Ecuadorian eatery La Pena has become the darling of "Check Please" reviewers, Latin foodies and margarita guzzlers the city over. It's easy to see why: The wait staff is hospitable to a fault, live Andean music enhances the experience Thursday through Sunday nights, and those margaritas come in gimme-another flavors like mango, passionfruit and black raspberry.
The menu, while unquestionably pedestrian, brims with hearty, Latin flair. Ceviches are fresh and unfettered by excess spice. The Ecuadorian corn tamale with cheese and the salty patacones, or fried green plantain with cream cheese, also impress.
Meat dishes are done well and presented with a royal air. Try the churrasco, a symphony of grilled steak served with rice, avocado and fried egg. For those who prefer a simpler dish, it doesn't come any easier than the arroz con menestra y carne asada, which, despite its lengthy name, is just steak and beans. There are several shrimp entrees on the menu, try the ones bathed in coconut sauce: to die for.
Food aside, La Pena sticks with the joie de vivre motif: dining room walls overflow with luscious shades of pastel and partitions of pine and blown glass split the room between bar and dining area. And in keeping with that joie de vivre, did I mention that nothing on the menu exceeds $20 and that most, in fact, are much closer to $10?
Average cost: $10-$20
Centerstage Reviewer: Adam White