El Bohio Delivers Authentic Puerto Rican Fare

click to enlarge Clockwise L-R: Mofongo con carne frita, rellenos de papa, Cuban sandiwch
Clockwise L-R: Mofongo con carne frita, rellenos de papa, Cuban sandiwch

Inside El Bohio, a tiny Puerto Rican restaurant not half a mile north on Harry Wurzbach from Fort Sam, the warm smell of fried pork and salty rice hangs like sunlight in the air. Split like a horseshoe, the aroma fills the restaurant, wafting outward from the buffet table through the diner’s tendrils to the tables. The source of the smell, steaming in gleaming hotel pans, are dishes like saffron arroz con gandulez, onyx pearls of frijoles negros, ropes of glistening pernil, and the soft caramel coins of plátanos maduros. For $7.99 with a drink, the buffet makes a strong case for itself.

Still, ordering a la carte does have its advantages. Entire swaths of the menu are absent from the buffet, and after watching your mofongo con carne frita ($12.99) crumble apart at the mere mention of a fork, you might find that the all-you-can-eat siren song is a lot less enticing than the upturned mound of mashed, fried plantains. The traditional Puerto Rican dish, steeped in a garlic sauce, disintegrates like refrigerated turkey stuffing. Soft, pungent, and riddled with crisp bits of pork, it is nearly a dish all on its own. More remarkably, the mofongo manages to outshine a plate of equally appetizing counterparts, such as the chewy, taut bites of carne frita, white rice, and soft, unctuous black beans. Lightly grilled onions add crunch to the chewing gum pork, and a side salad and scatter of dry tostones make the meal easily fit for two.

My dining companion, less interested in embracing the spice and reverie of the intensely flavored food, opted instead for a smaller step beyond his comfort zone, ordering El Bohio’s take on the Cuban, one of several sandwich offerings on the menu. Pressed in a plancha, slathered with yellow mustard, and shingled with dill pickles, two slices of crusty Cuban bread sandwich glazed ham, roast pork, and Swiss cheese into a biting, acidic mouthful. Served again with tostones, the platter is a symphony in aridity, though if you are in the mood for it, nothing satisfies your salt tooth like the mustard-times-pickle combo of a good Cuban.

Though understaffed, the waiter and waitress work in a flurry with a smile. Choose the buffet and you can eat and pay in 10 minutes; if you order from the menu, you should expect to wait 20 minutes. Either way, it will be worth it.

1127 Harry Wurzbach Road, (210) 822-8075.