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Cafe Latino Gov't Center is the Real Deal - Serious Roast Pork

StriperGuy May 13, 2010 06:47 AM

I am NEVER downtown on a weekday for lunch, so this place has been on my list for eons.

To make a long story short. I got a little bit of everything for $11. I basically got 4 meals out of it.

Awesome roast pork (they asked me if I wanted skin, is that really a question???) and the crunchy skin was out of this world.

Sweet and green plantains, perfectly done.

Rice, and some of the best beans I've had in Boston.

The guy behind the counter is Puerto Rican and the man can cook.

If you are trying to find the place keep in mind it is in the curved building on Cambridge Street, up the central staircase once you are at the top it is to the left across the plaza and shares space with the Deli.

Totally worth the trip. Now I just need more excuses to go downtown at lunchtime...

Cafe Latino
2 Center Plz, Boston, MA 02108

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  1. FinnFPM RE: StriperGuy May 13, 2010 06:53 AM

    Did you specifically get a beans and rice dish, and would you describe that dish as extremely good? Or was it a side of beans that were really good? I've spent years downtown and I've never even heard of this place. My interest is definitely piqued.

    1. nsenada RE: StriperGuy May 13, 2010 06:55 AM

      Yeah, before my diet, this was in my regular rotation. Even then, I had to split the pernil plate with at least one other person (and I generally don't split anything). You lucked out on the plantains, those are the only spotty thing about the place, sometimes great, sometimes too starchy and undercooked (the maduros). That skin...so damned good. I wish they made an "all skin" plate.

      1. Bob Dobalina RE: StriperGuy May 13, 2010 06:56 AM

        Glad you enjoyed that place - they used to be in the spot now occupied by Zo, the real pork gyro place. (There has to be a joke about all this pork being close by City Hall....)

        The curved building is technically named Center Plaza.

        I enjoy the food at Cafe Latino immensely, although it is highly nap-inducing, so I don't go there nearly enough. And the skin when I've tried it was just too porky for me. Glad you liked it.

        Cafe Latino
        2 Center Plz, Boston, MA 02108

        5 Replies
        1. re: Bob Dobalina
          nsenada RE: Bob Dobalina May 13, 2010 07:09 AM

          I know what you mean about the skin, every once in a while you get a really "off" or "piggy" tasting batch, and there's no way to tell by looking which it will be. The last few times I went there, it was pure crispy and buttery deliciousness, with no nasty flavor.

          1. re: nsenada
            StriperGuy RE: nsenada May 13, 2010 07:21 AM

            I know what you mean by the overly porky bit. I can tell you what causes it . There is a gland in the pork shoulder that can smell pretty rank. Depends on if you use a butt or a shoulder, and the particular pig. Perhaps someone more knowledgable can chime in. Here is a discussion on the topic on another board.


            1. re: StriperGuy
              nsenada RE: StriperGuy May 13, 2010 07:40 AM

              Sorry, just profusely vomited on my desk. I wonder if that affects the meat flavor all the way out to the skin? I've heard varying things over the years from the gender of the animal (the females taste better) to the anxiety level of the hog being slaughtered being contributing factors to hyper-porky flavor. There's also this intriguing article: Patterson, RLS: Identification of 3-hydroxy-5-androst-16-ene as the musk odour component of boar submaxillary salivary gland and its relationship to the sex odour taint in pork meat. J. Sci. Food Agric 1968b 19: 434–438, | ChemPort |

              I'm definitely going to surgically probe my pork butts for "the gland" from now on. Thanks!

              1. re: nsenada
                StriperGuy RE: nsenada May 13, 2010 07:46 AM

                Nice pubmeding.

                Sex odor taint is a drag except under very particular circumstances.

                Here's another one on the topic:


                1. re: StriperGuy
                  Prav RE: StriperGuy May 21, 2010 10:03 AM

                  ew, i read 'taint odor'.

        2. StriperGuy RE: StriperGuy May 13, 2010 07:10 AM

          For starters, to give due credit, I found out about this from previous posts here on chowhound over the years.

          I had Pernil (roast pork) side of rice, side of beans, side of plantains split 50/50 between maduros and tostones.

          Everything was excellent, the side of beans, with garlic, juicy sauce, Cilantro (or heaven forbid culantro) was just spot on perfect. In fact best Caribbean style beans I have had in Boston. Flavorful, rich, delish.

          The pernil was killer too, (though I probably give my own pernil the edge).

          Heaven forbid you wanted to attempt to stay healthy when hitting this place just getting rice and beans would be an awesome lunch and they'd probably charge you $3 for it. (Maybe with just a little crackly pork skin on top...)

          Cause they are serving from a hot table and not frying fresh I could see the plantains being the one tricky part. Also, with maduros, having piles and piles of perfectly black-ripe plantains on hand every day can also be tricky. Guess I just got lucky.

          As an aside, for folks who like maduros I have always found that East Coast Grill usually has excellent ones. Old friend of mine used to get a (HUGE) side to go when she was in the neighborhood.

          East Coast Grill and Raw Bar
          1271 Cambridge St, Cambridge, MA 02139

          1. jgg13 RE: StriperGuy May 13, 2010 07:48 AM

            good to know. i always mean to check it out and then every single time find myself at Zo instead.

            1. nsenada RE: StriperGuy May 19, 2010 10:11 AM

              Just had lunch there, and the pork was amazing (no boar odor taint), as were the rice and beans and sweet plantains. I also noticed a pan of what looked like lasagna sitting on top of a counter, and ordered some of that - the cheese on top looked too good to resist. Turns out it was something called a "Panne Lasagna," not sure if I have the spelling even remotely right. What it was was layers of sweet plantains, ground beef in tomato sauce, and some kind of cheese combination, with more browned cheese on top that was fluffy, gooey, and vaguely provolone-ish. I was really amazingly good, and well balanced, and I was glad I got that to go along with the pernil, rather than chicharron.

              11 Replies
              1. re: nsenada
                yumyum RE: nsenada May 19, 2010 10:14 AM

                I want to meet you there for lunch one day. I need some pernil and STAT.

                1. re: yumyum
                  nsenada RE: yumyum May 19, 2010 10:57 AM

                  Count me in - after my nap.

                2. re: nsenada
                  jgg13 RE: nsenada May 19, 2010 10:39 AM

                  I checked it out a few days ago and you guys weren't joking about it being good and massive. I rarely sit in front of a plate that I can't finish, particularly at lunch. I tried and tried but couldn't finish the entire thing, and didn't eat again until lunch the following day.

                  1. re: nsenada
                    itaunas RE: nsenada May 19, 2010 10:39 AM

                    Have you had the chicarron there? That was among the items I didn't enjoy, along with the yellow rice, bistec (not fried to order), or yucca. I was very happy with the pernil, beans, stewed meats. Sauce was good too. BTW, Striper they will fry to order maybe after the rush, but they only do the deep fryer and can't pan fry (maduros, tostones) or fry more slowly (chicarron).

                    1. re: itaunas
                      nsenada RE: itaunas May 19, 2010 12:48 PM

                      Not yet, and now that you mention it, when I asked for it, the reaction behind the counter was something like "where the heck do we even keep that stuff?" Luckily I saw that lasagna, and got that instead - truly delicious, and a combination I've never had before. I did a little research and found out that it is usually prepared with olives and raisins in the ground meat, which would have been even better. I was quite happy about the "plain version" they served though, and will definitely get it again (I think it counts as health food there).

                    2. re: nsenada
                      StriperGuy RE: nsenada May 19, 2010 01:15 PM

                      You were probably eating Pastelon:


                      Essentially a Puerto Rican lasagna with plantains instead of noodles. Gosh, love that dish.

                      1. re: StriperGuy
                        nsenada RE: StriperGuy May 19, 2010 01:31 PM

                        Yeah, that's the ticket, though the one I had was a little cheesier on top. I hope it's a regular offering.

                        1. re: StriperGuy
                          Prav RE: StriperGuy May 21, 2010 10:04 AM

                          Holy lord, how come I've never heard of that before? Sounds amazing.

                          1. re: Prav
                            nsenada RE: Prav May 21, 2010 11:08 AM

                            Yeah, it was ridiculous. I was a little nervous about "plantain lasagne," but it really works.

                            1. re: nsenada
                              StriperGuy RE: nsenada May 21, 2010 01:54 PM

                              There are a whole bunch of other Puerto Rican traditional foods that one seldom sees in a resto:

                              - Piononos which are very savory meatballs wrapped in a skin of thinly sliced green plantains. High art. Seriously, making these so the plantains don't burst is strictly for grandmothers with 40 years of practice.

                              - Pasteles, sort of a green plaintain and root veg dough version of a tamal, but different and awesome.

                              Can't even remember the rest.

                              1. re: StriperGuy
                                gourmaniac RE: StriperGuy May 21, 2010 02:14 PM

                                I've had a grandma's pasteles once and they were fantastic.

                      2. TomH RE: StriperGuy May 19, 2010 01:20 PM

                        Huge Cafe Latino fan. My office moved over by Government Center just over a year ago and I try to get there every month or so. The prices (around seven or eight bucks) for the roast pork with sides is just awesome.

                        I usually get the rice and beans with the cilantro sauce. Not sure of the exact name. Always go with the crispy skin though, amazing...

                        Cafe Latino
                        2 Center Plz, Boston, MA 02108

                        1. opinionatedchef RE: StriperGuy May 19, 2010 08:55 PM

                          stripes, have no idea where you live/ normally venture, but with the items you loved at this place
                          (th so much for posting about it) you also might really like La Fe in disgusting downtown Lynn.
                          (maybe we even spoke about it last time i posted about it). terrific roasted pernil, rice w/ pigeon peas, okra, eggplant , and habichuelas. It all freezes really well too.

                          La Fe Restaurant
                          189 Union St, Lynn, MA 01901

                          1 Reply
                          1. re: opinionatedchef
                            StriperGuy RE: opinionatedchef May 20, 2010 05:27 AM

                            Been there and posted about it. Just downtown beantown is a lot easier for me to get to then Lynn.

                          2. g
                            gourmaniac RE: StriperGuy May 21, 2010 08:46 AM

                            Based on this thread, I got the Pernil plate yesterday and oh my, its a lot of tasty food. Two large meals worth for $7.50. I asked for extra skin and they supplied me with plenty. Everything was a little salty (maybe the extra skin was an issue for that) but great value and taste especially for downtown. I liked the sweet plaintains and the yellow rice was good but next time I will try the beans and rice. Thanks Hounds. It is fortunately a far enough walk for me to make it only a rare occasion lunch as it is easily a day's calories in a styrofoam box.

                            7 Replies
                            1. re: gourmaniac
                              jgg13 RE: gourmaniac May 21, 2010 09:06 AM

                              all you people talking about it being multiple meals make me ashamed that i nearly took down the whole thing :) of course i had to struggle, couldn't finish it, and didn't eat anything else for nearly 24 hours :) i do plan on making it into multiple meals in the future tho

                              1. re: jgg13
                                nsenada RE: jgg13 May 21, 2010 09:29 AM

                                Even at the peak of my gluttonous abilities, I had trouble polishing off a whole plate. It's half a pork shoulder on the darned thing.

                                1. re: nsenada
                                  jgg13 RE: nsenada May 21, 2010 09:44 AM

                                  By the time I realized I was in trouble I was in too far to really bother taking it back with me so I decided to damn the torpedos. Boy, that was a mistake. Productivity that afternoon was not very high.

                                  Knowing what I know now I can divvy it up more reasonably so it's not just some plantains and a mound of rice staring at me the next day :)

                                  1. re: jgg13
                                    devilham RE: jgg13 May 21, 2010 10:47 AM

                                    LOL, I hear that, I tried that once too, and it was not happening. I got some of this earlier this week though (the Parniel), and as everyone says, it was soooooooooo good.......pig skin is quite literally my favorite food.

                                    1. re: jgg13
                                      nsenada RE: jgg13 May 21, 2010 11:06 AM

                                      I'm struggling to stay awake right now - a Speed Dog and an eclair from Baltic were the culprit this time.

                                      1. re: nsenada
                                        Bob Dobalina RE: nsenada May 21, 2010 11:26 AM

                                        That guy who was looking for places to take college girls a few threads ago should like totally take notice of this thread. ;)

                                        1. re: Bob Dobalina
                                          nsenada RE: Bob Dobalina May 21, 2010 11:49 AM

                                          Yes - the grunting, sweating, and nasal wheezing associated with a pernil plate takedown are probably quite the aphrodisiac. Gotta watch out for the boar sex taint odor, though.

                              2. Alcachofa RE: StriperGuy Mar 31, 2011 11:02 AM

                                I had what the Cafe Latino folks call a Cuban sandwich the other day. The ham element was "eh", but wow the pork was delicious and piled high! Sooooo much pork. I couldn't finish it.

                                I am guessing the pernil is the same as the pork for the sandwich. I did not fully investigate this, though.

                                I really want to get one of their meals to take home for dinner, but they close at 3! Don't they know I want them to cook for me?!

                                Cafe Latino
                                2 Center Plz, Boston, MA 02108

                                14 Replies
                                1. re: Alcachofa
                                  jgg13 RE: Alcachofa Mar 31, 2011 12:26 PM

                                  yeah, that's the same pork they use in the pernil

                                  1. re: Alcachofa
                                    nsenada RE: Alcachofa Mar 31, 2011 01:44 PM

                                    The pernil is awesome, and they will give you extra crispy skin if you ask. I have to go back for the "lasagna" made with plaintains as the pasta. So good...

                                    1. re: nsenada
                                      StriperGuy RE: nsenada Mar 31, 2011 02:17 PM

                                      That "lasagna" is one of my all time fav Puerto Rican dishes: Pastelon.

                                      Didn't know they made it. Dang, gotta get myself downtown.

                                      1. re: StriperGuy
                                        tysonmcneely RE: StriperGuy Mar 31, 2011 02:22 PM

                                        I believe they only have that on Wednesdays. I haven't had pastelon elsewhere, so I can't really compare, but I thoroughly enjoyed it. And of course, the potion is Huge.

                                        1. re: tysonmcneely
                                          nsenada RE: tysonmcneely Jun 23, 2011 10:46 AM

                                          Had it again yesterday - so good. They also had chicken wings, which were excellent - deep fried, very crispy and salty.

                                          1. re: nsenada
                                            StriperGuy RE: nsenada Jun 23, 2011 11:45 AM

                                            Insert gratuitous cardiology wisecrack here:


                                            1. re: nsenada
                                              tysonmcneely RE: nsenada Jun 24, 2011 08:14 AM

                                              That's funny, because I just had the Pastelon (2 days ago) too. The last time I went to Cafe Latino before that was around the last time I commented on this thread.

                                              What's the deal with those wings? They looked very tempting when I saw them on Wednesday. They seem like a new addition? Do they servve them as a meal with rice and plantains? Or just by themselves? Price?

                                              Cafe Latino
                                              2 Center Plz, Boston, MA 02108

                                              1. re: tysonmcneely
                                                nsenada RE: tysonmcneely Jun 24, 2011 05:39 PM

                                                First time I saw the wings myself - and had to make them mine. I aske for 2, and I think they were 75 cents apiece.

                                          2. re: StriperGuy
                                            galangatron RE: StriperGuy Mar 31, 2011 02:43 PM

                                            muqueca in inman sq has a similar dish on the menu. it's called lasanha de banana (lasagna made with plantains, 3 types of cheese, and sauce). i haven't had the pastelon at cafe latino but the lasanha de banana is good

                                            1. re: galangatron
                                              Wannabfoode RE: galangatron Jun 24, 2011 08:23 PM

                                              love this place. i take my left over pernil and make it into cuban sandwiches the next day. yummy.

                                              1. re: Wannabfoode
                                                Bob MacAdoo RE: Wannabfoode Jul 13, 2011 01:18 PM

                                                Worth restating SG's obvious observation. Holy bejeezus, is the Pernil at Cafe Latino a CH feast or what?!?!

                                                I too am almost never downtown on a weekday for lunch, so I jumped at the chance to rock this meal. The pernil plate ($6.99) was a beast, perfectly roasted pork with a delectable crunchy skin. Oh, the goodness.

                                                I skipped plantains (offered sweet or regular) in favor of basic salad. Hey, the greens were needed to offset the rest of the calories, which included perfectly prepared yellow rice with pidegon peas.

                                                Awesome meal for an unbeatable price ...

                                                Cafe Latino
                                                2 Center Plz, Boston, MA 02108

                                                1. re: Bob MacAdoo
                                                  StriperGuy RE: Bob MacAdoo Jul 13, 2011 01:43 PM

                                                  What kind of strange exotic fare is this "Salad?"

                                                  1. re: StriperGuy
                                                    emannths RE: StriperGuy Jul 13, 2011 02:45 PM

                                                    That salad's not bad as long as your order it with extra crunchy skin.

                                                    1. re: emannths
                                                      StriperGuy RE: emannths Jul 13, 2011 06:30 PM

                                                      Ha, perfect.

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