Certain foods have a universal appeal. Although milkshakes and shake drinks may not be a gourmand's notion of an international specialty, almost everywhere in the world someone is sure to be shaking up a frosty, icy concoction.
Last week's exploration of Asian shakes, containing such things as sweet coconut milk or tropical fruits, is only the beginning.
The Western Hemisphere has its own share of similar refreshments. In addition to the familiar ones--the sort found at Ed Debevic's or Johnny Rocket's--Los Angeles can provide the adventurous culinary explorer with varieties from almost all Latin-American regions.
Cisco's Juice Bar, an urbane version of the licuado trucks you see in most Mexican towns, tops my list of favorite licuado places. Inside the tiny shop, you're surrounded by pyramids of fresh fruits and vegetables from which Cisco's extracts jugos frescos with the help of a huge heavy-duty juicer. But it's the creamy fruit-and-milk licuados that are the most irresistible. Take your pick of fresh mango, papaya, strawberry, banana, melons and more. Get a single flavor or any combination. Cisco's will regulate the amount of sugar, and if you really want a substantial meal, they'll whip an egg into your licuado .
Cisco's Juice Bar , 674 S. Alvarado St. (across from MacArthur Park) (no phone). Open 8:30 a.m.-7:30 p.m. daily.
La Fuente, at one end of the El Mercado shopping center at First and Lorena streets, has a wonderful way of serving licuados . Just like an old-fashioned malt shop would, La Fuente fills your glass to the very top and then lets you keep the extra licuado remaining in the blender as a bonus treat. The highly recommended Mexican items include excellent sandwiches-- tortas de carnitas or tortas de lengua (braised tongue).
La Fuente, 3425 E. 1st St.; (213) 266-0747. Open 9 a.m.-9 p.m. daily.
The Sunset branch of Los Burritos Restaurant has cordoned off an area for jugos and licuados , calling it Jugoslandia. There's even a separate menu for these drinks. (The Vermont branch also serves licuados and jugos.) We loved the fruit rainbow, a blend of watermelon, papaya and blackberries. Yogurt Delight mixes papaya, strawberries banana and honey, and the Cantaloupe Cream includes strawberries and orange juice--simply perfect.
Los Burritos, 4929 Sunset Blvd.; (213) 669-9438. Open 9 a.m.-10 p.m. daily. 1134 N. Vermont Ave.; (213) 669-9772. Open 9:30 a.m.-11:30 p.m. daily.
El Cochinito Yucateco represents southern Mexico on the licuado list. You'll find more tropical flavors here, guava and coco (taro) for example. Licuados are dispensed soda-fountain-style. An array of fruit bases are made ahead, which allows the restaurant to offer almost a dozen varieties. They are good, but a little too sweet to be my favorite.
El Cochinito Yucateco, 3508 Sunset Blvd.; (213) 668-0737. Open 10:30 a.m.-8:30 p.m. Fri.-Wed.
Cubans call their licuados "batidos de leche" (or batidos for short), as in beaten milk. The most luxurious batidos are found at Padrino de America Cuban Restaurant. Tropical fruits like guanabana, mamey or papaya are whipped with milk into thick, icy cold and ethereally flavored refreshments. These are poured into tall, wide glasses. The restaurant also has fine Cuban sandwiches at $2.50 or half a Cuban sandwich called media noche --assuming you need only a little snack at midnight--for $1.75.
Padrino de America Restaurant, 3200 Sunset Blvd.; (213) 669-9628. Open 11 a.m.-9 p.m. Mon.-Sat.
At Tropical Ice Cream and Cuban Bakery there will inevitably be a few Cuban businessmen knocking back the mercilessly strong espresso and eating Cuban pastries from Tropical's admirable selection. All the intriguing goodies are baked on the premises. Brazilian brownies, a sort of chocolate log coated in chopped nuts , or the chocolate meringue cookies are an excellent chocolate fix. Tropical has a more diverse batido flavor selection than Padrino. One flavor I've not seen elsewhere is trigo --a batido made with puffed wheat. Believe it or not, this drink is delicious.
Tropical Ice Cream and Bakery, 2900 W. Sunset Blvd.; (213) 661-8391. Open 7:30 a.m.-10 p.m. daily.
I learned the Spanish word for watermelon (sandia) , and also carrot (zanahoria) while contemplating the translated licuado menu at Ilopango, a Salvadoran restaurant. The fruit and milkshakes here were exactly like Mexican ones , and Ilopango has a good , long list of flavor choices. Best of all, you can get a wonderfully cheesy pupusa , the grilled stuffed corn pancakes, to go with your licuado .
Ilopango, 900 N. Vermont Ave.; (213) 666-9178. Open 7:30 a.m.-10 p.m. daily.