Puerto Rican cuisine is a blend of influences and cooking traditions originating from Spain, Africa, native Tainos, and the United States. Somewhat similar to Mexican and Cuban cuisine, Puerto Rican dishes boast a mild, distinctive taste, thanks to the use of sofrito, a seasoning sauce that contains a combination of peppers, vegetables, and herbs.
Pernil (roasted pork shoulder) and arroz con gandules (yellow rice with chickpeas) are two traditional Puerto Rican dishes seasoned with sofrito and commonly served during holidays or special occasions.
In This Corner: Puerto Rico Latin Grill
The Setup: Puerto Rico Latin Grill is located on 27th Avenue and Thomas Road in the building that previously housed the El New Yorican restaurant. After El New Yorican closed, Wesley Andujar purchased the restaurant. Several celebrities have dined at Puerto Rican Latin Grill, including Wilmer Valderrama and Rosario Dawson. The dining area, which is one large room, is decorated with pictures and flags. There is a DJ booth near the front counter for live entertainment in the evenings.
The Good: We liked that the pernil dish ($10.99) came with not one, but two sides -- rice and a small salad with guacamole. Andujar was friendly and attentive.
The Bad: The rice was a little dry and could have used some more seasoning.
In The Other Corner: Millie's Café
The Setup: Millie's Café is located in a Mesa shopping plaza on Main Street. The mom-and-pop restaurant is operated by Maria Milagros Ortiz, otherwise known as Millie, who has been baking cakes and authentic Puerto Rican food since the 1980s. The restaurant is cash only and is open Wednesday through Sunday. The dining area of the restaurant is small, with three tables. The walls are decorated with pictures of Puerto Rico. A chalkboard menu is situated above the front counter and lists traditional Puerto Rican dishes such as pasteles (which are similar to tamales), mofongo (mashed plantains), and cuban sandwiches, in addition to pernil.
The Good: We lucked out and got pernil with arroz con gandules on a daily special for $6.50. Our food came out in a to-go box with a generous portion of pernil and rice. The pernil was flavorful and tender with a hint of garlic to it. The rice was flavorful as well and wasn't dry. Service was friendly. While we were eating, Millie offered us a bottle of hot sauce, which she made herself.
The Bad: The restaurant charges for water. Also, the Wednesday through Sunday hours make it difficult to visit. No complaints about the food, though.
And The Winner Is...Millie's Café! It was a very tough decision, since the pernil at both restaurants was delicious; however, the seasoning for Millie's pernil and rice was near perfection.
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