It's shoehorned sideways onto a small lot, and the part that faces Venice Boulevard is almost hidden by a heavy barred fence. The two side entrances open off a driveway that ends in a tiny parking lot.
One door leads into a cramped, dark passageway bordering the kitchen. The second opens into the dining area at the back. The facilities are so rudimentary that you might be tempted not to stay.
But that would be a mistake. Comedor Camacho is one of few places in Los Angeles serving praiseworthy Nicaraguan food.
The food is rustic and hearty (a comedor is a simple eating place that offers everyday dishes). Dinners come with rice and beans, or the mixture of beans and rice called gallo pinto. A block of fried cheese is part of the combination, and you choose between two kinds of sliced plantains, tajadas verdes (green plantain slices fried like potato chips) or maduros (irresistible ripe plantain slices fried until crunchy at the edges). You also get Nicaraguan "coleslaw," a vinegar-dressed salad of cabbage and tomatoes.
For a meat dish unique to this cuisine, try indio viejo. Owner Rosa E. Guzman fries shredded boiled beef with tomatoes, bell peppers, onions and garlic, then thickens it into an elusively sweet mush with masa flour. Guzman says her secret ingredient is a bit of tomato juice, but I sense there are other secrets as well.
Bistec encebollada is a rather chewy steak topped with a sauce of onions, tomatoes, green peppers and salsa inglesa--Worcestershire, in other words. Pescado en salsa, a fried whole fish in this same onion sauce, is eaten with tostones, plantain slices slightly flattened before frying.
The dinners are filling, but if you feel like an appetizer, try quesillos, slim rods of white cheese flooded with slightly soured cream (crema) and garnished with onion relish. You eat this with tortillas. The quesadilla-like repochetas are tortillas stuffed with pale, dense cheese, browned on the griddle and served with crema rather than salsa. Empanadas de maduro are much the same, using mashed sweet plantain instead of tortillas.
Tangy cabbage salad tops vigoron, a plate of boiled yuca and crunchy pork cracklings. But I prefer chancho con yuca, which substitutes deep-fried pork chunks for the cracklings.
The names of some dishes may mislead you. Pescozon de pipian has nothing to do with pipian, the spicy Mexican sauce of ground squash seeds. It's a squash stuffed with cheese and fried like a chile relleno.
And there's not a bit of sausage in the Wednesday lunch special carne chorizada. The name merely indicates that beef is ground like sausage meat. It's stewed with tomatoes, cabbage, celery and carrots and served with rice, tortillas, cabbage salad and onion relish--a lot of food for $4.50.
In Mexico, bunuelos are big puffy circles of deep-fried dough sprinkled with sugar. In Nicaragua, they're deep-fried balls of yuca mixed with grated cotija cheese served in a bowl of syrup.
One Sunday, I dropped by for two dishes available only on weekends, baho and nacatamales. Baho is a big dish of stewed beef brisket, yuca, firm green plantain and sweet, softened dried banana; an interesting assortment of tastes and textures. Nacatamal, the big Nicaraguan tamale, is wrapped in a banana leaf and heavy paper and tied with thick cord like a gift package. Inside is the most tender imaginable masa, mixed with rice, pork, potatoes, green olives, raisins and tomatoes.
That morning, a woman was grinding barley in a blender for cebada con pina (barley with pineapple), a light, sweet drink that is tinted pink. Chicha, made from fermented corn and also light pink, has a nice, tangy kick. Chia con limon is pink lemonade combined with tiny gelatinous chia seeds. Non-rosy drinks include cacao, which is not cocoa: It's made directly from ground cacao beans.
Although minimal in comforts, Comedor Camacho is not devoid of atmosphere. The walls are painted with highlights of Nicaragua, ranging from volcanoes, the cathedral in Managua, folkloric dancers and a map of the country to a portrait of the poet Ruben Dario, a literary icon throughout Latin America.
Comedor Camacho, 2019 W. Venice Blvd. (just west of Normandie), Los Angeles; (323) 735-6276. Open Mondays through Thursdays from 9 a.m. to 7:30 p.m.; Fridays through Sunday to 8:30 p.m. No alcohol. Street or lot parking. Cash only. Lunch specials, $4.50. Dinner for two, food only, $13 to $14.
What to Get: Indio viejo, chancho con yuca, nacatamales, quesillos, empanadas de maduro, pescozon de pipian, repochetas, chia con limon, chicha.