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

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...

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Cafe Latino
2 Center Plz, Boston, MA 02108

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  1. 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. 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. 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.

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        Cafe Latino
        2 Center Plz, Boston, MA 02108

        5 Replies
        1. re: Bob Dobalina

          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

            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.

            http://forum.cookshack.com/eve/forums...

            1. re: StriperGuy

              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

                Nice pubmeding.

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

                Here's another one on the topic:

                http://www.aasv.org/shap/issues/v5n4/...

                1. re: StriperGuy

                  ew, i read 'taint odor'.

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

            1. 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

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

                1. re: yumyum

                  Count me in - after my nap.

                2. re: nsenada

                  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

                    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

                      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

                      You were probably eating Pastelon:

                      http://www.elcolmadito.com/USRecetasD...

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

                      1. re: StriperGuy

                        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

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

                          1. re: Prav

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

                            1. re: nsenada

                              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

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

                      2. 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...

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                        Cafe Latino
                        2 Center Plz, Boston, MA 02108

                        1. 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

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

                          2. 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

                              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

                                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

                                  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

                                    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

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

                                      1. re: nsenada

                                        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

                                          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. 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?!

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                                Cafe Latino
                                2 Center Plz, Boston, MA 02108

                                14 Replies
                                1. re: Alcachofa

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

                                  1. re: Alcachofa

                                    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

                                      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

                                        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

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

                                          1. re: nsenada

                                            Insert gratuitous cardiology wisecrack here:

                                            __________________________________________________________.

                                            1. re: nsenada

                                              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

                                                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

                                            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

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

                                              1. re: Wannabfoode

                                                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

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

                                                  1. re: StriperGuy

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

                                                    1. re: emannths

                                                      Ha, perfect.