Guy Kimhi’s 86-year-old grandfather came from Spain, and Ladino (Judeo-Spanish) was spoken in his home. So it wasn’t a surprise that, at age 28, he decided to open a Latin restaurant.

Kimhi was born in Jerusalem. When he was in high school, he says, “I liked  to cook at home with my mother, where we cooked food from Spain. I liked the Spanish-style cuisine.”  

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After serving in the Golani Brigade, he enrolled in the culinary program at Hadassah College in 2001. After graduating, he did an internship at the Dan Hotel in Eilat for six months and then worked with the chef at the Rafael Restaurant in Tel Aviv for a year.

In 2003, he decided to go to South America, “looking for my kind of food,” he explains.

He traveled to Argentina, where he says, “I liked the meat... and especially the restaurants in Buenos Aires.”

For two months he visited and spoke with chefs, then went to the kitchens and cooked with different chefs. In Buenos Aires he liked to frequent a popular area called La Boca, a neighborhood with a lot of color, restaurants, artists and street musicians.

“It was there that I came up with the idea of opening  a kosher Latin restaurant in Israel,” he says.

From there continued his travels to Brazil, Chile, Peru, Mexico City, the Yucatan and Cuba.

Kimhi returned to Israel in 2004, worked in a restaurant in Jerusalem and began looking for a place to open his own establishment.

“I checked out the shuk [market], but I could not really envision a restaurant with Latin cuisine there. I saw many kinds like Argentinean and Brazilian restaurants, but they were like grilled meat places, not really Latin food. I saw people who wanted kosher food but hadn’t tried Latin food, so that’s why I thought of Jerusalem.”  

Kimhi went to Mati, the Jerusalem Business Development Center, which has a partnership with the Jewish Agency, and applied for a loan. Then he took a course in how to open a business, followed by a course on how to open a bar and restaurant.

In July 2006, Kimhi opened the two-story La Boca in a Templer building on Rehov Emek Refaim.

How does the chef and owner describe Latin food? “Latin cuisine is mainly South American and Central American food, as well as dishes from Spain. For example, ceviche is from Peru; tortillas, enchiladas and empanadas come from Brazil.” He also acknowledges that “Latin food is very difficult to make kosher, but we try to make food that is similar.”

For example, chorizo is normally made from pork; but at La Boca, it is made from veal with lamb fat. The restaurant also makes its own paella sauce (onion, garlic, tomatoes, rice, saffron, chicken or kosher seafood). All meat is imported from Argentina or Chile. La Boca has a Mehadrin certification for its meat and vegetables and the regular Jerusalem rabbinate certificate, with a supervisor visiting every day.

The menu offers 18 starters, such as tapas, soup, salads, enchiladas, ceviche and tortillas. There are 15 choices of main courses, which include fish, paella, beef, fajitas, liver and lamb. There are six desserts, including hot churros (a long Spanish cruller) served with parve ice cream, tropical fruit salad and every day a special dessert is added.

Spanish music plays softly in the background of La Boca, whose simple decor features an aquarium on one wall, black wooden tables and matching padded chairs in the main dining room, which seats about 110. The main restaurant is open for lunch and private groups. Two business lunches are offered Sunday through Thursday from 11:30 a.m. until 5:30 p.m. at NIS 59 or NIS 79, which includes an appetizer, a main course, side dishes and a hot beverage. Dinner is served from 5:30 until the last customer leaves. On Fridays, lunch is served until an hour before Shabbat, and the restaurant opens on Saturday evening half an hour after Shabbat ends.

The glass-enclosed patio overlooking Rehov Emek Refaim seats 60; the outside balcony and bar, which specializes in Latin cocktails, is open only in the summer and seats about 40; but cocktails can be ordered off the menu year round.

Kimhi is married and has a two-year-old son and a six-month-old daughter. As a family man, he acknowledges that he works very hard. He goes to the restaurant every morning at around eight and does all the ordering. He is assisted by a kitchen group of three and works until 11 or midnight. Because of the opportunity given to him by Mati, he has been able to give 30 people a place to work. “I think that helps the economy. I also get satisfaction. After four years, I’m very proud, but I’m just starting.”  

In five years, he would like to open two more restaurants, maybe in Tel Aviv or Gush Dan. In order to do that, he is looking for a chef to whom he can teach the essence of Latin cuisine, as well as his own personal style. “I need someone with whom to grow before I can go ahead and expand,” he says.

It is evident that Kimhi brings something special “to people who want to taste Latin food. The people who come here are very nice people, and they come back. We appreciate that,” he says. 

La Boca is located at Rehov Emek Refaim 46. Tel. 563-5577.
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