The best ethnic food is often the most difficult to find. So each week we'll spin the globe and search for a new other-worldly spot to expand our eating horizons around the Valley.
This week we go to Puerto Rico at Millie's Cafe
Millie's Cafe doesn't make trying Puerto Rican food easy.
The little restaurant, located in a small strip mall on a nondescript part of Main Street in Mesa, is only open Fridays through Sundays. They have 3 banquet tables inside for in-house dining, and don't take credit cards.
That said, it's definitely worth the trip.
Authenticity-rating: The menu includes plantains every which way: pastels (a tamale-esque tube made from mashed plantains and root veggies), tostones (deep fried plantain chips), mofongo (mashed plantains), along with other delicacies like relleno de papa (stuffed potato balls), rice and beans, and Caribbean-style sandwiches and sodas.
What to order: The small menu, written on boards over the counter, features 5 or 6 different sandwiches like pork, steak, and Cubano. I tried the steak sandwich ($4), which was made on a thin toasted bread filled with steak, lettuce, tomatoes and shoestring potato chips (a delicious addition). I added a little of Millie's homemade spicy sauce and some sriracha. It was a lot of sandwich for $4 -- enough to share and still sample some of the other sides on the menu.
I ordered a small plate of tostones ($1 - they come in orders of 3 or 6) and the pastel, with a choice of yucca or masa, which is made with yucca plus plantains and pork.
Never having tried or seen a pastel, it was a little shocking on arrival. The brown, somewhat gelatinous tube sat starkly on the white styrofoam plate looking like...something I prefer not to eat. But I did eat it, and it was actually very good, like a tamale, but with a softer texture and chunks of vegetables and meat.
I also tried the Tropi-Cola, hailed as "the champagne cola" which tastes like Coke, but with a little bite.
The ambience: This small, 3-table restaurant is really nothing to look at. Fold out banquet tables covered in plastic table cloths are set up for in-restaurant dining. There are mismatched chairs lining to walls for to-go orders (most of which were occupied on my trip). Women in hair nets bustle around the back taking orders and cooking. Go for the food, not the atmosphere.
If you like rice, beans and plantains any-which-way, a vegetarian can navigate the otherwise meat-heavy menu.
Read what the folks at Yelp had to say about it.
Millie's Cafe is located at 1616 E. Main in Mesa. The store is open Friday through Sunday from 11 a.m. - 8 p.m.
Know of a good ethnic restaurant we should check out. Let us know in the Comments section below.