She never received any formal training as a chef, but Berta Utreras spent a lot of time researching home-cooked Latin American fare before opening her restaurant in San Diego’s Old Town. A native Chilean, Utreras has been presenting a wide scope of Latin American dishes since 1991 to raves from everyone from one-time visitors to persnickety food critics to devoted habitués. Berta’s Latin American Restaurant, housed in an unpretentious little cottage, is a far cry from the touristy eateries in Old Town, and I happily added myself to the long list of diners who’ve been completely enthralled by Ms. Utreras’ talents.
Try This: Start your exploration of cuisine from about a dozen countries with either the Chilean empanadas or the Colombian tostones, or you may want the gallo pinto — mixed rice, beans, red bell pepper, cilantro, and onions with a Costa Rican sauce. If you’re in the mood for a salad, try the Mexican Jicama salad, or an Andean quinoa salad — a staple on the menu long before quinoa became trendy for North Americans. For an entrée on my first night here, I devoured the Peruvian seco de cordero (lamb with orange and lemon juices, chilies, cilantro, potatoes, and green peas); on the second night, I opted for the Argentinean carne a la parrilla (ribeye steak grilled with chimichurri sauce, parsley, cilantro, carrots, red bell peppers, onions, vinegar, olive oil, and assorted spices). My friends were equally enthusiastic in their praise of the Brazilian seafood special, the Guatemalan shrimp, and the Venezuelan arepas. For dessert, along with your Jamaican lemongrass tea or Colombian coffee, try some homemade flan, or sample Berta’s mother’s recipe for a pudding of semolina with cinnamon and orange peel and covered with a rich red wine sauce.