C is for Colombia: Sabores Colombianos

Welcome to Where in the World Can We Eat in San Diego! Each month, we’ll be trying food from a different country or place, going in alphabetical order by the beginning letter.

… Except I took a bit of a hiatus since April from writing anything (not from eating out, lol), due to reopening transitions. So I’ll be catching up a bit and posting three this week, just in time to celebrate Immigrant Heritage Month! Today, we’re on the letter C is for Colombia. If it weren’t for this project, I might never have found Sabores Colombianos, a little restaurant in City Heights that specializes in hearty plates of authentic home cooking.

Sabores Colombianos

Owner snapshot:

From left: Fernando, Patricia, and Silvio. (Photo used with permission from the Sabores Colombianos website.)

Patricia (also known as Paty), Fernando (her husband), and Silvio co-own Sabores Colombianos. Silvio was a server at a restaurant that Paty frequented, and they got to chatting and eventually became friends. They talked at length about the idea of starting their own business together, and they opened their doors in 2015.

The restaurant’s regulars are diverse and come from all backgrounds; Patricia guesses that only 10% of her customers are Colombian — “because they can cook all of this at home,” she says. She loves and takes great pride in Colombian food for its depth of flavor, or sazón, which can only be achieved with skilled cooking and seasoning. The dishes on the menu all come from Silvio’s mother, who had a restaurant in Colombia.

Silvio and Patricia agree that the bandeja paisa is their favorite dish. (Silvio also recommends the carne desmechada, and Patricia the patacón con todo.)

What we ordered:

We first visited Sabores Colombianos in May, when restrictions were still in effect and we didn’t feel too comfortable dining inside yet. We got takeout, going with Silvio’s suggestions of the bandeja paisa and carne desmechada. There was a lovely park around the corner that was just perfect for a picnic.

A bit of sun-dappled shade in Park de la Cruz.
The highly recommended bandeja paisa, which is a quintessential Colombian main course: carne asada, chicharrón, Colombian chorizo, rice, beans, fried egg, fried plantain, arepa, and avocado.
Carne desmechada is shredded beef sautéed with onions and tomatoes, served with rice, plantain, soup, and avocado. This dish is also known as “ropa vieja,” or old clothes!
We sat inside for our second visit after California restrictions were lifted — the place has an easygoing, relaxing vibe. A brunch here is a lovely start for a weekend.
El pollo sudado: steamed chicken in tomatoes and onion, served with potatoes and rice.

Notes:

No wonder Patricia takes such pride in Colombian sazón! These dishes look somewhat simple and unassuming. But when I take a bite of the food, I realize it’s the kind that I could try to recreate but I’d never get right, even with a full recipe and detailed instructions. Take the bandeja paisa, for example. “Isn’t it just pieces of meat on rice?” you might say. Yep, but that’s why it’s difficult; they have to have the cooking and seasoning right with each different component, and there’s no sauce on it to hide any shortcomings.

One main course was enough for the two of us, and I think we eat a bit more than the average. So keep that in mind if the $18/plate price is giving you a little bit of sticker shock; unless you’re Michael Phelps, it can be half that. These plates are hearty, but I noticed that they don’t sit heavy in the stomach afterward — the sign of excellent ingredients.

What we would order next time:

We have a few favorites already, which we would find difficult not to order every time. The carne asada is a thin, lean, flavorful steak. The pollo sudado is also high on the list. And the beans are a surprise star, a fantastic combination with the Colombian chorizo … We would order a side of beans every time if the dish doesn’t come with it already.

But we should also branch out, and next on the list to try are the patacón (deep-fried squashed plantain), all of the fresh fruit juices, aguapanela (sugarcane drink with fresh lime juice), arroz con pollo (shredded chicken mixed with rice and vegetables, served with salad, avocado, and sweet plantain or french fries), and camarones al ajillo (garlic shrimp with rice and avocado).

Restaurant information:

Address: 3695 University Ave. San Diego, CA 92105
Phone number: 619-756-7742
Accepts credit cards? Yes
Parking: Street parking (we found a spot a block away)
Available vegetarian options: The menu is pretty heavy on meat, since it’s what they do well, but the owners let me know that you can request a vegetarian plate, no problem! (If you’re a pescatarian, there are also fish and shrimp dishes.) Vegetarians could also go à la carte and get the fresh fruit juices + antojitos (appetizers) — arepa con queso (cornmeal patty with cheese), pandebono (cornflour bread, cheese, milk, and baked eggs), or plantain dishes — with avocado, rice, and salad.

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