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Puerto Rican food is a sensation at Mofongos in North Hollywood – LA Daily News

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Many years ago, when the late, great Raul Julia was in Los Angeles making “One from the Heart” for Francis Ford Coppola, I got a call from a mutual friend telling me that the actor was desperate for the food of his roots — for the cooking of Puerto Rico. Was there any place I could take him to satisfy that need?
And I said, of course there was. On Sunset just north of Dodger Stadium was a Cuban/Puerto Rican destination called, as I recall, Tonita’s. It was decorated with dozens, maybe hundreds of baseball jerseys, worn by the many Cuban and Puerto Rican players who had passed through town.
And that’s how I wound up one night with Raul and his friends, in a restaurant that was clearly dazzled to have such a star in their midst.
When Tonita asked Raul what dish he longed for, without hesitation, he cried out, “MOFONGO!” Raul wasn’t just a movie star; he was a Broadway legend as well. And when he spoke, he filled the room with his voice. And soon after, the owner filled the table with massive platters of mofongo, a mash of green plantains and pork rinds, circling a doughnut-sized hole filled with pork, chicken, beef, seafood — pretty much anything and everything.
Sadly, both Raul and Tonita’s are gone. But mofongo isn’t. It’s the centerpiece of the menu at Mofongos on Lankershim in North Hollywood.
Mofongos is a casual café, with seating inside and out, on a somewhat rundown strip of Lankershim — a vestige of the old North Hollywood that hasn’t been afflicted by gentrification. Yet. There’s a tattoo place nearby, along with a used car lot, and a boot store across the street. A barbecue stand is next door. A Pentecostal Church is nearby — very old NoHo.
And there’s Mofongos, a doorway into a Caribbean island, with bright colors, tables of locals eating massive portions of food, and a kitchen that seems to make every dish to order. Hence, don’t go here if you’re in a big rush.
The namesake dish appears on no diet plan. And yet, it’s a culinary object of desire for Puerto Ricans. It’s the sort of dish that has me swearing I’ll live on salad the day after to offset the damage.

There are 13 varieties of mofongos – the plantain ring populated with, variously, chicken stew, fried chicken, beef stew, steak and onions, shrimp, lobster and more – at Mofongos in North Hollywood. (Photo by Merrill Shindler)

Plantains at Mofongos in North Hollywood (Photo by Merrill Shindler)

Codfish fritters at Mofongos in North Hollywood (Photo by Merrill Shindler)

Empanadas at Mofongos in North Hollywood (Photo by Merrill Shindler)

Mofongos in North Hollywood is like a casual café in San Juan, filled with locals eating big orders of nearly everything on the menu. (Photo by Merrill Shindler)

At Mofongos the restaurant, there are 13 mofongos, the plantain ring populated with, variously, chicken stew, fried chicken, beef stew, steak and onions, pork roast, shredded pork, fried pork, shrimp, lobster and more. A note on the menu says you can substitute the pork rinds the mofongo is made with, with chicken rinds, which turns them into something of a Jewish dish — chicken rinds are an old Eastern European ingredient called chicken gribenes. You can add avocado too, which seems to be almost a healthy touch.
But then, if you order the appetizer platter — called Do Todo un Poco — by the time the mofongo arrives you probably won’t be quibbling about ingredients.
Pretty much everyone in the restaurant seems to order the platter — and for good reason … it’s a joy to behold, and to dig into. You get a pork-filled banana tamale, a beef-filled banana tamale, and a chicken-filled banana tamale, along with a beef-packed cassava fritter, and four meat jammed potato pastries. It’s a big plate, easily enough for two. And then, you’ve got the rest of the menu.
Those going light can opt for a fine chicken and rice soup, or shrimp and rice soup — the word for the soup is “asopao.” There’s a refreshing avocado salad, and a very large Caribbean chicken salad, a big meal of grilled bird, plantains and greens.
There also are the most curious sandwiches, called jibaritos, where instead of traditional bread, the ingredients are packed between fried slices of plantain bread. It reminds me of that sandwich KFC introduced a few years ago, of fried chicken in between buns made of…fried chicken. I think plantains are healthier…but I’m not entirely sure.
There’s a sizable section of entrees as well — four chicken dishes, three beef, four pork, two seafood, and a vegan option. The chicken stew — pollo guisado — is a wonderful thing, with chicken cooked so long it’s crumbling into its basic molecules. It’s a dish out of my childhood, when my mother would cook everything until the central protein was largely unrecognizable. This is not a complaint. I like the flavor of long-cooked chicken; it’s a “me” thing.
The roast chicken — pollo rostizado — is a treat as well, something of a Puerto Rican take on the classic Cuban dish at Versailles, but not near as garlicky.
And speaking of tastes from my youth in Da Bronx — the restaurant serves Puerto Rican malt beverages, essentially a non-alcoholic beer made of barley and hops. Finish up with a flan or a tres leches, and you’ve taken your mouth on a trip to the Caribbean — far away from the waters blue.
Merrill Shindler is a Los Angeles-based freelance dining critic. Email
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