Cafe Mofongo Brings More Dominican to 8th Ave

Gotta love working on 8th. As far as the food hell of Midtown goes, we’re the scrappy underdog. The tourist crap doesn’t kick in until you get to the 40s, so while there’s not as much in food truck options and a lot of long-timer places that come and stay, you get gems every now and then. Two of those gems are the greats of Dominican elevator shaft cuisine, but there’s a third diadem in the crown now. A fine member of the vast Midtown Lunch clandestine operations group readership clued us in to Cafe Mofongo, which quietly opened just off of 8th on 39th, and I’m all about another cheap, real, and tasty Latin restaurant to compete with the elevator empire.

The space is small, but well-utilized. The rotisserie had a bunch of chickens going.

The handful of people in the photo gave way to a really huge crowd for so small a spot not long after I stopped in. A couple of cops and a handful of building maintenance guys came in, which to me is the sign of really good food, doubly so for a local neighborhood joint. Hell yeah, cuisine of the workers.

I ordered the longaniza special ($5); my two co-workers jumped right on the rotisserie chicken (also $5 – now THAT is Midtown Lunch pricing!). Not on the chalkboard is the rest of the menu, which is mostly mofongo (mashed fried green plantains with pork cracklings, does it get any better?) but they had tasty sides too. Ask nicely and they’ll throw in a couple of plantains along with rice and beans, but they said normally it’s choose any one – rice & beans/green plantains/sweet plantains.

I honestly like having this as a choice to prevent massive food comas. Some times I’m totally happy to gorge only on sweet plantains, sometimes you want rice and beans. Good to have a choice without coughing up for extra side dishes.

These longaniza are my new favorite thing. Ever. These guys cooked ‘em in the style of Rutt’s Hut – they fry ‘em until they rip open. Nice and dark, crispy – CRISPY – beyond belief, with plenty of juiciness left within.

I love a good sausage and longaniza is very truly a good sausage. It has enough spicing to be flavorful but is not a hot sausage by any means, but after a few dashes of hot sauce to taste I was an even happier camper.

The red beans were nice and mushy, not really holding beany shape once they land in the food, but they still hold together a bit. They’re more of a pink bean, but they’re a damn good bean at that. There’s plenty of green pepper and onion in the mix for these in addition to whatever sofrito or recaito went in during cooking. They did need some salt, though, and my co-workers both agreed that the beans could have really been seasoned better.

I really could have used more sauce from the beans to make up for however much sauce was lost due to leakage in transit. My fault for carrying it weirdly halfway back to the office, but I really wish that the foil-and-plastic container matchup was put to the wayside in favor of either the wide folding-top brown takeout boxes or Chinese food plastic containers.

The rice is rice – standard nicely done white rice. It is what it is, and of course, there’s tons of it. TONS of it. My longaniza floated on this huge sea of rice, lonely in their isolation and starkly reminding me that I only had four of them.

The chicken tastes like it’s been nicely marinated. Nice and juicy, not overdone, they have a good thing going. It had a nice herby tartness, maybe from a vinegary marinade, and the skin was crispy with all the fat melting away in the rotisseration process. (Rotissering? Rotisserizing?)

I only saw quarter chickens being served out – wonder where the breast meat went to? Not that I’m complaining about glorious dark meat options. The biggest flaw with the chicken was that it was on the oily side, so have some moist-naps handy if you’re eating deskside and plan to pick up and gnaw at the bones.

Plaintains, glorious plantains. The green plantains were getting freshly smashed in the back as they were being served out. Mine was damn near perfect – crisp outside, just on the right side of moist inside but still dry enough to be savory. I wanted nothing more than some garlic sauce to soak and mash it into.

The sweet plantains looked baked rather than fried, like you see at Cuban and other Latin restaurants. Both have their merits and flaws, but I really missed the sticky caramelized exterior of fried sweet plantains here. It made me feel a little better about the pending food coma that all this rice and beans brought forth, though.

There were very happy noises coming from all three of us who ordered, though, and I’ll be honest – it’s good to have an actual menu and not just three or four dishes done really well. True, El Sabroso does normally have more options than Aries Cafe, but the presence of mofongo means the presence of chicharrones. With the closest other Latin food option being Cafe Nunez, which is too costly for a Midtown Lunch, and with delivery being offered, Cafe Mofongo has jumped way the hell to the top of the heap in terms of cheap good food, underflavored beans and all.

The + (What those who didn’t order lunch in an elevator shaft would say):

  • Hell yes, a varied menu!
  • I’ve never had sausages this crispy and perfect before.
  • So damn much for so very little and so tasty!

The – (What veterans of Shaft-Food-Off 2012 would say):

  • There’s way too little flavor in the beans.
  • There’s way too little sauce in the beans.
  • This place is gonna fill up quick – where am I gonna sit?

Cafe Mofongo, 316 39th St (Between 8th and 9th)

28 Comments

  • Critical omission: no review of the actual Mofongo. How much is it? Different kinds? Gravy good? Does it take extra time?

    On the plus side, you mentioned Rutt’s Hut – sign of past professionalism or a degenerate NJ upbringing.(I believe I qualify for both)

    This place looks awesome, tx

    • Well caught, and my logic is that the mofongo merits another review solely on the basis of there’s gotta be good stuff in the variations between gravies and sauces of the individual toppings.

      My office copier mangled the menu when I tried to scan it, but there’s a separate oxtail mofongo in the list along with chicharron de pollo and de cerdo (finally, chicharron in midtown!) along with the other normal usual suspects. If there’s oxtail mofongo then I need to pick a day when I didn’t eat breakfast, because I’ve never had oxtail that wasn’t in some massive meaty amazing quantity.

      I’ll see your Rutt’s Hut catch and raise you one: you prefer Libby’s or Hot Grill for your Texas wieners?

      Edit (damn, no replies past third comment level still): @ wayne – I had a Cremator once and it was everything that it’s described to be and more, but I think that’s the only time that the American College of Cardiology allows anyone to have ‘em per lifetime.

      Thanks guys, now I’m craving one onion small birch one ripper. I just wish they didn’t put up those fake owls to scare the pigeons and gulls away, feeding them was half the fun.

      • The question is

        Can you order a longaniza CREMATOR?

      • I’m defeated by Libby’s and Hot Grill. I’ve been to Hiram’s in Fort Lee – great place. Also White Manna in Hackensack and White Mana in Jersey City. Didn’t realize til now that they were spelled differently. I think my editing abilities were always obscured by grease.

      • You took the thoughts right out of my mouth. Now I’m craving birch beer and sliders!

  • I tried the mofongo with pernil. Everything was dried out to the point of being mostly inedible, and it was very bland. I was incredibly disappointed, and there was no gravy.

    You get a small mound of mofongo on top of salad. With a can of soda, my meal cost $9.50.

    • Yikes – the pernil I’ve had in the past at other restaurants usually wasn’t as saucy as pollo guisado or other stewy dishes, but the mofongo I’ve had at other restaurants were very, very saucy and nowhere near dry.

      When I go back I’ll be sure to cover the pernil, because dry pernil needs as much signal boost to ensure it’s avoided. Thanks for the heads-up!

    • User has not uploaded an avatar

      Karin that sounds very disappointing. If you want the real deal mofongo, you must board the 7 train to the 103rd street stop in Queens. Steps from the subway is La Cabana, a Dominican restaurant that serves outstanding mofongo de chicharron.$9 for a gut busting portions. The accompanying onions are legendary. I squeeze lemon over the whole thing.

  • You couldn’t clear off the desk a little for the big photo shoot?

    • “If a cluttered desk is a sign of a cluttered mind, what’s an empty desk a sign of?” -Albert “Rockin’ Al” Einstein

      Edit: Nah, that’s generic Excedrin for the migraine I’ve been fighting off. The antacid is in a 55-gallon drum, because I’m in IT. (The coffee vat is elsewhere)

  • What headphones are you rocking?

    • Audio-Technica ATH-M50. I got those and the Sennheiser HD-280s from Amazon, tested both for a week, and returned the HD-280s. The M50s are amazing sound, warm without too much bass, and are really, really well isolated. It seems like they’re as good as full-size cans get in terms of isolation, quality, and reliability for the price point. Best $90 I ever spent on appearing to be a pretentious audiophile.

      That and I can’t stand the feel of IEMs.

  • I was so excited when I saw your review… and I love mofongo, grew up in a PR and DR nabe, my sister in law is from DR…. this was just a sad experience. It was 1 pm. I wonder what the mofongo and the pork tasted like an hour before? The line was very very long and my 30 minute lunch was over by the time I got out of there and walked the block and a half back to my office. So sad… wah.

    • We were there at around 12:15ish, just as things were heating up. Lots of turnover happening but I don’t recall if anyone around me ordered pernil. It definitely does merit a Cafe Mofongo 2: The Plantaining as a revisit.

  • Instead of white rice, I’m wondering what the rice & beans are? Yellow rice? or more of an authentic “moro” rice dish.

    • I always thought that moro was rice and beans cooked together as their own dish, though?

      • Yea, the chalkboard says rice and beans. You been ordering only white rice. That is NOT moro.

        Again, my question is what the rice & beans are – yellow rice with beans or Moro, which is not yellow rice. MJP, you need to go back and get the other option IF there is one. :P

  • User has not uploaded an avatar

    I tried the longaniza today with yellow rice and beans. They gave me about 6 bites of the meat, I was slightly pissed, even for $5 come on

    • Yeah, I share your pain on longaniza lacking. Compared to a quarter chicken, it’s a pretty noteworthy lack o’ meat. I wonder how pricey longaniza is compared to chickens? It’s the first time I’ve seen it anywhere but it didn’t taste like it was some kind of super fancy rare sausage to the point that it merits only 4 sausages or 6 bites, whichever comes first.

  • This place reminds me of that old joke, The food here stinks. And such small portions!

    The mofongo, which was done freshly for us, hence a 20 minute wait, is of decent quality but served in a pile of salad. What I took for vinegarette turned out to be a teenie container of greasy drippings – not nearly enough to act the part of gravy. So the mofongo is waaaay too dry.

    As for the $5 meat plates, you get what you pay for, in this case parsimonious amounts, poorly prepared.

    Unaccountably, there was still a line out the door when we left at 2 pm.

    There was a time when there were a lot more Dominican lunch counters in NYC and in those days a place like this would have been laughed out of business. Maybe if people stop going they will get their act together. In the meantime Mofongo is not recommended.

    Credit to all who gave negative reviews that I ignored. Next time I’ll listen.

    • User has not uploaded an avatar

      I would have to totally disagree with copyboy. I have been there for both breakfast and lunch and the food is delicious and extremely well priced for the area. For breakfast I have had the mangu with queso frito and salami (smashed plaintains with fried cheese, egg and salami). It was so filling and tasting. And I could not believe the price because I pay much more in Washington Heights for the same thing. I have also had the Avena (oatmeal) which I love that they allow you to add your own sugar to. I have also had the lunches and if you want more meat you can always request it at an additional cost. ($1 more I believe) It does get pretty busy around lunch time (that should tell you something) I have learned to call in my order and then go and pick it up. Love this place!! So glad they opened up here! Adds something different to the usual pizza and fast food joints.

  • Hey copyboy and a few others that said the food sucks, let me tell you I do remember when the place first opened, the food was not that great and I would agree with you guys when you say that it isn’t your uptown dominican authentic food. I started to notice that my coworkers were starting to go a lot more frequently and I decided to try it again. I noticed they changed the menu completely and it was better I think that whatever they did now really helped the place because the food is GREAT! I tell all you who said the food sucks to go back and try it again because you won’t regret. This is real dominican food!

  • User has not uploaded an avatar

    These people have no fraking clue what they are doing plus they are liars. I ordered mofongo w ox tail, the gave me 2 pieces of bone, no meat. My friend ordered a stew chicken over rice and got: 2 chicken legs, not thighs over rice. when did stew chicken come so dry as hell? I ordered the sancocho, it was watery, it had no flavor and they charged me $3 extra. It was 7$ on the menu but it was 10$ for me. why cuz I am not spanish? Wont ever go there again. I wont be surprised to see this place shut down in a few months

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