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Wednesday, Feb. 16, 2011

El Farol’s Puerto Rican Flavors Ring True

Authentic restaurant and market in quiet residential neighborhood

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Located on a street in a quiet residential neighborhood, El Farol is not the kind of restaurant you run into accidentally. You enter through a small supermarket; the dining room is to the right. El Farol specializes in Puerto Rican food. In addition to the dining menu, the market offers pre-made food to go. Display cases are filled with items like roast pork, empanadas and papas rellenas.

The dining room is pleasant though not fancy. Tables have Formica tops, floors are made of tile, and the occasional artificial plant acts as an accent. Puerto Rican tunes play at an ample volume.

The menu is small—no more than a dozen items plus a daily special entrée. The empanadas are not listed on the menu, but you will find dishes of pork, beef, chicken and fish. The daily specials tend to be slow-cooked stews.

The first item listed is pernil asado ($8), the roast pork that is an island specialty. This good-sized serving comes on a plate with a simple salad of shredded iceberg lettuce and a slice of tomato. Options include a choice of fried tostones or sweet bananas and white or Puerto Rican rice. Tostones—plantains that are drier than their sweeter banana cousins—are as ubiquitous as pork in Puerto Rican food. Skip the white rice in favor of the Puerto Rican variety. The latter has gandules, bits of pork and sofrito flavoring. Gandules, also called pigeon peas, are the size of lentils. Puerto Rican rice has a lovely flavor and on its own is a reason to visit El Farol. Beans are another option at no extra charge. The red beans are cooked with potato, though bits of sausage were also added at one visit.

One of the beef dishes is bistec blanco ($8.50), also called onion steak. The thin piece of meat has obviously been tenderized, which is a good thing. It is topped with sautéed onions that are better than the cut of beef. Cooking oil keeps the beef moist.

The pescado frito ($9) does not have the most appetizing appearance on the menu. It consists of two smallish fish served beheaded but with the skin still on. The fish are scored and then fried in oil. This makes for some very tasty fish, with tender white flesh that gets far chewier near the score marks. The bones are all there, but they are easily removed with a minimum of effort.

One of the daily specials is pollo guisado ($8), which is stewed chicken. This dish, which includes nearly half a chicken with the bone in, calls for white rice to absorb the flavors of the cooking liquid.

The menu may be a bit limited, but the Puerto Rican flavors ring true. It also is possible to order the pre-cooked items in the adjacent market. Among Milwaukee’s few Puerto Rican restaurants, El Farol stands out.

El Farol Restaurant & Grocery

1401 W. Washington St.

(414) 647-1899

$

Credit Cards: MC, VS, DS

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