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Azuquita pa’l Café: Chago’s Offers Authentic Home-Style Boricua Food and Hospitality

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From Viejo San Juan to Ponce, Chago’s Caribbean Cuisine showcases a tantalizing selection of Puerto Rican family recipes.

Photos and text by Andy East

Even though Chago’s Caribbean Cuisine has been open for only a couple of years, its inception is a story more than 20 years in the making.

Solemar Sarmiento de Aponte of Venezuela, and Santiago “Chago” Aponte Colón of Puerto Rico originally met in Austin in the 1980s while dancing salsa.

“We had that in common.” Sarmiento says. “Salsa, boxing and baseball.”

Sarmiento, who grew up in a working-class neighborhood in West Caracas, Venezuela, came to Austin to learn English, but ended up tying the knot and moving to San Juan, Puerto Rico with Chago, taking a job as a television producer while her husband began to learn the ins and outs of the restaurant business.

“I immediately fell in love with Puerto Rican food,” admits Sarmiento. “We were there 11 years.”

After being away for more than a decade, they returned to Austin, and Chago began to toy with the idea of opening a restaurant. But not until their children left for college did his idea finally came to fruition.

It didn’t take long for Chago’s to catch on. Last year, Chago’s was highlighted as the Austin Chronicle Restaurant Poll Critic’s Pick for his Cuban sandwich.

A lot of Chago’s patrons, some of whom make the trek from San Antonio, Dallas and Houston, are Puerto Ricans in search of something that resembles their mother’s or grandmother’s home-cooked meals.

“It gives me great satisfaction when someone says that it’s just like their mother’s or grandmother’s cooking,” says Chago, who takes great pride in showcasing his family’s recipes. “They frequently say it takes them back.”

“We’re very proud of what we’ve done,” Sarmiento adds. “We also get a lot of couples who are about to get married and honeymoon in Puerto Rico who come to practice Spanish and learn about the culture. Then they come back and they say our food was better than what they ate there.”

Some of the chef’s specialties include mofongo, which is an African word that loosely translates to “smashed plantain.” It consists of fried and refried green plantain combined with chicken or other toppings, as well as some of Chago’s delectable tropical sauces.

Chago’s also boasts one of the best sancocho soups around, with hearty portions of beef, chicken, pork, plantain, malanga, corn and ñame. Also, be sure to try El Jibarito Sampler, which is made up of myriad mouthwatering Puerto Rican delicacies.

Don’t miss the chance to treat yourself to the most authentic Puerto Rican food this side of the Commonwealth.

Chago’s Caribbean Cuisine is located at 7301 N. Lamar. Visit chagos.biz for more information.

Add some Puerto Rican pizzazz to your Español with these Puerto Rican expressions:

  • Estar por la maseta: to be cool
  • Vestido de novia: literally translates to “a wedding dress,” but can refer to a beer wrapped with a napkin, mimicking a wedding dress
  • Afuego: the best, awesome
  • Boricua: one who was born in Puerto Rico

Pictured Above (from top to bottom):

Chago’s award-winning Cuban sandwich

El Jibarito Sampler which contains plantain tostones, rosada Sauce, alcapurria, yuca balls, sorullos, pastelito de carne, cilantro aioli sauce and mojito isleño sauce

Malta India, a Puerto Rican non-alcoholic malt beverage

Fried Chicken Mofongo

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