I have a friend who raved to me about a little hidden (or not so hidden) gem in Oakland Park: El Guanaco. I had to look it up on Google. If you do a Google search for El Guanaco, you will see the picture of a small establishment. You will see their business hours and links to reviews and pictures that belong to the name.
To the people from El Salvador, a Guanaco is a nickname given to their local people. Puerto Ricans have “Boriqua”, Costa Rican natives go by “Tico” and so, El Salvador has “Guanaco”. However, what you will find in your Google search is yet another Oakland Park treasure. It is a restaurant specializing in Mexican and El Salvadorian cuisine. The online picture is a humble representation of the true culinary magic that occurs inside. My friend was not wrong, I am so glad I listened to her!
Two women, Cristina and Rudi, worked tirelessly at the local California Pizza Kitchen. While working together, they had a mutual friend who owned a takeout and delivery only place. He had only had it for about 6 months when he spoke to them about possibly taking it over. Rudi and Cristina thought it over and together they bought the place.
At that moment they embarked on a long journey, making El Guanaco what it is today, serving Oakland Parkers and other clientele some of the most delicious food in the City!
When they bought the place, their only existing licenses were strictly for delivery and take out. Cristina and Rudi saw so much more potential and decided to apply for a full dine in restaurant license. After about 2 years of hard work, they acquired both the license to function as a dine in restaurant and a liquor license. Cristina said, “After we got those licenses and we were open as a dine in, it was night and day”.
Another change that improved their business was the opening of their outdoor patio seating area 7 months ago. It is a small oasis where one can truly relax and enjoy their food under canopies and flowers. It is like a secret garden where you’d least expect it.
I am not a food critic. I do however love food and trust my taste buds. Cristina presented me with some dishes that I am still tasting in memory. I had never tried a Pupusa. This one was filled with beans and melted cheese that I tried with a fresh coleslaw. I’d heard of it many times, but I was never familiar with this dish. A Pupusa is a flatbread griddle cake, comparable to a Venezuelan or Colombian arepa, and it’s very popular in El Salvador.
El Guanaco serves foods from El Salvador and true Mexican dishes. They have delectable tacos made fresh in house daily. Their tortillas are made fresh to order just like their burritos. On weekends, they specialize in seafood and short rib soups and tortas Mexicanas, and Mofongo. After trying their tacos and Pupusa, Rudi brought out a beautiful husk of street corn. It tasted as beautiful as it looked. One of my favorite foods is street corn, and this one was probably the best I have tried yet!
They also make their own salsas, and I tried two of them. They had a lovely red salsa, and a very spicy homemade fresh spicy tomatillo avocado green sauce (try saying that a few times! We sure shared a laugh trying to say it while I wrote my notes down). I love spicy foods and this fresh green sauce is one my father would be proud of!
With every meal, there is always a refreshing beverage to wash it down. I’ve heard of horchata, but I had never tried one either. It is a light, yet creamy blend of milk, sugar, cinnamon, and ground peanuts, almonds, and cacao served over ice cubes. Need I say more?
El Guanaco is a family friendly establishment. Cristina describes it as a “mom and pop” kind of place where families come to enjoy the fresh homemade dishes that they offer. The busiest times are dinner time and weekends.
On Commercial Boulevard, you may recall the name Viva Tokyo. It was the second location for El Guanaco, appropriately named “El Guanaco 2”. Unfortunately, due to Covid 19, Cristina and Rudi only enjoyed that location for a very short time. They were proud to open its doors last November, but sadly, they could not keep up with the cost of 2 places having a diminished clientele. The doors of their second location closed in April, but thankfully, their present location is still thriving on delivery and take-out.
As I sat with Cristina as if we were old friends, I could tell she is not a woman to let obstacles stop her. She is mostly inspired by her clients. She is fortunate to have a regular clientele come through her doors. She also loves the tourists that have read her reviews and have come to check her out. Most tourists she says, visit during the Summer, so she looks forward to the season. She proudly has about 880 amazing reviews on Yelp alone. “I love being part of this community, and I love when people tell me how good our food is”, she tells me in Spanish.
Just looking around the restaurant, I can see the pride in which she takes care of the space. Everything is immaculate, organized, and maintained with love. She is following guidelines for Social distancing, and has clear signs asking patrons to wear a mask while coming in and waiting to be seated. During our talk, Cristina was very cognizant of where her clients sat so that they follow the safety guidelines.
Cristina and Rudi’s baby is the restaurant, but they also reach out to the community participating in Community events, private parties, and even weddings. I was so happy to learn that they offer outside catering. For large groups they need 2 weeks’ notice and for parties of 10 to 15 people they need a few days’ notice. They’ll even cater to small private at home parties. They can be found on Instagram, Facebook, and their website www.Elguanaco-OaklandPark.com.
I left El Guanaco with a full belly and taste buds yearning for more. I immediately started spreading the word to my family, and we have plans to experience some more of Rudi and Cristina’s cooking. I hope I see you there too. Que viva El Guanaco!
Anamaria Moreno is an Elementary school teacher. Born in Costa Rica, but mostly raised in Venezuela, Ms. Moreno came to South Florida in 1996 where she has resided ever since. She graduated from Lynn University, with a degree in Early Childhood Education. She has taught in the classroom for 18 years, most recently teaching the first grade for the past seven years. Before becoming a teacher, Ms. Moreno was involved in volunteer work with the Child Life Specialists Department at Miami Children’s Hospital. She also served as member of the Board of Directors for “A Caring Pregnancy Center” in Miami. Most recently, Ms. Moreno has taught at an elementary school in Oakland Park. Ms. Moreno also teaches ESOL to Adults in Night School. When Ms. Moreno is not in the classroom, she enjoys baking custom specialty cakes, face painting, and enjoys creating Arts and Crafts.