Nothing says Puerto Rico like the Los Angeles Lakers. Okay, I can’t back that up with facts. It’s just a feeling. Okay, that also doesn’t match up; just checked in with my feelings. What I can say is friend Mark was in town and we ate some Puerto Rican food and then went to a Laker game. If it doesn’t match, I suppose it’s a little like us. From 7th to 12th grade (Form I through VI if we’re being precise ) we attended Poly Prep together. We rode the same bus to and from school every day. Always cordial, never close. On opposite sides of the country, twenty plus years since the last time we saw each other at graduation, we connected again. Now we are breaking bread and attending sporting events together. We even have an honest, thoughtful conversation about politics, despite Mark leaning right and I left. Scandalous I know! Don’t tell our respective parties cause in 2019 that’s a stoning offense for conspiring with the enemy. But the odd pair we are doesn’t seem so odd when we hang out. Like Puerto Rican food and Lakers basketball. See, I made it work.
Mark texted a few weeks ago asking if I ever considered blogging about Caribbean food, specifically Puerto Rican or Dominican. These cuisines are particularly close to his heart. The Puerto Rican and Dominican communities and hence food, are very present in New York City. That has not been my experience in Los Angeles. Are there such restaurants here in La-La Land? Mark was prepared and even sent me links to websites. It just so happens the only Puerto Rican restaurant in Los Angeles (at least, only one that comes up on Yelp besides food trucks) is in my neighborhood. Funny that. I had a plan two weeks ago to check out Mofongos but work ran long that day and I punted. Sometimes things work out for best. US and Puerto Rican flags flap in the breeze above the entrance on a perfect Spring day as I walk into Mofongos, and see my smiling friend rising to greet me.
Mofongos certainly feels authentic. Caribbean music plays as a lazy fan turns above our heads. The room is painted a pale orange as if faded over time by the sun. Masks hang on the wall and a map of Puerto Rico adorns the top of our table. I would say it looks a bit rundown but instead words like authentic, genuine and homey spring to mind. And who cares what it looks like, it smells divine. When do we eat? Mark makes some suggestions and I find I can’t resist the specialty of the house. I order Pork Shoulder Mofongo choosing the pork cracklings over chicken when offered, cause it’s the other white meat kinda day. Mofongo is a traditional Puerto Rican dish, where plantains are fried and mashed with garlic, salt and who knows what else, served with a protein and in broth. Here at North Hollywood Mofongos, the plantains are shaped into a volcano of sorts, with my pork erupting out. To say it’s tasty is an understatement. My mouth is watering from the memory as I type. I also try the Morir Soñando which is Orange Juice with evaporated milk. It tastes like drinking a lite orange Sherbert. It’s a meal for the soul.
The conversation is as heartfelt as the food. Mark and I cycle through a number of topics. We discuss life in our forties; how we’re holding up and how we’re not. We talk about our shared experience working multiple jobs with a midlife shift in career focus, a few words about some old High School classmates, we touch on dating and food and families and religion. Our server Angel even joins in the conversation for a stretch. He tells us people from all over Los Angeles make the pilgrimage to Mofongos for a taste of home. Since this is Los Angeles, Angel is here attending New York Film Academy studying to become an actor. Born in Puerto Rico, he also reveals he happened to be home for Hurricane Maria. As he describes the manner in which the tragedy has crystalized the importance of family for him, I can’t help getting lost in the ugly scope of it. Nearly 3,000 dead still without adequate disaster relief or clean drinking water. I hate this all too familiar feeling of impotence against suffering and injustice. Thankfully Angel’s smile is contagious, the company sound and the Pork Shoulder a savory delight. I get to slip back into the privilege of not thinking about it.
Happy and full Mark and I hop into a LYFT to the Staples Center. It’s a world-class auditorium. Sadly this game is not the playoff push we hoped to see when we purchased tickets back in January. The Lakers are running their offense through JaVale McGee tonight. But there is no shortage of flashing purple lights, “ooohs” and “aaahhs”, Laker Girls, swishes, and all fashion of entertainment. Mark and I talk a lot of sports. This too is good for my soul. The Lakers pull out a victory. Kentavious Caldwell-Pope is the leading scorer. I just included that fact cause I love his name. Mark and I stroll a little ways away from the stadium continuing our relaxed chatter before calling our respective rides home. The night air is perfectly cool. Spring is here and tonight everything feels about rebirth.