La Isla Bonita

I am in the middle of reading Ruth Reichl’s memoir, Garlic and Sapphires, in which she strives to convince an old friend to try sushi. Her friend is aghast at the notion of eating raw fish, and proclaims that Ruth will never be able to get her do so, no matter how hard she tries. But that was 1995 in New York City, and this is Los Angeles in 2012, where I imagine that I would be hard pressed to find one solitary soul who would be shocked to know that I am about to recommend eating ceviche out of a truck. That is due in no small part to the proliferation of food truck culture in Los Angeles; at this point you can get anything from currywurst to empanadas to dim sum off of a food truck, and a lot of it is really delicious. But La Isla Bonita is an OG, a real Mexican mariscos truck that has been around since before even Kogi’s conception, a truck that does not tweet its whereabouts but rather can be found every day (except Thursdays) at the intersection of Rose and 4th in Venice. It is there you will find the most incredibly fresh, light ceviche you’ll ever have standing up. The ceviche tostadas consist of a crisp, flat corn tortilla shell topped with a thin layer of perfectly chilled, fresh ceviche. The fish is finely chopped with acid and salt and a little bit of onion, tomato and cilantro—no more. On top there are two thin slices of avocado and a lime wedge, which you should twist over the ceviche. Add a dash of tapatío (or even better, many dashes). The ceviche is pleasantly juicy, and though juices will dribble down your hand, the tostada will not get soggy. There won’t be time. The perfect bite has crunch from the tostada, suppleness from the soft flesh of the fish, the rich creaminess of the avocado, and if you’ve done it right, it’s plenty spicy too. It leaves your lips tingling and your fingers smelling of lime and corn.

There are also the usual taco truck suspects of tacos, burritos and quesadillas stuffed with carne asada or pollo or whatever meat you like, and they’re good. But you are here for the seafood. I love the shrimp tostadas—I admit I sometimes even prefer them to the ceviche. They are a bit more substantial, the tortilla shell spread with a thin layer of crema and a flattened mound of pico de gallo to hold on to the juicy, plump shrimp that cover it. The shrimp are not raw, but they’re very lightly cooked, and incredibly fresh. Again, garnish with lime and tapatío.

I have eaten at many, many food trucks, and as I am sure any LA food lover will already know, a lot of them are great and a lot are second rate imitations of the great ones, and even more are half-baked ideas or non-chefs’ misguided attempts at capitalizing on the food truck craze. But La Isla Bonita is a true delight, a reliably excellent Venice mainstay. And though probably nobody will bat an eye anymore at the idea of uncooked fish from a food truck, you might find yourself surprised at the quality of these tostadas and the simple perfection of their execution, regardless of where they came from.


I’ve been wanting to check this place out since Los Angeles Magazine championed it as one of the city’s 10 best new restaurants, so last night we headed over to the downtown market where this food stand/sit-down restaurant resides. If that sounds strange, it’s because it is. The restaurant is located in a warehouse style space, with markets and clothing stands, kind of like the Farmer’s Market at the Grove, but indoors and Hispanic. It is a lot like a marketplace I went to Puerto Vallarta, so I guess it makes sense. Except there’s a Thai food stand in the corner. Anyway, they still have to work out some kinks—it took over half an hour for them to make our food, and considering we ordered a ceviche I was a little concerned we would die of old age before getting the main course, but they were apologetic and gave us a free purple corn drink, which was quite tasty, kind of a mix between a Jamaica agua fresca and an acai cocktail. They also have an odd seating system. There were a bunch of free tables when we got there, but we had to put our name on a list. Immediately afterwards we were seated, at the table next to where we had seated ourselves before we knew about the list. In any case, it was all worth it when the food arrived. The ceviche was what most critics have raved about, and it was delicious. It’s not the ceviche we’re used to, rather it’s the Peruvian kind, more of what I would identify as a fish carpaccio in a citrusy, tangy, spicy sauce. It is wonderful. But whatever you do, please do not miss the arroz con pollo. I haven’t had chicken this tender since Michael Voltaggio’s pressed chicken in the chestnut soup at the Langham Huntington. And that chicken cost…well, it was part of a tasting menu that ran me a cool $79. This chicken costs $11. I asked the server how they cooked the chicken, because it was so impossibly tender and juicy I thought maybe it was done sous-vide, but he said they sprinkled garlic and spices on it and put it in the oven. I think he’s lying. I don’t blame him. If I could make chicken that good, I would keep the recipe a secret too.