- 5443 E. 22nd St., Tucson, AZ, 85711
- Overall User Rating:
- (1 rating)
- Tue.-Sat. 7:30 a.m.-9 p.m. and Sun. 11 a.m.-9 p.m.
What we ordered: one tilapia plate ($9.95) with rice and pigeon peas and one roast pork pernil plate ($9.95) with boiled yucca for a total of $19.90, just short of our Cheap Eats goal of $20 for two people.
Comments: For a place named after a type of tree frog, El Coqui is surprisingly Mediterranean. The new Puerto Rican restaurant on 22nd Street technically serves Latin American food, but it’s quite different from what you might expect.
Upon sitting down, there are no complimentary chips and salsa but instead a basket of baguette slices smeared with olive oil. The meats arrive grilled and topped with sauces of garlic and olive oil or tomatoes and grilled onions. You can order a side of fried plantains, or a side of French fries.
The cuisine of Puerto Rico, like its people’s history, is very diverse. The island has been inhabited by groups such as the Amerindians, Spanish, African slaves and more recently the Americans—and the menu here reflects many of these influences.
Food: For the most part, the menu at El Coqui is mix and match, featuring several plates of meat that can be paired with the sauce and side dish of your choice. It felt like a nice day for fish, so I tried the grilled tilapia topped with the “isleño” sauce of tomatoes, green olives and grilled onions. For less than $10, they gave a pretty generous portion of the tilapia, which was grilled perfectly. The only problem was that by the time it arrived it was barely warmer than room temperature. Eating cold fish is one thing, but this tasted like it sat in the kitchen slide for too long.
The sauce, on the other hand, was sumptuous, with the slithery slabs of onions providing some nice texture. The rice, which came out shaped in a dome, was packed with dices of ham and pigeon peas (which are actually beans). The dish was darker and heartier than Mexican rice, reminding me more of African food.
My lunch partner ordered the roast pork, which came out thinly sliced and rubbed with pepper. I only had a couple bites, but I thought it was cooked fairly well. He, on the other hand, thought it was a tad dry. For his side, he picked the yucca, which had been boiled and topped with the “al ajillo” sauce of garlic, onions and olive oil. The soft, starchy taste of the yucca was heavenly at first, but over time started to become strange and unnatural. The only thing I could surmise was that it had been boiled for too long and would have tasted better if it had been fried at some point.
Service: Very friendly, explanatory table service.
Bar: They have a full bar, with Tuesday specials on martinis, Wednesday specials on margaritas and Sunday specials on red and white sangria.
Bottom line: Neither of the dishes were slam dunks, but I have a feeling I wasn’t savvy enough when ordering. I’ll definitely be back to try to the mofongo, a patty of pork rinds and fried plantains. They have dumplings too…