Harbor City’s Spanish stop from this week’s District:
PHOTO by ROSHEILA ROBLES
The Saturday crowd at Harbor City’s La Española Meats is angling for space. Up at the counter, customers are jostling to scan cases stocked with limitless links of sausage; others pass time by snacking on samples.
There’s barely enough room to turn around, and this even extends outside, where the shop’s parking lot is overflowing into the nearby industrial zone, creating a rare circumstance in which luxury cars are lined up along an empty lot that operates as a practice canvas for well-timed taggers. It’s a scene that, at least on this day, is driven by one desire: paella.
But La Española didn’t build its stellar Spanish stature on that rice-based plate alone. Rather, the shop won the majority of its fame on the merits of its charcuterie, sausages and cured meats that La Española manufactures itself under its own Doña Juana label. The paella is a plus, but it’s these house-made meats that have kept La Españ-ola’s reputation sparkling with a sterling sheen, even as the deli moves beyond its silver anniversary.
And judging by the parcels purchased by the weekend traffic, La Española is still well suited to the business of hocking meat. Of all its options, the essential item is the deli’s Serrano ham, a sweet meat aged almost a year before it’s set out for sale. If La Española is a destination designed for well-planned picnicking (it’s about as close to a one-stop shop as there is), then the Serrano ham is the surest staple, excellent in everything from a crusty sandwich to a paired platter of fruit.
Yet to anyone who doesn’t carry a degree in dry curing, the shop’s much-vaunted variety can be overwhelming. There are five types of chorizo alone, each distinguished most discernibly by varying levels of pimentón, or smoked paprika. Some are spiked with the stuff (chorizo Soria) for a sharper sausage, while others spare it altogether (chorizo blanco) for a taste that’s closer to Italian counterparts like soppressata than to the Mexican variety that has landed in just about every California breakfast. But for those who are unsure which sausage to select, La Española’s staff is more than helpful, detailing the divergent tastes and preferred preparations that make each meat unique.
One particular option that shouldn’t be overlooked is La Española’s pair of morcilla: blood sausages strung together in dark little links, differentiated only by their inclusion of either onions or rice. Whatever variant you prefer, both options can help make a meal—the generally smooth and complexly spiced sausages aren’t nearly as foul as they might initially sound.
Meats aren’t the only thing La Española stocks. There are just as many cheeses—from semi-firm wedges of the ubiquitous Manchego to paprika- and olive oil-rubbed slices of the regional Ibores. Plus, there are imported olive oils and wines, tins of canned fish, sweets and snacks, and even Nocilla, Spain’s homegrown version of Nutella.
Given its importer and wholesaler history, it’s no surprise La Española caters primarily to those looking to make their own Spanish meals. But if you’d rather put your taste buds in the hands of experts, order a bocadillo. The deli’s lone sandwich compiles a number of necessities from La Española’s shelves—Serrano ham, chorizo, roasted red peppers and Manchego cheese. There’s also an equally terrific tuna bocadillo. And if you set aside enough time, there’s the paella, too, a Saturday-only affair so popular it just about requires reservations.
There’s no telling whether or not there’ll actually be space if you decide to order a ready-made plate from La Española—the patio fills up just as quickly as the parking lot—but even if this is the case, the shop is all about easy-eating. The mostly mobile food can be packed up and enjoyed just about anywhere.
LA ESPAÑOLA MEATS 25020 DOBLE AVE | HARBOR CITY 90710 | 310.539.0455 | LAESPANOLAMEATS.COM | OPEN MON-FRI 8:30AM-5PM | SAT 9AM-5PM | FOOD FOR TWO $10-25