Plantains are a magnificent starch that are central to the cooking of a number of cuisines, from West and Central Africa to Southeast Asia to Central America, and beyond. Boston is teeming with restaurants offering them in various forms, from the Colombian restaurants in East Boston to the Haitian restaurants in Hyde Park and Mattapan to the Dominican restaurants in Dorchester, Jamaica Plain, and Roxbury. If it’s plantains you’re after, you could do worse than Boston.
Plantains are tremendously versatile, and can feature as a side or as the star of the show. The peel of the fruit transforms from green to yellow to black over time as they ripen. During the earlier green stage, plantains are best used in more savory applications like tostones, whereby they are cut into small circles, deep fried, and sprinkled with salt. As they ripen, plantains get sweeter, better for dishes like platanos maduros or pengat pisang (see below).
Some plantain dishes to keep a look out for include: platanos maduros (sweet plantains); patacones, tostones, platanos fritos, or bannann peze (different versions of fried — and more savory — plantains); and other dishes like mofongo (fried then mashed plantains, popular in Puerto Rico and beyond), and pengat pisang (sweet fried plantains with coconut milk from Malaysia).
Without further ado, here are six restaurants in the Boston area to try plantains in their many forms.
378 Centre St, Jamaica Plain, MA 02130
In Jamaica Plain and beyond, Pikalo is well-loved for its wide array of empanadas, but its patacones sandwiches are also compulsory. The bun is made with pieces of flattened and twice-fried plantains, and there are a few choices for fillings, including the kikiriki, which is served with a mountain of juicy, shredded chicken topped with cheese, mayo, ketchup, tomatoes, and pickles. It’s miraculous.
Nôs Casa Café
475 Dudley St, Roxbury, MA 02119
Owners Ana Maria and Joshua Fidalgo are making excellent Cape Verdean food at Nôs Casa Café. From fried red snapper to stewed chicken to grilled steak, there’s much to choose from and pair with fried plantains. Nôs Casa uses ripe plantains that are mellow, sweet, soft, and slightly caramelized to make this dish.
Highland Creole Cuisine
2 Highland Ave, Somerville, MA 02143
Most of the main dishes at Highland Creole Cuisine are served with plantains, and diners can also order them in fried form (known as banan peze in Haiti) as a side dish. To make banan peze, Haitian cooks first fry plantains, then flatten them before adding salt and vinegar and frying them again. Cooked in this manner, the plantains have a crunchy exterior, supple and starchy interior, and a pleasantly salty taste.
54 Bennington St, East Boston, MA 02128
This East Boston favorite offers both sweet and savory plantains. For sweet plantains, try El Peñol’s arroz con pollo (rice with chicken) served with platanos maduros, which are fried simply in oil. For savory plantains, try its cazuela de mariscos (seafood stew made with coconut milk), which is served with crispy tostones — unripe plantains that are fried, smashed, and fried again, and which provide the perfect dipping opportunity for your seafood stew.
El Peñol is open for takeout.
Taqueria El Carrizal
254 Brighton Ave, Allston, MA 02134
Taqueria El Carrizal specializes in Mexican, Guatemalan, and Salvadoran cuisine. For dessert, you’ll find classics like flan and tres leches cake. You’ll also find empanadas de platanos, a Salvadoran dish featuring plantains that have been cooked until soft and made into dough, which is then stuffed with a custard-like filling and fried.
Taqueria El Carrizal is open for takeout and indoor dining.
El Oriental De Cuba
416 Centre St, Jamaica Plain, MA 02130
With plantain omelettes, plantain fritters, sweet plantains, savory plantains, and more, this Jamaica Plain spot will certainly satisfy your plantain needs. Try the shrimp in garlic sauce with mofongo. Mofongo is made with unripe plantains, which are fried and mashed with garlicky oil and pork rinds. It is perfect.
El Oriental De Cuba is open for takeout and delivery.