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In Watertown, down-home Puerto Rican fare

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A restaurant offering the cuisine of Puerto Rico has opened on Coffeen Street in the former Cocoa Cafe location.

A Lo Boricua, which translates to “Puerto Rican style,” is an unpretentious little eatery serving up a basic menu of Puerto Rican comfort food, semi-cafeteria style.

We were the only patrons when we arrived on a recent weekday night. A simple menu written on a white board offered things like yuca, tostones, mofongo, pernil and pollo.

Luckily a member of the WDT Reviewing Team who spoke fluent Spanish immediately struck up a conversation with the friendly young Puerto Rican-American young ladies behind the counter.

It was a cute exchange and broke the ice, but not really necessary. These ladies spoke fluent English. They were helpful and informative, taking time to show and explain to us each of the food items in the various compartments in the steam table in front of them.

We placed our orders, chose our beverages from the cooler and took our seats in the fairly small but comfortable dining room. Beverage choices included a selection of basic soft drinks plus a couple of unusual options we assumed are popular in the native land.

Two versions of nonalcoholic “malta” sodas were very similar: dark, fizzy and strongly malt flavored. A “champagne cola” was unbelievably sweet.

Our appetizers arrived first, served in Styrofoam takeout containers. We had two distinctly different and totally authentic plantain dishes.

Maduros ($1.50) was a familiar roasted version made with ripe plantains, sweet and soft with caramelized deliciousness on the outside — classic Caribbean. The other, tostones ($1.50), made with green plantains, was a double-fried almost potato-like preparation — crisp and starchy.

The latter was served with “mayoketchup,” a Puerto Rican sauce made with ketchup, mayonnaise, garlic and a touch of lemon. “People put it on everything in Puerto Rico,” one of the counter girls told us. We preferred the Puerto Rican-style hot sauce.

Yuca ($2), a fibrous tuber, was cooked to a texture similar to spaghetti squash and was drowning in a buttery, oily sauce that had a few cooked-down onions in it. We thought it was generally good, but overwhelmingly oily.

Entrees were delivered to us on substantial decorator plastic plates, and we helped ourselves to plastic utensils and napkins at the condiment station. There were three different hot sauces along with salt and pepper.

Pollo asado ($7.50) was chicken done right, braised for hours until fork-tender, garlicky and salty. Served up with yellow rice and mildly seasoned red beans ($1.50), this was a delicious stick-to-the-ribs offering.

The chuleta (pork chop) ($7.50) was the star of the show. What appeared overcooked and dry in the steam table turned out to be totally tasty with a salt/pepper/garlic rub and a decent amount of juiciness. Sabor!

And you could cut it with a plastic fork. It was served with rice and beans, of course.

The pernil ($10) was fine but lacked a little flavor. The pulled pork is usually served with more stewiness to it, more drippings, not totally dry like from a barbecue smoker.

We ordered the pernil with one of the truly unique (and beloved) stars of Puerto Rican cuisine, mofongo. Mofongo is green plantain (like the tostones), mixed with onion and garlic and salt into a paste, then shaped into a little bowl and fried. It held the shredded pork.

There were no desserts available the night we were there. Not that we needed any; the portions were ample and filling.

Dinner for three came to $39.24.

We were served good, simple, home-cooked comfort food, prepared on the premises from real ingredients. The place is immaculately clean, way more sparkling than expected. Punchy island music via satellite radio played throughout our visit.

Although the eat-in crowd was rather sparse (we were one of only two tables occupied), takeout appeared rather brisk.

It can’t be easy to run any kind of nonchain, non-Chinese ethnic restaurant in Watertown. We admire these folks for what they’re doing, and they’re doing it honestly with a clear love for the meat-and-potatoes cooking of their homeland.

You can contact restaurant reviewer Walter Siebel via email: wsiebel@wdt.net.



A Lo Boricua

527 Coffeen St.

Watertown, N.Y.

804-3008

An unpretentious little eatery serving up a basic menu of Puerto Rican comfort food, semi-cafeteria style.

HOURS: 11 a.m. to 8:30 p.m. Monday through Thursday

11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Friday and Saturday

OUR PICKS: Maduros, tostones, pollo asado, chuleta. Try one of the malt sodas.

RATING: 3½ forks

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