If it weren''t for the blinding sun outside, it would be difficult to tell whether it's lunch on Tuesday or dinner on Friday night inside El Rinconcito de Santa Bárbara.
Nevertheless, people are lined up for a table outside the darkened windows of this Hialeah Gardens Puerto Rican spot. Inside, the staff belts out "Happy Birthday" in Spanish as someone rakes a spoon across a washboard and rainbow-colored club lights splash against the ceiling and walls.
Even though the place is owned by a Cuban couple, you're here for the mofongo, a Puerto Rican staple. Rosa and Pedro Delgado opened Rinconcito in 1997. They decided to start serving Puerto Rican food two years later after a trip to the island. At their restaurant, the mashed green plantains come in a pilón, the wooden mortar in which they are crushed into velvety, creamy oblivion. These plantains might be the Caribbean equivalent of Joël Robuchon's famous mashed potatoes, with a one-to-one potato-to-butter ratio that is perpetually whisked by some dutiful stagiaire.
Yet this mash is flecked with crunchy, sticky pieces of hardened pork skin. There is also the occasional gelatinous nugget, which releases its fatty juices like a pork-flavored Fruit Gushers candy between your teeth.
The accompaniments for the mofongo are numerous. Try it with fried pork chunks ($8.99), garlicky chicken ($9.50), or even a buttery, sweet lobster tail ($25.99).
The best variation, however, is wrapped in a juicy, medium-rare roll of churrasco ($15.50), where the fragrant mofongo hides under a mound of meat, just waiting to be doused in garlic-infused oil. How to get through an afternoon at work after such a plate is anyone's guess.
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