Tag Archives: Mofongo

Rincon Criollo: A Taste of Puerto Rico in Cleveland

Flag of Puerto RicoRincon Criollo (6504 Detroit Ave, Cleveland, OH) reminds us of home. This kind of restaurant serving Latin American or Caribbean food can be found in nearly every neighborhood in Chicago, so we felt right at home in this Cleveland mom and pop place. The food at Rincon Criollo is Puerto Rican, and it serves a menu of island favorites at reasonable prices. We arrived on a Friday night (note that they close at 8 PM) and the place was full of families and couples ordering takeout. The menu focuses on meat-heavy dishes like roast pork, roast chicken, beef stew and pork chops with sides of rice and beans (all less than $10). Rounding out the menu is a selection of sandwiches and a huge variety of traditional sides including maduros and tostones (fried savory or sweet plantains).

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Puerto Rican specialties at Campus Grille in Berea

Flag of Puerto RicoPretty much the last place we expected to find awesome mofongo was in a small town outside of Cleveland, named “Campus Grille,” but we did! Campus Grille (10 Seminary St, Berea, OH 44017)  is hiding in plain site with a nondescript name and facade in the small town of Berea, near the campus of Baldwin Wallace University. We came here specifically for one of our favorite Puerto-Rican dishes, mofongo, but were pleased to find a varied Caribbean menu. Campus Grille is a casual place, which seemed to be popular with college kids and families alike. You place orders at the counter and then they are delivered to your table.

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We knew we had to order the mofongo since we had heard so much about it, and once we saw the pilón (wooden mortar and pestle) for making mofongo we knew it was going to be good! We ordered a roast pork mofongo ($11.50 – other options include plain, chicken, beef or shrimp), and the house special, coco tropical ($9.50), which is roast chicken over a bed of coconut rice and spicy pineapple chutney, and a side orders tostones – fried plantains ($3.69). Also on the menu are beef stew (carne guisada), a cubano sandwich, rotisserie chicken, and even a vegetarian plate. If you are there for lunch, the specials seemed like an amazing deal at $6.

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With our Jarritos fruit sodas in hand we waited only a short while for the food to arrive (there were a few tables outside, too). Both dishes were excellent, and the proportions were huge. The mofongo was excellent, and the pork was tender and well spiced, the plantain portion was flavorful and garlicky, and not mushy, which is how we like our mofongo. The coco tropical was delicious, the rotisserie chicken was tender and flavorful, and it would be perfect for those with something a bit more sweet in mind. I think Campus Grille knows that you probably aren’t going to finish your entrée, because they serve everything in round foil to-go containers from the start, and if you don’t finish you can get the plastic lid at the counter. I can see how some people would not like that, but we thought it was kind of genius.CampusGrille3

Unfortunately, we were not up for dessert, but the flan and tres leches cake looked pretty good, too. We really enjoyed our meal at Campus Grille, it had a lot going for it: great pork, Goya products for sale by the counter and Prince Royce on the radio! Most importantly, this was some of the best mofongo we have had outside of Puerto Rico. We were so happy to have found Campus Grille, and are excited to explore more Puerto Rican food in Cleveland. Do you have any recommendations for us?

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Jimmy’z Kitchen: Mofongo in Miami

Jimmy’z Kitchen
Several locations – we visited 2700 N. Miami Ave.
Wynwood, Miami, FL

Flag of Puerto RicoWe first had mofongo in Puerto Rico in 2008, and haven’t had it many times since. So when our Miami local friend suggested a good place to get mofongo in Miami, we were sold. Jimmy’z (named after proprietor Jimmy Carey), located in the trendy Wynwood neighborhood of Miami, is bright and modern with ample outdoor seating. The menu is a little more upscale and pricier than you might expect at a place where you order at the counter (some entrees over $20), and the food is later brought to your table. ???????????????????????????????

The menu at Jimmy’z has something for everyone. For a quick bite, there were a wide selection of panini and other sandwiches, including a cubano and seared ahi tuna. There are even substantial entrees covering both Latin and American cuisine like pollo guisado and cajun ribeye if you are really hungry, and a big range of salads if you are trying to be “good.” We had the tomato and mozzarella salad to offset our mofongo and it was delicious! However, what we had been hearing raves about was the mofongo, the quintessential dish of Puerto Rico made from mashed plantains and garlic. Honestly, we were a little skeptical since the restaurant seemed to be doing the whole Pan-Latin and euro sandwich thing. However, we were assured that the mofongo was the real deal. ??????????????????????????????? There were 6 kinds of mofongo available: mixed seafood, fresh fish, churrasco, pork in mojo sauce, chicken and shrimp. We ordered the pork mojo mofongo, since M can never pass up a roast pork dish, and split a little of the churrasco with our friends. The price, $17, was a little high, but it was more than enough to feed two hungry people. The pork was tender and flavorful and it was chock full of plantains. It was still had some substance to it, not too mushy. They weren’t lying, this mofongo was delicious.

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Everyone at our table got mofongo so it was fun to try all the different kinds, though we still think the pork mojo was our favorite. Contributing to the party atmosphere, there is also an ample beer and wine selection, including a lot of import bottles, which were a hit. On a nice night, the outdoor patio was particularly festive.  Jimmy’z was awesome for mofongo, and it gave us the hankering to go back to Puerto Rico, ASAP!

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Eating Puerto Rico: Mofongo with the locals

Flag of Puerto RicoMofongo is one of the national dishes of Puerto Rico, usually prepared as a sizable cake of smashed savory plantains, mixed with garlic. The dish has West African origins, but today is known as a quintessentially Caribbean meal. So, when we arrived in Puerto Rico we knew we had to sample our fair share.

Bebo’s Cafe
1600 Calle Loiza
San Juan, Puerto Rico

While in Puerto Rico we stayed in Old San Juan, but our exploration to find some authentic Puerto Rican cuisine led us into the San Juan neighborhood of Condado, an upper-middle class residential district with some ritzy nightclubs and shopping. Bebo’s, however, was anything but. The expansive, sparse interior looked more like a high school cafeteria than a restaurant, with bunches of tables packed in together inside a simple rectangular room. The only decoration was a TV on one wall showing a Caribbean-league baseball game between two of the Panamanian squads. But we came for the food, not the ambiance, and things didn’t start off too well in that department. M, always a lover of mango-was excited to learn they made fresh mango smoothies – but disheartened when they told us they had “run out of it” for the night. This would be a constant theme, as during the course of the evening they would tell us they had run out of goat, mango, a number of their daily specials, as well as mojitos – which in rum-obsessed Puerto Rico is nothing short of a cardinal sin.

bebos6.jpgWe had to have dinner, though, so M settled on chicken-stuffed mofongo, garnished with tomatoes, all for $9. It was good and quite filling, but the flavors were a little over-mixed for his taste. The garlic, plantains, and chicken all seemed to run together, with no one flavor really emerging from they fray. To offset this he ordered a fresh pineapple smoothie (since they were out of mango), which was great, but it really wasn’t enough to make up for the mofongo’s blandness.lechon.jpg

L had a lechon asado (roast pork) sandwich with swiss cheese, which came on a nice crusty roll. The roasted pork was flavorful, but a little dry and the garnishes of lettuce and tomato were all wilted. All in all, the sandwich was above-average and the price was right at $5.95. Of the main dishes at the course, the mofongo and pork sandwich were the relative winners, with negative reviews coming in on the tamarind BBQ chicken (“too sweet”) and the pork knuckle (“too bland and fatty”). However the highlight of the table were the salty plantain chips. Curiously, these came garnished with French dressing.

We were sadly disappointed by Bebo’s. Even though it was full of locals, the lackluster food did not impress us. And it certainly wasn’t enough to make up for the inconsistent service and the fact that they had run out of nearly everything by the start of the [early] dinner service. But not deterred, we searched for another local mofongo-making haunt.

La Fonda del Jibarito
280 Calle Sol
San Juan, Puerto Rico

cimg0616.jpgWhen local after local recommends a place, you know the food has to be good. Before we left for Puerto Rico, a few of our sanjuanero friends implored us to go to this place, and when we finally got there to take a gander at the menu, a woman stopped us and said, “You have to go here! My family and I come here every Friday.” Can’t get a much better recommendation than that. When we came back that evening for dinner, we were treated to one of our finest (and cheapest!) meals on the island. El Jibarito’s decor was in stark contrast to many of the other Old San Juan restaurants we had visited over the past few days: simple and unpretentious. Old photos of famous Puerto Rican musicians graced the far wall, while the small bar and rotating dessert fridge filled up the other side. Photocopies of the handwritten menu served as our ordering guides, leading us to two conclusions: they change their menu often, and they put more thought and effort into their food than the decor.

We were right.

M had the $9 “chicken in a pot” (which came on a plate), a perfectly-cooked chicken leg and breast garnished with grilled onions and green peppers. The dish came with two free sides, a small standard green salad and some of the excellent grilled sweet plantains that the Caribbean is famous for. The chicken was perfectly-done, falling off the bone the instant you touched it with a fork. It wasn’t that spicy, however, so we got some salsa picante for the table. I (M) in particular was happy to find out they didn’t water it down for the Americans – the salsa was as hot and spicy as they could make it, which went just perfectly on the chicken. The flavor combo of the spicy chicken, peppers, and the sweet plantains all flowed together well, each complimenting the other just enough to maintain the coherence of the meal, but also the independence of each aspect of the dish.

cimg0615.jpgL had grilled garlic shrimp with mofongo. The shrimp were super-fresh and jumbo sized. The dish came with five and that was more than enough to make a meal. They came smothered in the classic Aji-li Mojili (garlic and chili sauce) which was excellent, and the perfect complement to the shrimp. The side salad that came standard with all entrees was a one-off and consisted mainly of iceberg lettuce. Again, we encountered French dressing, already on the table in a Wishbone bottle. However, the mofongo at El Jibarito is the star. It is garlicky, rich and came neatly shaped in a little tower, like flan. By the time my entree came out the mofongo was getting a little cold, but it was so good I did not mind much. To finish off the meal we ordered some of the house-made Tres Leches (which had unfortunately run out), so we opted for a miniature cherry-topped cheesecake – a simple and tasty treat. By the end of the night, we and our group were satiated and happy. El Jibarito is the real deal. We can see why people come here night after night.

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