Monday, July 21, 2008

Porto's Wannabe? Merengue in Monrovia

Sorry, no wine-related post today. It's break day. But it's food-related, the next best thing!

I recently found a thread in Chowhound about a new restaurant called Merengue that had a Porto's-like menu. For those of you outside of Southern California, Porto's is a famous bakery and cafe in Glendale (with a more recently-opened branch in Burbank) that has many Cuban-type items on its menu. It's perpetually crowded and finding parking and seating can be a big pain.

I told my wife about Merengue and since she works only a couple of blocks from it, she tried it during the past week and told me it was good. So off we went on Saturday to have lunch over there.

On top you see the exterior. There's a small patio area and a larger area indoors. You order at the counter and take whatever is already prepared, or if it has to be made then someone brings it to your table.

Here's a shot of the interior. I forgot I had my camera set to prevent flashes, so it didn't come out very bright, although the inside has plenty of light and has a nice, open look and feel. Previously the spot was occupied by a cajun restaurant that was much darker and dreary inside. It's been brightened up considerably.

Here is a picture of the menu. If you click on the picture you will get a larger version that is easier to read.

Or if you are too lazy to click, here's the left, center and right menus more close-up.

As you can see, there is a nice variety of food and the prices are very reasonable. Unfortunately not everything on the menu is available yet. They also had some delicious-looking cakes and pastries in the case but as my flash was not working, the pictures came out too dark and I didn't want to publish them because it wouldn't do the food justice to look that dark.

Getting to our lunch, we didn't order much but it was nevertheless filling. First, potato balls. Now when anyone mentions "potato balls," immediately I think of Porto's. These were very good. The outside had a good crunch to it that contrasted nicely with the creamy mashed potatoes inside. In the very core was a portion of seasoned ground beef. It was just like Porto's version. If I had the two side by side maybe I could tell the difference in taste, but to me they are similar, which is to say very, very good. In fact I think I would give the nod to Merengue's as far as the texture of the outside crunch and the mashed potatoes. And the price? Only 99 cents!

Next was the Pastele de Carne, puff pastry filled with seasoned ground beef. The pastry was nice and flaky, and it was a tasty dish on the mild side. For only 90 cents each, this was another bargain.

The most expensive item we ordered is shown below: a chicken empanada. Again, this was a tasty little finger food and only $1.25.

And there you have it. It doesn't look like much - I had one of each of the items above and honestly, that was enough food. But then we split another potato ball, not because we were still hungry but because it was good so we wanted another one. The total bill for two of us was ridiculously cheap, and you can do the math since I listed the prices above.

We certainly plan on going back to try other things. The Cuban sandwiches sound mouthwatering and the ones we saw people eating looked very good. The service is a bit slow and disorganized but the staff is nice so that makes up for it while they get adjusted.

I overheard who I think was the owner talking with a couple of patrons and he was enthusiastically telling them how they use only the best ingredients, and how his cooks keep coming up with ideas for new things so he is going to continue adding stuff to the menu. It was obvious that he took a lot of pride in this new place and it shows.

Is Merengue a Porto's wannabe? It's wares are similar to Porto's, but it is its own place. The food is at least as good, and I'm happy because it is a much shorter drive and its less crowded and hectic (at least for now, anyway; there were still a good number of people there).
Merengue Bakery and Cafe
110 East Colorado Blvd.
Monrovia, CA

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