The Little Colombia Restaurant

Near and Far

You can fly 2,500 miles for an authentic Colombian meal. Or you can take exit 51 off I-95 North and be sitting at your table at The Little Colombia Restaurant, just over the East Haven line, in less time than it takes to pack a suitcase.

You won’t find pizza or burgers on this menu. It’s all Colombian, from the Empanadas Colombiana ($1.50) at the top of the appetizers menu to the Brevas Con Queso Y Arequipe (figs with cheese and caramel, $5.95) for dessert. Married owners Rosalba and Julio Vera arrive at 7:30 every morning except Tuesday to start cooking beans, soup and rice for their 11 a.m. opening. “It takes a lot of time,” Rosalba says. “You can’t make a nice soup in one hour.”

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I began my meal at Little Colombia with a bowl of green plantain soup, the Thursday homemade soup special. Its base was rich and flavorful. Hearty were the added chunks of potato, beef and calabaza squash as well as a tostone (fried plaintain) hidden on the bottom of the bowl. Rosalba brought me a small dish of hot sauce, which she said some patrons like to stir into the soup, so I tried it that way, too. The homemade hot sauce was more tangy than spicy—a nice flavor for meat, perhaps—but I found it overpowered the soup’s fine balance.

Hot sauce aside, Colombian food isn’t spicy, explains Natalia Ortega, one of the Veras’ two daughters who waits tables at Little Colombia. Sure enough, none of the other dishes I tried brought the heat. For appetizers, I chose Yuca With Tropical Fruit ($7.50) and Tostones A La Criolla ($6.50). The yuca was cut in thick strips and fried to a light crisp, tasty on its own, but what wowed me was its mango sauce, sweet and fresh-tasting with the slight crunch of minced onions. The tostones were served with a warm “Creole Sauce”—oil-based with tomato, onion and lots of salt giving it a seaside flavor, perhaps a nod to Colombia’s coastline.

For my entree, I hunkered down with the Bandeja Colombiana ($16.95), a massive dish featuring grilled steak, grilled chicken breast, pork belly, Colombia sausage, rice, red beans, avocado, sweet plantain, fried egg and corncake. Though I’m sure some ambitious eaters have cleaned this plate, it’s more than big enough to share. The chicken and the steak were both nicely grilled, well done but still moist. The pork belly offered up a delicious, crispy outer layer. Imported from Colombia, the sausage was mild and juicy. A fried egg with a firm yolk sat atop a generous scoop of perfectly textured rice. The slice of avocado was a ripe pop of color. Rosalba directed me to use the corncake as a sponge of sorts. By itself, it didn’t have much flavor. Its role on this traditional plate seems to be to mop up what’s left.

I ate my meal in the small bar, but Little Colombia also offers a cozy dining area with about a dozen tables and a decorative wood fireplace. Mortared stone walls give the place a rustic feel, and music sets the Latin American mood.

Greater New Haven isn’t home to a big Colombian community, Rosalba says, but diners from Chile, Ecuador, Peru, Venezuela and Puerto Rico have found their way to Little Colombia. Colombian sauces are different from those in the other countries, she says, but “everybody likes” the food—except the occasional patron who wants to know why they don’t serve a few Italian dishes. Julio is a trained chef with experience in Italian and French cooking, Rosalba says, but “if this is a Colombian restaurant, we have to serve Colombian food!” The menu does, however, accommodate kids who may want to order some Chicken Nuggets ($9.95).

With nine Colombian favorites ($12.95-$16.95), four “New Latin Cuisine” offerings including shrimp, salmon and two churrasco dishes ($20.95-$24.95), 11 seafood plates ($16.95-$20.95) and five meaty offerings “From the Grill” ($15.95-$23.95), as well as appetizers ($1.50-$13.95), salads ($5.95-$12.95), desserts ($5.95) and sides of red beans, yellow potato, sweet plantain, avocado, Salsa Chimichurri, homemade hot sauce and Creole Sauce, there’s plenty to choose from on the Little Colombia menu. Drinks include fruit juices, Colombian sodas and cocktails, including piña coladas made with Colombian rum.

Full to the proverbial gills, I took the better half of my Bandeja Colombiana home to share. A meal at Little Colombia isn’t exactly a trip overseas, but for a two-hour adventure it may be the next best thing.

The Little Colombia Restaurant
672 Main St, East Haven (map)
Mon, Wed-Sun 11am-8:45pm
(203) 745-1649
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Written and photographed by Kathy Leonard Czepiel.

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