The menu incorporates elements of Dominican, Cuban, and Puerto Rican cuisines, with an abundance of authentic choices
Reviewed by Mick Vann, Fri., Jan. 13, 2006
15200 FM 1825 in Pflugerville, 512/990-3121
Owners Alex Fernandez and Rafael Montes de Oca are natives of the Dominican Republic. Each spent time in New York and Miami separately before meeting in Austin. They teamed up to open Cafe Mangù in a bright yellow frame house a few blocks north of the intersection of I-35 and FM 1825. The spot, pleasant and bright with light wood and tile, includes an inviting outdoor seating area.
The menu incorporates elements of Dominican, Cuban, and Puerto Rican cuisines, with an abundance of authentic choices. We've sampled several of the appetizers offered, including Mariquitas ($3.95; crispy, paper-thin plantain chips with lemon-garlic mojo dipping sauce); Yuca Frita ($3.95, thick batons of cassava with a crispy outside and a creamy interior); and Pollo Chicharones ($7.50, boneless marinated chicken chunks in a zesty breading and a Creole sauce). All are excellent and perfect with drinks.
Mangù's version of the classic Cubano Sandwich ($6.95) is exceptional: a large, thin baguette stuffed with lechón roast pork, ham, Swiss cheese, and pickle slices. The whole unit is grilled in a press and served with delicious thin-cut fries with a lightly battered exterior a great sandwich and perfect fries (which so often are a throwaway item in restaurants). Our bowl of Sopa Pescado ($4.50) was a meal in itself: a large bowl of pimento-scented tomato broth with potato, carrot, onion, garlic, and bell pepper with chunks of fresh fish. The Iberian connection comes through loud and clear.
As far as entrées go, you choose three from among a long list of offered sides. With our Lechón Asado ($9.95, marinated and slow-roasted pork shoulder, topped with cider-wilted onion confit) we had the traditional white rice and black beans, and the vegetable of the day, a mélange of spuds and carrots. The Cuban pork roast is among the best and most tender we've tried, with a surprising depth of flavor.
Vaca Frita ($10.95, flank that is braised, shredded, then sautéed with lots of garlic and onion, served with some of their first-rate garlicky mojo sauce) was accompanied with red beans, white beans, and tostones (flattened and fried plantain slices). All of the elements on that platter were delicious: the beans rich, with distinctly different flavor profiles; the tostones soft in the center, crunchy on the outside; the beef robustly seasoned and tender.
We took advantage of the "By the Pound" menu and left one visit with a pound of their Ropa Vieja ($7.50 per pound). It's a name that translates as "old clothes"; a dish of finely shredded flank steak stewed with tomato, lots of garlic, red and green bell peppers, and onion. This is a fine version, and it didn't last long once it got home.
Friends with reliable palates have heartily recommended the Marinera Vinagreta ($14.75, a huge salad of lobster, shrimp, and lump crab); the Bacalao Viscaina ($9.95, salt cod in a savory tomato stew); the Paella Valenciana ($39.95 for two, with clams, mussels, shrimp, lobster, pork, and chicken); and what they assert is the best Tres Leches cake in town ($4.75). They are all on the short list for return visits, and it won't take long.
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