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Thursday, Nov. 10, 2011

La Isla II Highlights Puerto Rican Mofongo

Second location opens on National Avenue

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When La Isla opened near the intersection of Mitchell and Pearl streets, it became one of the only Milwaukee restaurants to focus on Puerto Rican food. The formula of authentic meals at good prices has proven successful enough that a second location opened at the corner of 35th and National, in the former Colombian bakery Mekato's.

La Isla's National Avenue location is a modest place with a lunch counter, Formica tables and display cases filled with items for carryout. Along with two colorful murals, what really stands out is a sign that says “La casa del mofongo.” Mofongo is a dish commonly found in Puerto Rico and the neighboring Dominican Republic. It is basically a ball of mashed plantains. Here it is flavored with garlic and a bit of olive oil to keep it from getting too dry.

At La Isla, mofongo is served with different meats on the side. One option is bistec en salsa ($7.99), thin slices of steak in a tomato sauce with garlic and a few sliced onions. The steak is tender by Puerto Rican standards, and the sauce goes well with the mofongo. A simple salad of iceberg lettuce and sliced tomatoes is included on the plate. This is a lot of food for a modest price. Another possibility is mofongo relleno. In this case the mashed plantains are shaped into a bowl and used to hold a meat filling. Mofongo relleno de camarones a la Criolla ($14.95) offers shrimp with a Creole sauce that is quite good.

The other staple of Puerto Rican cooking is roast pork. Here it is served in numerous ways. Habichuelas guisadas with pernil ($7.99) is juicy pieces of roast pork with a side of pink beans and a few chunks of potato. Pernil is also an option for an unusual sandwich ($5.50) of green plantains sliced lengthwise and fried. Two of these slices are a substitute for bread. The filling is roast beef or pork along with lettuce, tomato, mayonnaise and mild cheese. This dish captures the diverse flavors of Puerto Rican cooking.

Except for seafood, items at La Isla rarely top $10. Sopa de camarones ($14.90) is a shrimp soup with rice, onion and sweet bell peppers.

Puerto Rican rice is available for an extra charge—and it is worth it. The rice, dotted with pigeon peas, has a yellow hue thanks to sofrito, which accounts for the bits of ham and occasional herb in the rice.

Daily specials are also available. These tend to be slow-cooked dishes like stews of chicken, beef and codfish. Saturday presents a stew of pork tripe with green bananas, while Friday offers a tamer baked chicken with yuca.

Servers are friendly and the kitchen takes its time to get it right. Don't be in a big hurry when you visit La Isla. Sit back and enjoy authentic Puerto Rican fare at very affordable prices.

La Isla II

3500 W. National Ave.

(414) 882-7003

$-$$

Credit Cards: All Major

laislamke.com