Almost two years ago, hurricanes devastated Puerto Rico. While South Florida sustained its own damages, they were nowhere near as severe, which is why the area has seen an influx of its fellow citizens moving to the mainland and forging their lives here for good. In many ways, it is the silver lining with disasters: The wind blows opportunity and gifts from one place to another.
The Colón family is one of those gifts for Little Havana. Delicious, authentic Puerto Rican food was missing from Miami. So a little over a year ago, the Sotos opened Mofongo's on Eighth Street, bringing the flavors of their small town of Cayey to the Magic City. After a few visits, you'll start to recognize the faces at this family-run restaurant, and they'll recognize you too. The servers and staff want everyone to feel like they're home, even if "home" is far away.
The taste of Puerto Rico comes in the form of mofongo ($15 to $32), the restaurant’s namesake dish made in a number of ways: vegetable, chicken, shrimp, churrasco, fried beef, octopus, ceviche, lobster (market value), or mixed (chicken, churrasco, and shrimp; $5 extra for lobster). Each option comes on a bed of flavorful mashed green plantains, topped with a choice of sauces including garlic and chimichurri and garnished with cilantro. The mofongo is served in a giant pilón (wooden mortar), adding to the Puerto Rican countryside atmosphere.
The restaurant itself has a very comfy feel, with a rounded, cave-like ceiling and lots of tropical colors enlivening the decor. Patrons of all ages, including the steady stream of tourists in the area, enjoy the experience together. On weekends, there's live salsa music and dancing, reminiscent of the joy of La Isla del Encanto.
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A definite must here is the house piña colada, available with or without alcohol. The drink is made to perfection without the pineapple or coconut overshadowing each other.
For those missing Puerto Rico, there are authentic alcapurrias de carne, a fritter dish made with green plantain and meat ($8). Also sample the arañitas ($4.50), shredded green plantains shaped into patties, then fried until crisp; and the pastel ($4.50), a traditional dish very similar to tamales that are served in Puerto Rico during Christmas. The pastels are made with pork in adobo sauce encased in plantain masa and wrapped in banana leaves. For dessert, try tembleque ($7), a traditional Puerto Rican coconut pudding that gets its name from the Spanish word tiembla, which means "to shake."
Mofongo's. 1644 SW Eighth St., Miami; 786-542-1645; mofongoscalle8.com. Tuesday through Thursday and Sunday 11 a.m. to 10 p.m.; Friday and Saturday 11 a.m. to 11 p.m.
Correction: A previous version of this article stated that the family's last name was Soto. It is Colón.