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L.A.’s Best Secret Ecuadorian Restaurant Opens Weekends Only at This Wilshire Blvd. Cafe

On weekends,Cafe Fresco transforms into one of the rare places in the city to find seco de chivo, llapingachao, guatita, and other regional Ecuadorian eats.

Cafe Fresco is a cozy, family-run cafe on Wilshire Boulevard that serves American breakfast and lunch standards like avocado toast, chicken pesto paninis, and breakfast burritos. On weekends, however, it transforms into one of the rare places in the city to find fried eggs with chicharrones, seco de chivo, llapingachao, guatita, and other regional Ecuadorian eats.

The cafe is owned and operated by Aracelli Aguirre and her mother, Ruth Rodriguez, with help from Aracelli's two brothers. Having migrated from Quito, Ecuador nearly 26 years ago, the family are dedicated to bringing the flavors of home to Los Angeles. Aracelli's father, Jorge Lopez, acts is the head chef overseeing the weekends-only Ecuadorian menu to fulfill their mission.

The family first displayed their enthusiasm for Ecuadorian food back in 2020, when they started QuitoinLA, a home-based restaurant in the San Fernando Valley exclusively selling Ecuadorian cooking during the pandemic.

Since the subsequent opening of Cafe Fresco, they have remained true to their roots as they continue to expand their business, providing great, convenient food for the neighborhood during the week, and indulging in their passion for Ecuadorian recipes on weekends.  

“Our plan from the beginning, since we had a brick-and-mortar, was to eventually cook Ecuadorian food in a restaurant because, during COVID, we were doing that from home," Aguirre tells L.A. TACO.

Photo by Angela Burgos for L.A. TACO.

Although the family started off selling Ecuadorian food on the cafe's daily menu, the local demand for this cuisine was not enough for them to operate as a solely Ecuadorian restaurant. By selling Ecuadorian food on the weekends, they have more flexibility with their menu, as they further explore how to introduce Ecuadorian cuisine to the mainstream L.A. food scene.

“We still have the ability to try different things, to switch our menu," Aracelli says. "This is important because people are still trying our Ecuadorian food. People really don’t come out to Los Angeles for Ecuadorian food.”

Due to a lack of brick-and-mortar Ecuadorian restaurants in Los Angeles, home-based restaurants are the main source of the cuisine in the city. Drawing in a crowd for their Ecuadorian menu has proven to be a challenge.

While the family promotes their Ecuadorian menu on social media platforms and directly to members of the Ecuadorian community in Los Angeles, they would like to reach a wider audience with their cooking. 

Photo by Angela Burgos for L.A. TACO.
Photo by Angela Burgos for L.A. TACO.

The family’s Quiteño roots are at the Ecuadorian menu's heart at Cafe Fresco, while you'll also find influences from the country's coast. Quito, Ecuador’s capital city, is located in the mountainous region of the country, or "la sierra", as its patrons proudly refer to it.

The Andes are heavily involved in agriculture production, meaning the region's cooking is abundant with proteins and grains, often found in stews and other dishes. The menu at Cafe Fresco reflects the colorful and hearty meals one enjoys there.

For breakfast on Saturdays and Sundays, customers order Bolones, mashed green plantain balls stuffed with cheese, and chicharrón fried until crispy then served with fried eggs, fresh fruit, and coffee or juice.

The most popular dish on their lunch menu is seco de chivo (a stewed goat meat dish usually served with rice, fried plantains, and avocado), followed by guatita (a traditional dish of beef tripe stew with potatoes cooked in a delicious peanut sauce). Another popular dish on their menu is llapingacho, a lunch plate of fried potato patties stuffed with cheese and served with fried egg, meat, and avocado.

Other items on the menu include ceviche de camaron, empanadas, and salchipapas (South American-style french fries). Each plate is priced between $18 and $19.

Cafe Fresco is gearing up for fall by adding two seasonal items to their Ecuador menu to commemorate Dia de los Difuntos. This holiday is celebrated in Ecuador by preparing colada morada (a purple corn drink) and guaguas de pan (sweet pieces of bread shaped like babies). 

Aracelli notes the level of dedication that goes into cooking these dishes as one of the biggest takeaways from their experience cooking Ecuadorian food, both at home and in their brick-and-mortar. As in most Latin American countries, traditional Ecuadorian meals require a labor-intensive process that can take hours to prepare. To sell one of these dishes on Saturday and Sunday, they must begin sourcing and prepping ingredients during the week.

Photo courtesy of @laylita.

“Ecuadorian food is very specific," Aguirre says. "With American food, you can make it (almost) to everyone's liking. With Ecuadorian food, it’s kind of hard to do that. If you take off one thing, it won't taste the same.”

Achieving the right sazón is critical to cooking and selling Ecuadorian food for Aracelli and her family. However, there have been some challenges in remaining authentic to these recipes. 

“That’s also one of the challenges when making Ecuadorian food because none of the products make it out here to Los Angeles," she says. "I’ve heard from people in New York that they can get [certain Ecuadorian] frozen fruits or veggies in stores. My dad has been good at finding substitutes because we can’t find the exact same thing.”

Through their story, Aracelli and her family embrace what it means to be Ecuadorian. Family and food are the backbone of Ecuadorian identity in Los Angeles. Ultimately, their goal is to bring the community closer together and introduce these traditional dishes to those outside of the community.

“If we are an example of anything, it is how food can bring people together because that’s what it’s done for my family," Aracelli says. "We all have different things that we like to do. We are all great at different things, but at the end of the day, the restaurant and the food keep us close.”

Follow Cafe Fresco on Instagram here

Follow their weekend-only Ecuadorian pop-up inside the cafe here

6254 Wilshire Blvd. Los Angeles, CA 90048. Closest Metro lines and stop: Bus Lines 20 and 720 - "Wilshire/Crescent Heights (westbound)" or "Wilshire/Mc Carthy Vista (eastbound)", Bus Line 217 - "Fairfax/Wilshire."

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