Welcome to Dining On A Dime, a feature in which Lucas Kwan Peterson surveys LA's cheap eats—often obscure, ethnic, unsung restaurants—proving that dining on a dime is alive, well, and quite tasty in this here city. Where do you want us to go next? Do share.
Quick: what's the capital of Belize? If you said "Belmopan," you're right. You're also most likely in the top 1% of world geography nerds. I bring this up only to illustrate a point: most people don't know much about Belize, the small Central American country about the size of Massachusetts. Its people, like most people from small nations, are proud and fierce, and Dean (he demurred to give his last name), the proprietor of Belizean Fish Market and Restaurant, is no different.
Both times I visited his restaurant, which he has been running for nearly 30 years, he was wearing a t-shirt that shouted "BELIZE" in large block letters. When I asked if Belizean cuisine was at all like Jamaican cuisine (I was only making conversation, and his restaurant is plastered in pictures of Bob Marley -- though, to be fair, it's also plastered in pictures of Michael Jordan and Barack Obama), he gave me a puzzled look and shook his head. He just likes Bob Marley.
Belizean cuisine is a big amalgamation of all the different respective ethnic cuisines of Belize -- you'll find Latin American influence (tamales and panades -- the Belizean equivalent of the empanada), Mestizo influence (garnaches, fried corn tortillas smothered in beans, onions, and cheese) and Kriol influence (the "boil up" -- a combination of boiled eggs, root vegetables, fish, pig tail, and boiled cake, made from pressed cassava root).
The panades are cheap and delicious -- they'll set you back a couple dollars and come hot out of the fryer, filled with shredded mackerel and covered in a tangy housemade relish of pickled onion and habanero pepper. Garnaches are also a steal at $2 and offer a subtle, stewed onion flavor to offset the earthiness of the beans and tortilla that comprise its base.
At $11, an entire fried red snapper with a side of plantain chips is a must-try. Dean will walk you over to the cooler and let you pick out the fish you want, then, easy-as-you-please, walk over to the small produce section and pick out a plantain. He opens and cleans both with aplomb, and five or ten minutes later -- voila -- you have a beautiful fried fish on a bed of crispy, sweet-savory plantain chips. The fish is perfectly done, flaky and moist, and served with a spicy vinegar-based hot sauce.
The menu changes daily and many items are available exclusively on Friday and Saturday (they close on Sunday) -- chicken stew, oxtail stew, tamales, conch fritters, meat pies and the above-mentioned "boil up" all earn rave reviews from customers that I spoke with. All can be washed down with a Belizean soda taken from the refrigerator -- a sickly bubblegum-flavored "Kola Champagne" or, preferably, a tart ginger beer. — Lucas Kwan Peterson
· All Dining on a Dime in South LA Coverage [~ELA~]