When you think of Colombian food in South Florida, the first thing that probably comes to mind is Colombian fast food -- those overstuffed hot dogs and hamburgers with every topping known to man (and then some). And you'd be correct; The Colombians have taken these simple American eats and turned them into edible masterpieces, piled with a colorful collage of ketchup, mayonnaise, rosada and salsa piña -- the essential pineapple puree -- all atop boiled hot dogs and hamburger patties finished with cheese, potato chips, bacon and shredded beef or chicken.
But finding truly authentic Colombian fare north of Dade County -- especially in Palm Beach -- isn't easy. Now, it doesn't have to be thanks to Los Parceros, a restaurant named for the Colombian slang term that roughly translates to amigo -- but more like your "partner in crime" type amigo. Here, the partners in crime would be co-owners Amanda Olmstead and Karina Patino, who opened Los Parceros early last year, just off the Florida Turnpike at the Okeechobee exit. Together, they offer traditional Colombian fare, from the familiar empanadas and tostones, to more culture-specific dishes like aborrajado, salchipapa, rellenitos and a family recipe for bandeja paisa.
See also: La Perrada Del Gordo in West Palm Beach
The tiny spot offers a dim-lit dining space with several tables and a high-top counter where you can eat-in for breakfast, lunch, and dinner; or order take-out from the convenient walk-up counter. Whenever you arrive, do so for the empanadas and burgers -- both a few of Patino's house specialities. And come hungry.
The menu covers all manner of Colombian fast food, including the traditional street food-style burgers and hot dogs the likes you'd find at Miami's La Moon Restaurant, but also a few authentic regional dishes made exactly as you'll find them in Patino's home city of Pereira. Many of the picks are variations of Patino's family recipes, dishes she learned to make from her mother, but also given her own unique twist -- slight variations that make it hard to decide what version you'll order.
Olmstead will insist you order Patino's empanadas ($1). A different breed than the Spanish or South American versions, they're tiny -- a Colombian trait -- with a thick, crunchy, cornmeal shell stuffed with a tasty forcemeat, a flavorful combination of beef and potato blended to a creamy consistency. They're served with a small cup of Patino's own ají picante, a spicy Colombian sauce made with green chile peppers, onion, cilantro, lime juice, vinegar and accented with cumin. Get them on Thursday or Saturday, when you can pick each up for just $.50, all day long.
The same goes for the burgers, all seven of them -- specialty takes on the popular fast food variations you'll find served late-night on the streets of Bogotá. At Los Parceros you'll get two beef patties cooked to your specifications, then topped with the blend of house-made sauces, crushed potato chips and bacon -- or, if it's your thing -- with chunks of chicharrón. Our favorites: the tostones and arepa burgers, each served between two thick slabs of fresh-made tostones or arepas that act as buns, and are far better than any bread ($5.50-$6.25).
For a larger plate, try Patino's bandeja paisa ($10.75), a family recipe that includes tender strips of grilled steak alongside red or black beans -- seasoned just the way mom makes them, and sometimes she does -- served over rice with sweet plantains and corn cake. There's also a the Los Perceros bowl ($5.75), the girls' own creation of everything Colombian in a single dish, combining chopped steak, chicken, chorizo or pork rinds with your choice of rice, beans, corn, fries, tostones or sweet plantains.
A specialty worth trying, especially if you like the dish, is mofongo: mashed fried green plantains tossed with olive oil, garlic, vegetables, meat and pork cracklings. Although a typical Puerto Rican specialty, it's recreated Colombian-style with a recipe Patino said has been taken straight from the streets of San Juan, where a popular haunt known as the "spider" opens its doors just a few days a week to serve lines of eager patrons. It comes out of the kitchen hot and steaming in a fresh-fried bowl made of tostones. When paired with a Postobon, the Colombian apple-flavored soda, it's heaven on earth.
If you can fit it, Patino also makes her own homemade desserts, including flan and tres leches. If savory-sweet is more your taste, she makes an amazing sweet corn cake, fried just long enough to give it a crisp edge before biting into a moist center thanks to a layer of melted mozzarella.
Los Parceros is open from 8:30 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday through Saturday, and is located at 5756 Okeechobee Boulevard in West Palm Beach. For more information call 561-855-6256, or visit the website and Facebook page.
Follow Nicole Danna on Twitter, @SoFloNicole.