"People think Polish food is heavy," says Mira Kowalska with a little smile. "But it's healthy." Well, at least it is the way this Southern Poland native cooks it. She boils up big batches of slightly spicy, pepper-and-bean-packed, vegan, gluten-free leczo chili ($4-$10) so hearty that adding meat would be superfluous. She only buys eggs from "the lady who treats her chickens like pets" at Brookside Farm, and those beets in the shocking pink barszcz ($3.50-$9) were at the farmers market less than 24 hours ago. An out-of-work architect, Kowalska actually designed the adorable, red-trimmed wood cart herself, and for the past four months she's been filling Hawthorne-area stomachs with very good Polish soups, hot dogs with kraut ($3.50), and potato pancakes ($5). Although Mira's potato cakes are tasty, her zucchini cakes ($6) are even better: pale green discs spotted with crunchy griddle marks that sploosh in your mouth. Dunk them in sour cream and applesauce for a zingy hot/cold contrast.
- Order this: A bowl of that excellent leczo over rice ($6) and zucchini cakes ($6) will feed two.
- Best deal: A cup of the ever-rotating soup ($3.50). Last Thursday it was silky curried sweet potato. Friday it was zurek made with fermented rye flour.
EAT: Mira's Ladle, 4031 SE Hawthorne Blvd. (across from New Seasons), mirasladle.com. Noon-7 pm Wednesday-Sunday. $.