Much lighter on your wallet than a trip to Latin America and much closer, Puerto Plata Restaurant serves up tasty Latin American comfort food at its location near San Juan Avenue and Blanding Boulevard.
The freestanding yellow building with ample parking and a covered front patio might not look like much, but once inside, you'll find all the staples.
Start with the chicharones de pollo, Dominican-style chunks of bite-sized fried chicken. Crisp, and slightly crunchy on the outside and extremely juicy inside, these don't need a dipping sauce — they're that good. Proceed with caution: There are still a few bones.
To complement the chicharones, try an order of plátanos maduros, or sweet fried plantains, a staple of Latin American cuisine similar to bananas. These are made with very ripe plantains cut into two-inch pieces then pan-fried, forming a slightly sticky and sweet caramelized crust.
We ordered an empanada de pollo — a crescent-shaped stuffed pastry filled with seasoned chicken and then fried. Ours wasn't very full, but the handheld golden brown snack was still good and served alongside a ramekin of a spicy green jalapeño salsa.
A traditional entrée, the pernil, or roasted pork shoulder, is topped with onions and served with a heaping mound of yellow rice and a cup of black beans. The pork was tender and moist, and I could really taste the garlic and adobo seasoning.
The star of the evening was the ceviche con tostones — shrimp ceviche with mashed fried green plantains and a creamy garlicky dipping sauce. The shrimp were marinated in citrus juices with minced onion, diced tomatoes, lots of cilantro, ground black pepper and salt, resulting in a tangy dish that was served chilled. The shrimp "cook" without any heat thanks to the acid in the fresh citrus juice.
For dessert we opted for the flan, a square of creamy baked custard draped in a sweet caramel glaze.
The restaurant has a noticeably clean, comfortable atmosphere within yellow walls, featuring large prints of various cities, a few tchotchkes and Latin American music wafting through the air. Our first waitress spoke little English and had a tough time understanding our requests. A second woman aided her at times.
Portions are generous. Bring your appetite and your elastic-waisted pants.