As our hermanos y hermanas in Puerto Rico rebuild in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria’s devastation, I recall how beautiful that island paradise is, how friendly its people and how vibrant its cuisine. No Puerto Rican joint I have found in Connecticut captures the breadth of that cuisine, but Caribbean Restaurant in Meriden, opened by German Rosario and his wife Rosa Valle in early 2000, makes a good starting point.
Valle came to the U.S. mainland from Aguada on Puerto Rico’s west coast in 1998 and met Rosario, who owned Palmas Restaurant in Meriden. In 2012, they moved the restaurant and changed its name.
Caribbean Restaurant has a takeout area with prepared foods in the front and a larger dining area with menu service primarily for cooked-to-order meals that we elect in the rear. Everything is made from scratch, Valle tells me afterward, except the blood sausage (imported from western Puerto Rico) and the Jamaican patties (“imported” from Restaurant Depot).
We enjoy flavorful fried empanadas, one filled with ground beef ($1.75), the other with lobster ($3.25). We also relish alcapurrias ($1.75), torpedo-shaped fritters filled with ground beef, the lighter hued made from yuca, the darker from green banana.
We even order three fresh salads: shrimp (8 oz., $8.25), bacalao (8 oz., $3.25) and chicken gizzards (8 oz., $3.25).
For our main dishes, I savor sautéed steak and onion ($12.25) with house salad and tostones dipped in mayo-ketchup, while my companion digs into “trifongo” — mofongo made not just with mashed green plantain but also with sweet plantain and yuca, for an extra dollar — with garlic shrimp and chicken broth ($13.25).
The trifongo is actually served in the mortar-like pilón it’s made in, a pestle impression left in it for dramatic emphasis. We finish with a wonderful creamy coconut custard ($2). But as we leave, we’re already plotting our return.
We observe a working crew with overflowing combo plates of stewed chicken, rice and beans ($8.25) — and feel a twinge of jealousy. We also want to try whole red snapper ($16.25), fried pork chops ($10.75) and the meat-filled green plantain sandwich ($10.25 with fries) known as jibarito, its origin contested between Chicago, Puerto Rico and Venezuela. Periodically, Caribbean Restaurant also offers oxtail, goat and rabbit, a reminder of the great bounty typical of this beleaguered island.