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The Bolivian Battle

Mi Bolivia
(says "International Restaurant" outside)
Neighborhood: Queens/Sunnyside
44-10 48th Ave
Woodside, NY 11377


Tutto Bene Italian Restaurant
(Bolivian food served on the weekends)
501 N Randolph St
Arlington, VA 22203
(703) 522-1005

vs.My Bakery(always Bolivian, all the time)
3508 Courtland Dr
Falls Church, VA 22041
(703) 933-7332

One of the most important things on my east coast trip was to be able to hit some Bolivian restaurants. Sadly, there aren't any Bolivian restaurants in Los Angeles (the closest being Peruvian if they don't specialize in seafood - like Pollo Inka, etc).  *edit* There are a couple Bolivian restaurants in Los Angeles but most of them serve food traditional to La Paz, the capital, and not so much the foods I get homesick for, the food from the low lands. However, they are still great in a pinch and I know I can get some salteñas in when I am in dire need of them.

When my best friend told me that she found a Bolivian restaurant in Queens, I had to yelp it to make sure she was for reals. On yelp, the same address has two names. THE MENU SAYS "MI BOLIVIA" BUT THE SIGN OUTSIDE SAYS "INTERNATIONAL RESTAURANT." It's the same restaurant.

Contestant #1: Mi Bolivia, aka International Restaurant

Wow. we were finally here. I miss the taste of home so much. The closest thing I got to Bolivian food in LA is Peruvian and that is totally different because Peruvian cuisine is seafood heavy (ceviche, etc.) while Bolivian food is meat and potato and large white corn and plantains heavy (we are landlocked and live in the Andes mt's or the tropical plains).

I really hope that they change the name of their restaurant sign and menu so that it says the same thing or else people will overlook this place!

The menu has a brief description of Bolivian food.

Once we found our way in, the familiar aroma of saltenas and meat filled the air. I was so elated!! I sat down and opened the menu. A really friendly Bolivian girl, transplanted from Virginia (VA has the highest population of Bolivians in the U.S.) came and helped us out (I am assuming that she was the only English speaker and we were the only Asians there - another sign of authenticity).

She told us that the owner of this restaurant is from La Paz (the active capital of Bolivia) and how back at home, he was known for having the best salteneria (a specialty house dedicated to making the saltenas, a juicy version of an empanada that is so filling and full of meat, potatoes, eggs, spices, raisins, olives, etc that you literally feel full for three plus hours).

We ordered two saltenas (one beef, one chicken), and I absolutely loved the beef one because they used ground beef instead of beef chunks. This made it really tender and easy to bite into. However, the chicken is still my favorite. I think it combines better with all the other stuff inside and seems less fatty.

The saltenas, pristine in its shell
The beef saltena after I cut it open.
Usually, people hold it upright and eat it from the top but I cut it to share with my friend.

We also ordered a mocochinchi and a maracuya (no pic) for drinks (first one is a drink made from dehydrated peaches, cinnamon, sugar, and the second one is pureed passion fruit), my favorite childhood drink was the mocochinchi but i did not like this version too much because they didn't give me a bolita (no dehydrated peach in there). It was a bit too sweet here.

My mocochinchi without the bolita.
We also got a humintas, a dessert type corn concoction, which is basically a sweet tamale (like the elote) with no filling. instead, it's made with sweet corn, raisins, cinnamon, and there is a layer of burnt cheese on top, all wrapped in a corn husk.

The humintas doesn't seem to be steamed.
Inside the humintas. Note the burnt cheese and corn chunks and raisin.

Then came the sopa de mani. This soup is made of ground peanuts, usually with beef broth, vegetables, french fries, and meat -usually leftover chicken feet but in this case, it was just beef chunks.

The sopa de mani. Not too many chunks in this version.

One of our entrees was the
pique a lo macho. This dish is basically a mixture of french fries, beef chunks, onions, peppers, cheese, sausage, all sauteed together with a delicious sauce. It's really all about the sauce.

The "pique", pronounced Ppeeh-kkeh.

Our last entree was the chicharron de cerdo, fried pig skin with carbs. The meat is usually attached, along with the bones. However, people order this because of the skin. The best part of this dish is that it came with choclo - hominy - and purple potatoes, which is native to the andes.

Check out the size of those choclos.
This was a bit dry for me. I asked for some aji!

The best part of this meal was definitely the saltenas. The other dishes were good, too, but if you're Bolivian, you just CRAVE the saltenas. You can't find anything like that here. The other dishes you can try to make it on your own and come close to it in your own kitchen but dayam, the saltenas are hard to get right and right it got in this restaurant.

Contestant #2: Tutto Bene Italian Restaurant (Bolivian on the weekends)
Could you tell that this was a Bolivian restaurant?
Next stop on my Bolivian food marathon was Tutto Bene Italian Restaurant in Arlington, VA. A Bolivian friend of mine lives in VA and told me that this restaurant was second place only to this lady who hosts private dinners at her house on Tuesday nights. Since I was there for the weekend, I decided to check out Tutto, especially since they turn into a Bolivian restaurant over the weekend and purportedly have better Bolivian food than their weekday Italian food. I wish they'd just go full Bolivian especially since there are so many Bolivians there. I guess you gotta make money somehow. So this place was a bit more expensive than Mi Bolivia in NYC. However, the quality of most of the food was by far, a few notches higher. That is, except for the saltena, which I must admit was better at Mi Bolivia (perhaps the owner actually IS the master of all saltenas).

The mocochinchi here is much better than at Mi Bolivia also because they did not skimp on the peach balls (bolitas). I didn't even get one bolita at Mi Bolivia but here, I ordered an entire pitcher (we had a large party) and there were seven bolitas in it. It wasn't too sweet and had the right dose of cinnamon in it.

I couldn't take a picture of the pitcher of mocochinchi before people devoured it.

Tutto's saltenas were good, but not as hot or juicy when it came out. The beef in the saltenas were in chunks, like it is made traditionally in Bolivia. However, My Bolivia's ground beef made it juicier and easier to eat. I will give the saltena prize to Mi Bolivia.

The saltenas at Tutto's. A bit colder and less juicy.
Clearly, the sopa de mani in Tutto's kicked Mi Bolivia's ass. Just LOOK at all the chunks of food in there! It was a lot more hearty with more taste.

Yum, the sopa de mani! Big enough to share.

The parillada includes steak, chicken, sausages, some guts.
Comes with salad, rice, and french fries!

The complimentary salad that I wished to take home.
The dressing is simply vinegar, salt and pepper but it tastes so refreshing!

Dood, these fries were freaking awesome.
They had a crispy outer shell - almost like they dunked the fries in batter before deep frying it.
The plate of rice that came with the sizzling meat platter.

Tutto has so much food that is easy to share. Here is an example of what comes with most of the orders. I didn't get a picture of the milanesa (breaded meat) but this is what came with it:

Sweet sides!

My true Bolivian friend ordered the Lengua (Beef Tongue). I felt a bit adventurous so I had a bite. I felt like I was french kissing a cow. Needless to say, I am not brave enough to enjoy the tongue. However, I am perverted enough to enjoy the cow udders (which sadly, none of the Bolivian restaurants in the U.S. had).

The Lengua, which comes in a spicy sauce, potatoes, salsa, and rice.

After we ate for two hours, we still had a lot of food left so we decided to pack it up and give it all to my Bolivian friend. He was pretty stoked.

The leftovers
Tutto's had better quality food than Mi Bolivia. However, the prices here are definitely a lot steeper. If you think about all the food you're getting it's not that expensive, but no one has the stomach space to fit all that food so I'd rather pay less for less portions. I also had no idea how much food was going to come with my meal so our group ended up ordering about three times more than we were able to eat, and we paid on average, $40 something per person. Next time I go, I think we'd only order one parillada to share between 4 people, a pitcher of mocochinchi, and some saltena's to share...and maybe some Pacenas (Bolivian beer).

Contestant #3: My BakeryOn my last day in Virginia, my Bolivian classmate told me that he had to take me to one final destination before I left.... "My Bakery". Situated on a corner, no one would guess this place was Bolivian. I mean, the sign doesn't say "My Bolivian Bakery". Maybe it should. I'm starting to notice a trend that all these Bolivian restaurants kind of want to remain incognito.

Inside My Bakery.

What I liked about this place was that it reminded me so much of the cafe's I used to hang out in and get large in when living in Bolivia. If only there were chess and a cloud of smoke and young, loud people chatting about their love lives...

I was having stomach issues and I had already eaten a little at Jaleo before coming here but I told myself I would still stuff some Bolivian in me before I had to leave to Bolivian-less LA.
I noticed that this place had cheese empanadas - the kind you get in Bolivia that are huge, stuffed with cheese, deep fried, and with powdered sugar sprinkled on top. This empanada is the epitome of how opposites work. The salty cheese vs. the powdered sugar. The melty soft inside with the crispy outside. It makes me want to cry it's so good.

The cheese empanada are called pastelitos here.
I tried to make some cheese empanadas (empanada de queso) at home a bunch of times to the discouraging reality that my empanadas were not as big and fluffy as I remembered them to be in Bolivia. Alas, I can fly to VA for these.

I also decided to get the tucumana because I don't remember ever eating this in Bolivia. Maybe it was a regional empanada. The insides were basically made of veggies, potatoes, beef. Tasted almost like a samosa (except for the meat part) and was just as dry. Not a fan.

The tucumana
They also have majadito!!!! My friend ordered this. The way to eat this is to break the yolk and smear it on your fried rice. Bonus = comes with fried plantains. I love any type of fried rice with egg on top, like is available in many ethnic cuisines.

The majadito is rice mixed with meat, sauteed with a tomato based sauce
(I think...that's just how it tastes like but I admit I've never made it before).

Last but not least, they also have MOCOCHINCHI, my all-time favorite drink. They also do not skimp on the bolitas here. The best part was that it was served in a boba-like fashion, in a sealed plastic cup.
I got my own mocochinchi ball!

My Bakery is probably my favorite out of these three only because in Bolivia, I spent most of my time at cafe's and bakeries. I loved the Bolivian pastries and tamales and empanadas way more than the churrascos or grilled meat places. I loved them all but since I spent most of my time eating all the carbs, My Bakery was like a nostalgic visit back to my olden days. I can't wait to go back and not have stomach problems so I could eat more of their food.

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