Bring mofongo, jibaritos and pastel, please.
Bring mofongo, jibaritos and pastel. Of course, the annual Puerto Rican Festival of July will not take place this year in Boston, due to planning difficulties during a pandemic, but it is always the right time to dig into a parade of dishes celebrating the island’s vibrant cuisine. And besides – the Puerto Rican flag will still be hoisted at Boston City Hall later this month, and at least the Betances Festival, New England’s long-standing celebration of Latin culture, named for Puerto Rican patriot Ramón Emeterio Betances, will turn into a virtual format. So if you are looking for a bite or something to eat while watching the fun from home, here you can go.
Restaurant & Shop Under Izzy
Surprisingly, Izzy is a great place to catch a sub – from a steak and cheese with a standard to a roast pork sub, available only on Thursdays and Fridays, that really comes out spicy (especially when toss a few banana peppers or fiery Calypso sauce). But stopping there would really underestimate what the Maldonado family has to offer, low-cost, comfortable time from Kendall Square. Take a look at the generously sized and beautifully priced dishes, which join the grid like grilled churrasco with, say, cups of fried soup or fried plantain. They are made clear with a lot of love and are always served with sweet smiles.
169 Harvard St., Cambridge, 617-661-3910, izzysrestaurantcambridge.com.
La Fabrica Central
This Central Square restaurant explodes with energy thanks to the regular line-up of live Latin jazz and dance groups, as well as DJs, plus cocktails that have a strong tendency to lubricate the hips: see Mango Lust spices, rum with Cointreau and puree with fruit. However, the real radiant force behind the country is chef Giovanna Huyke, whose menu covers several Caribbean cuisines. Huyke has been dubbed the “Puerto Rican baby Julia” because of her cooking show at the Commonwealth that took place for years. Naturally, then, she often looks at home – and how! – with dishes such as Puerto Rican style longaniza, chicken or pork sausage mixed with garlic and annatto spices with raw orange; and pastelón, a layer similar to lasagna of ground beef, sweet leaves and cheese.
450 Massachusetts Ave,. Cambridge, 857-706-1125, lafabricacentral.com.
Restaurant La Lechonéra
Lechón asado, or charcoal-roasted suckling pig, is definitely a specialty here; great bacalaitos for-a-dollar (Puerto Rican catfish rashes) are also excellent. Along the way there are snacks of Cuban food – including, but of course, a very satisfying Kubano sandwich. Overall, though, the menu at La Lechonéra is a direct flight to sunny San Juan, with lots of guava, bananas, mamey and other fruit smoothies to soothe you when you arrive.
342 Cummins Hwy., Roslindale, 617-323-0311, lalechonerarestaurant.com.
Mana Escondido Cafe
For such a small place (you can count the tables on one side), Mana Escondido manages to pack a lot in one day. Breakfast, lunch and dinner are all ordered at the counter here, so step upstairs and start your breakfast with a plate filled with fried cheese sausage, sweet plantain and fresh mayoketchup sauce; fuel later with a jibarito sandwich with baked pernil or pollo; and make a final meal of mofongo, roasted and fried leaves crowned with rich beef, pork rind or more.
68 Aguadilla St., Boston, 617-266-0900, manabostoncafe.com.
Sam Cortiella grew up eating Puerto Rican food through his father’s family and today he does it with his baby, Vivi. What started as a father-daughter bonding activity in their Brooklyn home kitchen turned into a pop-up traveler and eventually a brick-and-mortar restaurant, just opened in January in nearby Lynn, serving super-flavored sandwiches that stand up to the best bodega. In particular, Vivi triplets will die for – toast, with garlic butter, a crunchy complement to soft pernil (slow roast pork), beef and chicken, plus melted cheese, chopped potato sticks and signing PapiVivi sauce of mayo, ketchup, garlic and cilantro.
816 Boston St., Lynn, 339-440-5562, papivivi.com.
The team behind several different Caribbean restaurants in Boston – including Roxbury’s much-loved Dominican backbone, Merengue – turns their attention to Puerto Rican cuisine in Vejigantes. The place has been introduced to Villa Victoria, an inhabited and retail community South End founded by Puerto Rican activists, and is a veritable gem. Named after a folk character represented at the Carnaval de Ponce and other festivals, Vejigantes is a celebration of mofongo, pastelillos, and perhaps most of all, seafood specialties inspired by Boquerón beach town: shrimp, bones and lobster arrive spicy sauce and accompanied by malanga puree and chips.
57 W Dedham St., Boston, 617-247-9249, vejigantesrestaurant.com.