In Dining

Need to run away from the winter gray? La Caribena has you covered.

Make a tasty Caribbean escape during the Wisconsin winter at La Caribena

La Caribeña is an escape to a Caribbean paradise, especially in this dark and cold Wisconsin winter.

I first ventured there years ago, having just moved back from Florida. I missed Cuban, Puerto Rican and Dominican food terribly. La comida criolla, as the cuisine is called, is a culinary fusion of African, Indigenous and Spanish cooking techniques, seasonings and foods. Now, La Caribeña – found at 1704 S. Pearl St. – has become a favorite outing for my daughter and me, as well as a place for her to connect to her Dominican roots.

My daughter loves the $5 kids menu where she orders arroz con gandules y carne – rice with pigeon peas and a choice of meat that tastes like her abuela made it. "I like the restaurant because it has lots of fish. I can speak Spanish, and it has good food from my daddy's country," she tells me – so it has to be pretty decent if it is 7-year-old approved.

My preferred dish is simple: la bandera, a typical plate in many Latin Caribbean households. La bandera consists of white rice, stewed pink beans with potatoes, salad and a selection of meat to choose from, such as pollo frito ("fried chicken") or bistec encebollado (steak with onions). The traditional plate is not complete without a side of tostones, which are twice-fried plantains that come with a ketchup and mayo dipping sauce.

I also recommend the mangu especial, or as it's known in the Dominican Republic, mangu con los tres golpes – or the three hits. Mangu is boiled and mashed plantains that are served with red onions, fried cheese, eggs and Dominican salami. While it is considered "breakfast," los tres golpes is a win any time of the day.

The restaurant gives off a jovial vibe with its vibrant colors and the mix of salsa, merengue and bachata music playing through the sound system. The atmosphere is kid-friendly with spacious booths and an aquarium full of colorful fish. Plus, you can enjoy generous portions at a great price as most plates begin at $8.50 with specialty plates up to $19.95. There is also a full bar.

So eat. Drink. Dance in your seats. Sing along with bachata legend Antony Santos or salsa great Hector LaVoe. And have an amazing trip to the Caribbean – at least while you dine in.


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