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Chinchorreo Fuera de la Isla offers quality island eats in its new brick and mortar spot 

click to enlarge Enjoy island-style surf, turf and plantains aplenty. - GRIFFIN SWARTZELL
  • Griffin Swartzell
  • Enjoy island-style surf, turf and plantains aplenty.

The only sign that the former Halla San Korean BBQ spot isn't abandoned is an easy-to-miss Puerto Rican flag in one of the porthole windows looking out on Academy. Bernice Pierson has been trying to get the derelict exterior renovated since October 2016, but crazy Colorado weather breeds delays. She owns the restaurant that now resides there, Chinchorreo Fuera de la Isla. Whatever's going on outside, things are much nicer inside, both in terms of decor and food.

The name comes from the practice of hanging out at a tucked-away chinchorro, something between a club, corner bar and food truck gathering. To chinchorreo is to meet with friends at such a place, knock back some drinks, eat street food and dance. Chinchorreo Fuera de la Isla translates directly to chinchorreo outside the island, which says all that needs to be said (though their liquor license is still in the works).

Pierson and chef Francisco Beauchamp started Chinchorreo back in 2014, selling made-to-order sofrito, a veggie and herb blend anchored to ajíes dulces sweet peppers and recao, also called Mexican coriander or culantro, as well as garlic and onion. The biz grew into a food truck in early 2016, eventually landing in its current brick-and-mortar spot in time to open in early February of 2017.

"We don't have anything like this for people from the Caribbean..." says Pierson, thinking not only of fellow Puerto Ricans but of Haitian and Dominican locals as well. "We have Mexican [food], but we have nothing tropical."

While the Jamaican and Cuban options around town definitely count as Caribbean, Puerto Rican food is unique, defined by, among other things, pervasive sofrito and plantains. The latter gets used in three Chinchorreo sides — tostones, maduros and mofongo. Order tostones for something crisp and starchy, maduros for something sweet and tender, or mofongo for something filling and uniquely Puerto Rican. Mofongo, fried green plantains mixed with garlic and pork chicharron, will fill up any diner easily. For the plantain-averse, beans and rice come with plenty of garlicky, rich flavor. Instead of chips and salsa, tables also get a bowl of sturdier taro chips and a sauce that lands somewhere between thousand island and Big Mac secret sauce.

Moving to the main menu, our stand-out favorite over two visits is the churrasco, a length of skirt steak that spends 24 hours in chef Beauchamp's secret marinade before hitting the grill. My perfect-medium steak melts in my mouth, with please-add-this-to-everything mojito sauce (cilantro, garlic, sea salt and olive oil) only increasing the pleasure. At $17, it's a steal. While a sizzling skillet of weekly special ribs bear a killer fruity glaze — guava and Captain Morgan rum — the meat's a little dry.

For more plantain, try a canoa — a sweet, ripe plantain "canoe" split and filled with seasoned ground beef, then topped with cheese. There's a fun sweet and savory interplay going on. Enjoy also the camarones al ajillo. Tender shrimp land in a pleasantly garlicky sauce, an accessible menu option for the culture-shocked.

It's worth noting that we had a few service hiccups on our second visit, including our meal briefly going to a different table, to say nothing of menu and point of sale issues. Usually, these things would be sorted before opening day. But usually, a spot with this many service and decor issues wouldn't be dishing out food this wicked good.

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