I always try to fly into the Burbank airport when I visit home (which is the valley…yes, I am actually a valley girl…BLECH). It is closer to home, the luggage always comes off of the plane faster, and it is right across the street from some of the best Cuban treats on the planet.
Porto’s has been around since my mom was a kid, and not much has changed since then. It calls itself a bakery and cafe, but it is really a veritable amusement park for those who love Cuban and/or fried food.
The store is huge, with two sections to order food and a large seating section, but there is always, at all hours of the day, a humongous line. Don’t be deterred, as the line moves very quickly and the servers are all competent and courteous. Just go to the line, wait your turn, and order at the counter. Then pay at the register and collect your goods!
Though you can order Cuban sandwiches or other cooked to order items, those in the know go straight for the stuff in the case. Just point to it and take it to go. Many pastries don’t have names, so just point at them and ask what is in them.
Dense rather than airy, with a pronounced salty and garlicky taste. Heavy with bechamel and lightly golden brown, these are heavenly little gut bombs. Chicken nuggets on creamy crack…that’s what these are.
Imagine, if you will, fluffy mashed potatoes – not too creamy or thick, just airy. Then, stuff them with a juicy, cumin-filled filling of ground beef and other Latin American spices. Lightly fry the whole thing until it is crunchy outside and steaming hot inside. This is a handful of Shepherd’s Pie – hearty and comforting, while being zesty from the Cuban seasonings.
This doesn’t have as much taste as the other meat-filled goodies. The pastry is wonderful – flaky and buttery – but the ground beef is a little bit plain. This would be more at home in a pub than at this Cuban eatery.
Bright orange grease stains the inside of the thick, probably lard-enhanced pastry, but miraculously does not bleed outside. The inside is chock full of chorizo, garlicky and sweet at the same time. This is chorizo at its finest and any fan of sausage should not miss this.
Even better than the chorizo version. The chicken is stewed until very moist, then mixed with green peas, onions, garlic, and what must be sofrito – an herby, earthy spice blend. Juicy and flavorful, this manages to make usually mundane chicken a standout.
Dessert is not an afterthought here. Incredibly flaky and airy puff pastry surrounds sweetened cream cheese and bright, tropical-tasting guava paste. An unexpected take on the classic breakfast Danish.
Best of all, the food here is VERY cheap. Come here with $10 and you will leave with a stomach full of hearty, fried, spicy food.
And you won’t have to fight so much traffic on the way home.
It’s a win all the way around.