Bocas Grill & Bar

Written by Scott Joseph on .

Bocas ext

I clearly ordered poorly at Bocas Grill & Bar, a South American eatery out of South Florida that recently opened a location in South Orlando. (Restaurant Row, actually, but we were on a roll with the southern thing.)

In my defense, the menu is really elaborate, with 12 pages. There are breakfast items, rice dishes, noodles, arepas, tostones, burgers, steaks and seafood. I don’t know what made me choose the Pabellón Criollo Venezolano, but I did. It was essentially Ropa Vieja with a Venezuelan accent. It featured a crock of shredded meat next to a crock of black beans, a mound of white rice and sweet plantains that for some reason were topped with cheese.

It was OK.

Naguará K'arepas

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Naguara arepa

Are you an arepas fan? If so, you're going to want to get over to the intersection of Curry Ford Road and Chickasaw Trail and try Naguará K'arepas.

If you're not an arepas fan, you should also go here; you'll soon be a fan.

If you're not sure whether you're a fan or not, it might be that you just aren't familiar with them. Arepas are essentially little round corn cakes made with masarepa, a ground cornmeal. Think of a fatter type of tortilla or a South American version of a pita.

Laurel Latin Cuisine

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Laurel cuban interior

There's something about the name Laurel Latin Cuisine that I find quite forgettable. And that's not good for a restaurant that's hidden off the main thoroughfare, tucked in the back of a building on Park Avenue. So when I arranged to meet a friend for lunch in Winter Park, I said, "Let's go to that new restaurant."

"Fine," she said, "what's the name?"

"I can't remember," I responded, "but it's where Paris-Bistro used to be."

"Paris Bistro is gone?" She was shocked, even though she works just a few blocks away. That might help to explain why Paris-Bistro is gone.

"Only since April," I told her.

We met at the designated time at whatsitsname.

Now that I've eaten there, I think I'll have an easier time remember Laurel Latin Cuisine.

Brooklyn Coffee Shop

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Brooklyn Coffee sandwich lede

For a place called Brooklyn Coffee Shop, there is quite an extensive food menu at this new Mills 50 spot.

Also, for a place named after a New York borough, there's a lot of South American influences. Seattle, too. Also Miami.

But that's all explained, at least partially, on the business's website. Owners Daniel and Patricia Carvalho lived in Seattle and New York but moved to Brazil, where, in 2010, they opened the first Brooklyn Coffee Shop as a paean to Seattle's favorite liquid and Brooklyn's neighborhood bistros. That location in Curitiba and a second one there continue, though its Facebook page makes a lot of references to Orlando.

The Orlando BCS takes the space most recently occupied by Restaurant Ash, which was also the original Funky Monkey Wine Co. So there's a kitchen to be put to use.

Marita's Fresh Latin Bites

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Maritas logo

I came across a little slip of a place on the east side of town that you might want to try the next time you’re peckish for some tacos or such.

Marita’s Fresh Latin Bites opened in November in a small storefront in a strip mall on Colonial Drive. There’s a counter for ordering your food and a couple of stools at the counter and two steps behind that at the window — think the original Black Bean Deli as far as size goes.

Meson Sandwiches

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Meson exterior

There is a reason there’s usually a long line at the Meson Sandwiches at Florida Mall and in Kissimmee. I mean besides the fact that it serves some pretty tasty sandwiches.

It’s because a lot of the people waiting to order already know Meson. Even though it is relatively new to that area and there are only two locations here — with three more coming soon — many know the brand from Puerto Rico, where there are 37 locations around the island.

 It was founded by Felipe Pérez Sr. and is now run by his son, whose name is Felipe Pérez Grajales. He spoke with me recently from his office in Mayaguez, P.R.

Pérez Grajales told me that the Meson Sandwiches stores that the company is opening in Central Florida — the first ones on the mainland — are exactly the same as the ones in Puerto Rico. That includes the menu, which has quite an extensive array of sandwiches, some with rather curious names.

Meson all pro

Take the All Pro, which was one of the sandwiches I sampled when I was invited to visit the newest restaurant in Kissimmee. It features Virginia ham and pastrami with sautéed onions and melted swiss cheese on criollo bread, pressed in the fashion of other Caribbean style sandwiches.

It was a delicious sandwich, the best of what I sampled. There was something quite familiar about it to me, even though I’ve not been to a Meson in Puerto Rico.

Itar Bistro Market

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Itar interior

Although the name sounds like it might be the name of a far off land, Itar is actually a portmanteaux of Italy and Argentina, the two cuisines represented on the menu. It also sounds a little like Ishtar, the infamous movie that starred Dustin Hoffman and Warren Beatty. But that was a bomb; Itar is a hit.

I first told you that Itar Bistro Market was being planned for a space in Metro West’s Veranda Park almost exactly two years ago, in July of 12014. But it didn’t actually open until August of last year.

Itar is the project of Mariana Moya, a graduate of Le Cordon Bleu who serves as the chef. Quite ably, I might add. Everything that my companion and I sampled on a recent visit was top notch, both in quality of ingredients and their preparation.

Fusion Cafe

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 Fusion Cafe interior

The former Winn-Dixie supermarket at the corner of Bumby Avenue and Colonial Drive is transitioning to a multi-ethnic market. Right next door to that building, at the beginning of the strip of businesses that includes Lam’s Chinese, a restaurant that has been around for a mind-scratchingly long time, is a small cafe that has held numerous occupants, most of them Italian and pizza centric. Petey’s, I believe, was the most recent.

Now it has done a little bit of transitioning itself and is now called Fusion Cafe, offering both Italian and Latin American cuisine.

We’ve been over this before, but let’s review. A restaurant is not fusion simply because it offers two or more cuisines or styles under one roof. A menu that has basic Italian dishes on one side and traditional Latin foods on the other, as is the case here, is not fusion. True fusion might offer, for example, a calzone stuffed with, say, ropa vieja. (My guess is that a Latin menu was the real goal, but the space came with a pizza oven, so... Just a theory.)

So despite its name, Fusion Cafe is not a fusion cafe.

Mango's Tropical Cafe

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Mangos Orlando

Mango’s Tropical Cafe, the massive entertainment complex imported from the foreign country known as South Beach, has opened near the corner of Sand Lake Road and International Drive in the kingdom of Tourist World.

Everything about this place is big. If you’re familiar with the original Mango’s in Miami Beach, know that this one is about two and a half times larger. And it’s not just the space of the two-story building that’s outsized. So is the stage with twin stairways for performers to make lavish entrances. So are the headdresses that dancers wear during show numbers.

So is the list of tropical drinks that constitutes the first six pages of the menu. There is a food menu after the drinks, but, trust me, no one is going to come here for the food. Not, at least, if what I sampled at a media preview in December is any indication. There are sandwiches, burgers, pizzas and even some items that fit the Caribbean and Latin American theme, but the quality was such that it made the food at Disney Spring’s Bongos look good.

Guavate

Written by Scott Joseph on .

Guavate Exterior

Guavate, a Puerto Rican restaurant, apparently has been around for several years but has somehow escaped my notice. I’m sure some of that has to do with its location, which is eastern Orlando. Actually, if you use Semoran Boulevard and the East-West Expressway as bisecting lines, Guavate is in the southeastern quadrant, which makes it a bit more off of my radar. I understand that there is such a place as Avalon Park in that vicinity.

But Guavate is well before that mythical land. And I ended my ignorance of the little eatery with a blissful little lunch recently.

One of the servers greeted me warmly when I walked in and didn’t protest when I insisted on choosing my own table. She kept her good humor as I quizzed her about the menu and asked for recommendations.