It's funny how one thing can lead to another. Awhile back, I drove out to Chelton and Academy to eat Filipino food and found a Puerto Rican place I had never heard of, right next door. It's not so funny that it took me more than six months to make it back to We Like It Hot!, but I'm glad that I finally found the time to do so.
Owned and operated by Doa Mimi and her family, We Like It Hot! offers a bounty of Puerto Rican and Caribbean favorites. This is homemade food in a homey atmosphere. Lace and plastic adorn the tables, and colorful walls sport hanging hammocks. The bright and lively dining rooms are abuzz with chatter in both English and Spanish.
Puerto Rico's cuisine reflects its complicated past, combining elements of indigenous, Spanish and African food culture. Implements like the mortar and pestle, techniques such as slow roasting, and the staple starch of yuca, or cassava root, are the legacy of the Taino Indians. Spaniards introduced olives and garlic, and African slaves' plantains and penchant for frying foods made lasting contributions to local eating. Today, most of these elements work together, in greater harmony than the people ever did, to create fun and flavorful dishes.
Plantains, bigger and starchier than ordinary bananas, are a staple in the Caribbean diet and appear frequently at We Like It Hot! If you won't be getting them as a side dish, you can start with either of the two classic preparations, tostones and maduros.
When plantains are young, green and hard, Doa Mimi makes tostones -- round slices that are fried, smashed into a thick chip by a special press, then fried again until crispy. These tasty treats get salt and garlic sauce for extra flavor.
As plantains age, they turn brown, soften and become full of natural sugars. Once a plantain is nearly black and quite soft, you can make maduros, the sweet counterpart to the salty tostone. In this case, Doa Mimi cuts the plantains into smaller pieces and sauts them slowly, allowing the sugars to caramelize and producing a dessert-like item that can't be beat.
Fritters and croquettes are other Caribbean favorites. These fried items usually combine meat with tuber starches and serve as snacks or appetizers. We Like It Hot! offers delicious alcapurrias, or Caribbean beef fritters. These consist of green plantains, malanga, yuca, potatoes and beef. After mashing and mixing, Doa Mimi rolls the three starches around sauted beef to form a fritter into a shape roughly the size of a small potato and fries them until they are golden brown. They arrive two to a plate, crispy on the outside, savory in the middle, and downright tasty from start to finish.
One of the region's most traditional foods, slow-roasted pork, ascends to stardom at We Like It Hot! Although you can get it as an entree, Pernil Asado Tierno, it works even better as part of the Cuban sandwich. Traditionally, a slice of ham, a few shavings of pork, plus pickles and cheese are pressed and griddled on a long skinny roll. But the cubano undergoes a noteworthy makeover in Doa Mimi's capable hands. Bolstered by massive chunks of the roast pork, this cubano becomes square and stout: three inches tall after being pressed into eight square inches of honey French bread. The soft, juicy pork plays perfectly with the salty ham and the crispy bread. In my experience, the cubano at We Like It Hot! is not only the biggest, but also the best sandwich in Colorado Springs.
If a restaurant calls itself We Like it Hot!, take it seriously. It's not just a preference for Puerto Rico's tropical climate; it's a claim to how they like to eat their food -- warm from the stove and lively on the tongue. House-made hot sauce awaits at every table, a pungent mojo accompanies most appetizers, and the Camarones a la Diabla are absolutely on fire. Bathed in an intensely red sauce perfumed with tomatoes and roasted onions, the shrimp start sweet and finish spicy -- I mean sweaty forehead, burning lips, spicy.
All entrees come with your choice of white or yellow rice and your choice of pigeon peas, Cuban black beans, or pinto beans. While none of these stands out as the clear favorite, each carries the flavor and spirit of Caribbean home cooking.
Just because the weather is changing doesn't mean you have to give up on the heat. We Like It Hot! will warm your heart with its home-style charm and set your mouth ablaze with its fiery foods. On Saturdays, the restaurant also turns out Puerto Rico's most famous dish, mofongo, which is a mash of plantains and your choice of filling. You'll find me there all winter long, warming my belly with a monstrous Cuban sandwich whenever I get the chance.
-- David Torres-Rouff
We Like It Hot!
1853 S. Academy Blvd. (at Chelton)
Open Tuesday Saturday, 11:30 a.m. to 8:30 p.m.