Chago's Caribbean Cafe
Hungry for Puerto Rican classics? Head north – well, to North Lamar.
Reviewed by Mick Vann, Fri., May 4, 2012
Chago's Caribbean Cafe7301 N. Lamar, 275-6013
Tuesday-Thursday, 11am-2pm, 6-9pm; Friday-Saturday, 11am-11pm; Sunday, 11am-6pm
Chago's is owned by Puerto Rican chef Santiago "Chago" Aponte and his lovely Venezuelan wife Solemar, and their kids host and wait tables; it's definitely a family operation that's warmly welcoming. The 70-seater opened last June on the restaurant-desolate strip of North Lamar, a block north of St. John's, on the east side of the road. It serves various beers and features open-mic nights and Karaoke Caribe, but it's the food that attracts us.
When you sit down, you get a bowl of crispy plantain or yucca chips with a garlicky mojo dipping sauce. We loved the fricase de pollo ($8); think of it as a rich, stewed-chicken version of ropa vieja with onions, capers, peppers, tomatoes, and sofrito, and any two of the sides. The sides are fantastic, and we'll probably just make a vegetable plate of them the next visit: arroz con gandules (pigeon peas), red beans, black beans, garlic yucca (soft braised yucca chunks topped with garlic sauce), and maduros (sweet) plantains.
Its Cubano sandwich ($8) is one of the best versions in town, with a thin, grilled, crunchy crust filled with smoked ham, roasted pernil pork, Swiss cheese, pickles, and mustard, with yucca chips on the side. Pastelón de papas (potato) or de amarillos (plantain; both are lasagnalike casseroles) and sancocho ($10, a satisfying soup of beef, pork, ham, plantain, yautia, corn, and yucca) are all dishes that started as specials but are now daily menu options. Arroz con pollo ($8) is also a huge seller. At Chago's, mofongo ($10-13), the meat-accompanied mound of seasoned, fried plantain so loved in P.R. and the Dominican Republic, comes with the rich chicken stock in a separate bowl. Throw in tempting desserts like tembleque (coconut pudding), cheese flan, and tres leches (each $4), and you get the food of the real Puerto Rico right here in Austin.