Redondo Beach
There is a style of Argentine food that has become popular in Los Angeles. Swanky restaurants play sensuous tango music and serve vast portions of meat, pastas that reflect the huge Italian immigration to that country in the 1800s, and empanadas, the meat or vegetable turnovers that are the most popular snack. It’s a delightful experience, and an accurate reflection of the way Argentines dine on special occasions.
Then there are places like the deli counter at the El Gaucho Market, which reflects the way Argentines have lunch on an everyday basis. The meat is there, but in sandwiches piled with sausage, chicken, and steak, and so are the empanadas, but instead of tango music the soundtrack is a TV that seems to play soccer games morning, noon, and night. The lunch counter at the back of the store is spartan, a dozen polished metal tables between displays of Argentine wine, cookies, and condiments, but the experience is still enjoyable. Waiting for your lunch while everyone else in the restaurant reacts to a missed goal or bad call by the ref is fun, the South American passion for food and soccer on full display.
Though Peruvian-style tamales and whole pizzas are on the menu, there are only two things most people eat here – sandwiches and empanadas made with beef, chicken, spinach, or tuna. The empanadas are available for $1.79 each or $16 a dozen, and when I’m too busy to make something for a party I often pick up an assortment. The descriptions don’t do them justice – the beef isn’t just stuffed with meat but with the mixture called criolla, which also has chopped onion, paprika, olives, and egg. The chicken, tuna, and spinach also have spices that enliven the flavor, and I have had an excellent lunch for under ten bucks by ordering one of each.
Then again, a meal for under ten bucks is not a remarkable thing here, because the sandwiches are all the same price – $7 each. Add a glass of wine or a beer and you’re right there at ten pictures of Washington, and the sandwiches here are good. They are all served on a chunk of well-made Italian loaf with a crisp crust, and whatever meat you select is accompanied by lettuce, tomato and mayonnaise.
They make good simple steak and chicken sandwiches, and someday I may try their conventional offerings like an Italian sub, pastrami, or turkey. I am always drawn to the more unusual items such as the choripan, made with chorizo sausage handmade at the adjacent meat counter. This isn’t Mexican chorizo, made of fatty pork with lots of paprika and spice, but Spanish-style made from pork, beef, garlic, and herbs. It’s simple but excellent, an enduringly popular item in Buenos Aires or among expatriates in Redondo Beach.
I’m a fan of the beef or chicken milanesa here too – very thinly slices meat lightly breaded, best topped with a drizzle of the garlic and basil laced chimichurri sauce that is sold at the register for 25 cents a plastic cup. The star item for me, though, is matambre – a word that means “hunger killer” and lives up to its name. Also known as matambre relleno, it is thin flank steak layered with herbs and chopped vegetables, then rolled around a hardboiled egg. It’s richly spiced but not hot – nothing in this cuisine is – and it’s a delight to eat.
To accompany your meal, you can get regular or exotic soft drinks, very strong coffee, or a cup of yerba mate, the caffeine-laden herb tea of Argentina. If you don’t like coffee but want to stay awake for a considerable period, there’s nothing better.
If you’re in a mood for dessert, El Gaucho is happy to oblige with pastries fresh from a local bakery, including good chocolate-drizzled dulce de leche cake or sweet croissants or cookies. Unfortunately the best item, quince cake topped by a lattice of dough, is not sold by the slice, but they’re inexpensive so you can pick one up to share with friends. Or strangers, or me if I’m in the vicinity because I never turn down a taste of this.
El Gaucho has been in Redondo Beach for nineteen years, but some residents have never stopped in. They’re missing something special, a great local outpost of ethnic food where you can dine well cheaply and do some shopping while you’re there.
El Gaucho is at 2715 Manhattan Beach Boulevard, NW corner of Inglewood Avenue. Open 9 a.m. – 8 p.m. daily, occasionally closes early. Parking lot, wheelchair access OK. Few vegetarian/vegan items. Phone 310-297-2617.