Do you believe variety is the spice of life? If so, then La Chorrillana (also known as J. Cruz) restaurant in Providencia is not for you. The popular local hangout only really serves one dish - (surprise, surprise) - chorrillana. Not for the faint of heart (literally and figuratively) chorrillana is a traditional Chilean dish consisting of a mountainous base of greasy french fries topped with fried onions, egg (either single-fried or scrambled) and finished with an abundance of chopped up steak and sausages. Although it is said to have been invented in Valparaiso only a few decades ago, chorrillana can now be found in every city and at every neighborhood, greasy spoon in Chile.
Photo by Mauro Tapia
La Chorrillana’s parent restaurant, J. Cruz (called Jota Cruz), in Valparaiso is widely believed to have invented the chorrillana, making the 60-year-old restaurant a famous landmark there. In light of J. Cruz’s decades-long success in Valparaiso, the owner’s son expanded the family enterprise to Santiago, renaming his version to La Chorrillana.
The nine-year-old Santiago locale has the same basic shtick as its portside parent restaurant - cheap wine, beer and chorrillanas, served in a recklessly graffitied venue.
Handwritten messages scribbled by former patrons cover the walls, ceilings and furniture, the notes ranging in potency from professions of love to political statements to phallic drawings. The carefree spirit of these inscriptions emanates from the walls, giving the remodeled old mansion a liberating, anything-goes vibe.
Most people go to La Chorrillana to coat their stomachs with grease before a night of partying or to cure their hangovers with grease after a night of partying. At these peak times you won’t find a free table in sight, quite a feat considering how hauntingly empty most Santiago restaurants are during the graveyard shift. And yet, sitting in the restaurant surrounded by a din of laughter, I couldn’t help but wonder, “WHY is this restaurant so popular?”
Here are my grievances:
1. Bad Service. Not only will your waiter not care whether you ever get your food, you might have to stalk him in order to even place your order…if it ever gets to your table.
2. Mediocre Food. The restaurant’s two star attractions - chorrillana and wine-and-fruit punch (borgoña) - are palatable at best. The chorrillana, which can be ordered for either two people (CP$5,200; or US$9.76) or three (CP$6,900; or US$12.96), is bland and lacks the sinful fried eggs and sausages that give this junk food revered status in my book. And the sickeningly sweet borgoña (CP$3,700; or US$6.95 for two liters) is also disappointing. Earthy red wine mixed with refreshingly sweet and juicy strawberries are a match made in heaven, but somehow La Chorrillana manages to mess up this surefire favorite.
3. Lack of Variety. If you ask for anything besides wine, chorrillana, or beer, you may be out of luck. Pisco sours are apparently too high-brow for this joint and if you do special order one, you might wish you had just followed the borgoña and beer tide.
And yet despite its many imperfections, La Chorrillana remains a favorite local hangout.
Why? Because it’s cheap, it’s chill and it’s Chilean. You get to hang out with your friends in a unique, bohemian setting for hours on end without spending an arm and a leg - advantages that far outweigh the disadvantages for many.
You may walk out of La Chorrillana feeling like you just accumulated a total waste of calories, but you probably will have laughed them off with your friends by the time you leave, wine-stained teeth and all.
Address: Rancagua 438; Italia and Rancagua in Providencia
Metro: Parque Bustamante
Hours of Operation: Monday through Thursday 2:30 pm to 2 am; Fridays and Saturdays 2:30 pm to 5 am; Sundays 2 pm to 1 am.