July 12, 2012

Eat and Run: La Cocina Dominicana, Portland

A lunchtime oasis for Portlanders hungry for tasty fare.

From staff reports

I was on a random lunchtime stroll recently, destination unknown. After ascending the stairs to the second floor of the Public Market House on Portland's Monument Square, I spotted something against the far back wall that I had not seen before: La Cocina Dominicana.

click image to enlarge

Aidalina Costoso, left, and Lourdes Suero of La Cocina Dominicana show off the barbecue beef ribs with rice and peas, sweet plantains and cabbage salad during a recent lunch hour. The eatery opened for business a few weeks ago.

Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer


WHERE: Portland Public Market House (28 Monument Square), 2nd Floor; 228-5444, lacocinadominicana.com

HOURS: Noon to 2 p.m. Monday to Thursday

CHEAPEST GRUB: Empana-dillas (meat patties), $2

WAIT: Less than five minutes

PARKING: On street


RATING: *** 1/2

Based on a five-star scale

Turns out it just opened a few weeks ago, so it's not that I just need to get out more. But who am I kidding? I definitely do.

My love for Dominican food is not a new one, although it had been a while since I dined on Big Papi's native cuisine. So I was more than happy to dust off my Spanish and have a lovely chat with Lourdes, who sent me away with a sack of deliciousness that I ate back at the office.

I did a quick online search to school myself, and dined to the music of Juan Francisco Garcia, a Dominican merengue star, and some bachata music from Aventura. Headphones on, I took the cover off the spaghetti con pollo (spaghetti with chicken; $6.99) and dug in. It also came with white rice, but I decided the one-two carb punch might be too nap-inducing, so I asked Lourdes to skip that part.

The meal (as do all meals) also came with my options of side salads: aguacate (avocado), codito (pasta salad with tuna) or verde (green salad). I opted for the latter and a bottle of spring water.

Two words: Muy deliciosa! The chicken was fall-off-the bone good, and although I'm not entirely sure what the brown sauce was covering it and the spaghetti -- it was plenty flavorful without being overpowering.

A few songs and several satisfying bites later, I patted my belly and sported a big grin. My only regret was not ordering a side of tostones (fried plantains) or platanos maduros (sweet fried plantains). Both are $2, and I will not hold back on my next visit.

On the sandwich front -- and these are available by phone order only so that they have plenty of time to make them -- is the bistec (steak) for $8.50, the chimi (Dominican burger) for $7, and the amazing-sounding empanisado bistec/pollo (breaded steak/chicken) for $7.75.

Other tempting everyday menu items (prices vary on these) are the ropa veija, arroz Blanco pipipua (pulled and sauteed corned beef brisket, white rice and green whole peas), the pescado en cocco, arroz y guandules (fish in coconut sauce, yellow rice with peas) and the pastelon de papa majada, maiz y carne molida (La Cocina's shepard's pie).

Daily specials, such as my spaghetti con pollo, are perhaps the most tempting draw of La Cocina Dominicana's offerings. Depending on which day you stop in, specials include ensalada de camarones, mangu con cebollas rojas (shrimp salad, mashed plantains with red onions); albondigas (homemade meatballs); sancocho con arroz blanco (hearty meat stew with white rice) and several other culinary creations. Prices on these range from $6.99 to $11.99, and are available in small or large lunch portions.

La Cocina Dominicana takes phone orders from 9 to 11 a.m., and pick-up and on-site ordering happens between noon and 2 p.m. Although one could argue that the hours are a bit limited, I can say con mucho gusto (with much pleasure) that you shouldn't let that stop you. Be sure to tell Lourdes I said hola!

The staff of GO anonymously samples meals for about $7.


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