Peruvian, Argentinian and Brazilian restaurants have become ubiquitous in South Florida, but Chilean cuisine remains harder to find. If you are tired of the same old South American, I suggest a trip to State Road 7 in Hollywood, where north of the Seminole Hard Rock casino diners will find Viva Chile Lindo. The portions are generous, the prices are reasonable, and the food spans the cold depths of the ocean to soul-nourishing soups and corn dishes from the central farming valleys near the Andes Mountains.
Some items will be familiar. Chilean versions of empanadas and ceviche are on the menu, and a salsa known as pebre, which resembles Mexican pico de gallo, accompanies a basket of warm rolls. After smearing the chopped tomatoes, onions, cilantro, garlic and olive oil on the crusty and yeasty bread, there was no need for butter. The menu also features grilled and fried meats and fish, many served “pobre” style with mounds of french fries and grilled onions topped with two fried eggs.
Some items, particularly from the entree section spotlighting Chilean specialties, might strike American diners as utterly foreign. Pastel de choclo ($11.50) is one such dish. The menu description does not do it justice: “Corn pie with a touch of onion, raisin, boiled egg and a delicious layer of chicken and meat.” Typically, I do not like sweet and savory dishes, nor raisins mixed with anything except bran flakes (I have bad flashbacks of the golden raisins and cottage cheese of the noodle kugels from my youth). But this dish was so soulful, warm and inviting that I could not help from being smitten.
The pastel de choclo arrived in a clay bowl (known as a paila) with a golden and crunchy top layer burnt around the edges. Beneath the surface was a creamy, fluffy, eggy and slightly sweet mix of pureed corn with raisins, onions and olives. At the bottom were shredded strands of chicken and beef. Imagine a creme brulee of polenta crossbred with a British meat pie, and you get the picture. It sounds much worse than it tastes (except the olives, which were bland and canned and detracted from the rest). Along with Vietnamese pho, French onion soup and lasagna, I will now put this on my short list of go-to comfort foods on cold winter nights.
The same status can be conferred upon the equally satisfying cazuela de vacuno ($11.75), a traditional Chilean beef soup also served in a clay bowl. The broth was thin but flavorful, and everything else in the dish was hearty, including a hunk of chuck roast that easily fell apart when picked with a spoon, a small corn cob, potatoes, green beans, carrots, herbs and zapallo, an orange chunk of butternut squash. The soup is served with a simple and bracing side salad of finely sliced white onions and tomatoes.
Viva Chile Lindo features honest food in no-frills surroundings, a place where Spanish is the predominant language and where families gather for weekend meals and Friday night karaoke. Chilean and American flags fly near the entrance. The floor is white tile, the ceilings are white fiberglass, and the walls feature large photos of the Andes and the rugged Chilean Pacific coast. The first time I went was a Friday night, when the lights were dimmed, the warbled tunes were loud, and the happy mood of weekend release and free-flowing piscolas (pisco with Coke on ice) was contagious.
Viva Chile Lindo opened in 2014 in a small building with a huge rear parking lot that will soon be converted to additional restaurant and catering space. Once inside, I found the atmosphere warm and welcoming. The owners, manager and chef are Chilean. Servers draw smiley faces and write, “thank you” on checks. There is a full bar and Chilean wine by the glass and bottle.
My group couldn’t resist ordering “locos mayo” ($15.50), which my dining mates thought translated to crazy Mayo (ha-ha) but which actually referred to locos, chilled Chilean rock snails that are similar to abalone topped with dollops of mayonnaise. The meat was tough and tasted as if it had been frozen, and I wasn’t crazy about the mayonnaise and pitted black olive that covered each piece. The dish had a redeeming quality, excellent creamy potato salad piled at the center of the plate. Baked chorizo empanadas ($5) were good — big, greaseless and sprinkled with large salt crystals that glistened like tiny diamonds. The ceviche ($14.75) featured shrimp, scallops and chewy white fish in an excellent leche de tigre spiked with spicy peppers. I liked the marinade more than the seafood.
A pork chop special ($14.99) featured an unusual but good chimichurri sauce with a base of cream instead of oil. The boneless chops were hefty and cooked properly, served with a side order of sliced tomatoes and lettuce. Bistec a la pobre ($18.50) featured a boneless rib-eye that was a bit chewy but well-seasoned and flavorful. The steak was decent value for the price, particularly when one factors in the eggs, fries and onions.
Vegetarians will not go hungry if they order porotos con mazamorra ($10.75), a stick-to-your-ribs porridge of lima beans, pureed corn and squash with onions, herbs and a swirl of spicy red-pepper oil across the top of the clay bowl. A fried fish fillet ($15.75) was excellent, a crunchy, golden coating surrounding sweet, white, flaky meat of what our server said was corvina.
We ended with peach torta ($5), a wet layer cake of caramel, whipped cream and chunks of candied peaches. When four people can eat well at a South Florida restaurant for $100 these days, it constitutes a small miracle. So I’ll count my blessings and say, “long life” to Viva Chile Lindo.
Viva Chile Lindo
4950 S. State Road 7, Hollywood
954-327-2888 or VivaChileLindo.com
Cost: Inexpensive to moderate. Appetizers cost $4.75 to $15.50, sandwiches $7-$8, entrees $10-$18.50, desserts $5. Kids menu $7.50.
Hours: 11 a.m.-9 p.m. Tuesday-Thursday (until 11 p.m. Friday-Saturday and until 8 p.m. Sunday). Closed Mondays
Credit cards: All major
Bar: Full bar with cocktails, beer and Chilean wines
Noise level: Noisy on Friday karaoke nights, conversational other times
Wheelchair access: Ground level
Parking: Free lot