Overhead view of paper plate with pulled pork and yellow rice from Latin Taste

Latin Taste

Latin Taste occupies a corner space in the Berkshire Mall food court

In the last few years, all the news around the Berkshire Mall has been the negative – the closings of Sears and Bon-Ton at the top of the list.

But even with their loss, the Mall remains the largest shopping center in Berks County. And with the holidays approaching, the crowds have returned once again.

A look behind the counter at Latin Taste

We were among the crowds that headed to the mall on a Sunday afternoon in early December. We were there to shop, but we were also there to get a taste – at Latin Taste.

Latin Taste is one of seven options – the others are Chick Fil-A, China Max, Lola’s Ice, Ray’s #1 Pizza, Subway and Taco Casa – in the Berkshire Mall’s food court. It’s also the newest, having opened a little more than a year ago in November 2018 (Lola’s Ice having opened the month prior).

Latin Taste features warming tables for most of its foods

The stand features warming tables with most of the dishes ready-made for eating in or taking home. And before you scoff at the idea of someone going to the mall for take-out, consider that the Grub Hub delivery driver picked up a large order while we were there.

We looked at everything on display, but in the end both Julie and I went with our favorites: pollo al horno (baked chicken) for her, and pernil (Spanish pulled pork) for me.

Overhead view of paper plate with pulled pork and yellow rice from Latin Taste

This was a very good version of my favorite Latin American dish. The flavors from the seasoning and marinade were very strong and the fatty parts were melt-in-you-mouth.

A close-up picture of pulled pork and yellow rice from Latin Taste

One thing I have always found with pernil is that it is richer than an American barbecue pulled pork. This was no exception. As much as I enjoyed it, I had to leave a little on my plate because it was just too much for me.

Same with the rice. There was no skimping on the portions as half the plate was covered in the yellow rice. I liked it, just as I like almost all Spanish rice. It was just a lot.

A close-up of baked chicken with macaroni salad and yellow rice in the background, from Latin Taste

Julie’s baked chicken, like my pernil, was very well seasoned, with the flavors soaking through the skin into the meat. I’m not normally a fan of baked chicken, but I found this to be flavorful and anything but dry – always my biggest concern.

In addition to rice, Julie had a side of macaroni salad, which actually was a macaroni and tuna salad. It was creamy and very good. The tuna was just a little unexpected. (Even Jakob, our two-year-old, didn’t mind the tuna as he ate almost all of the salad that Julie shared with him).

A bowl of fried plantains from Latin Taste

Unable to resist, we had also ordered a side of sweet plantains. There were none ready on the warming table so this was one item that was made fresh for us. They were also very good, but you don’t have to do a whole lot to plantains (other than cook them) to make a delicious side.

Overall, we were more than satisfied with everything that we ordered. The price was right, too. Our bill was $25, but we had a coupon for $7 off a $25 order so we got everything for $18. (Next time you get the Valpak coupons in the mail, at least pull out the one for Latin Taste. It’s a great deal).

While the Berkshire Mall may not draw the crowds it did when it opened, and there are two very noticeable empty spaces, the mall still has a lot to offer. Especially if what you’re looking for is good Latin food.

BCE Rating
Food: Very Good
Service: Very Good
Ambiance: Good
Price: Reasonable

Latin Taste
Berkshire Mall
1665 State Hill Rd
Wyomissing, PA 19610

Caribbean & Latin American Lunch & Dinner
Mecca Caribbean and Soul Food

Mecca Caribbean and Soul Food

Mecca Caribbean and Soul Food

It was hard to ignore the signs. On seemingly every corner in West Reading and Wyomissing, signs proclaimed the arrival of Mecca Caribbean and Soul Food. Then the Instagram posts and stories started arriving, and it was even harder to ignore.

Mecca celebrated their grand opening in September 2018. That’s when the signs started appearing.

Mecca Caribbean and Soul Food

I’ve wanted to go ever since, but hadn’t had a chance until a recent Thursday night. On my way home from work, I took a detour through West Reading to the corner of Second and Franklin Streets to get a taste of Mecca.

The location is a little off the beaten path, a couple blocks off Penn Avenue. Like most of West Reading, finding a place to park can be a challenge. I got lucky and got the last spot on the block so I didn’t have to walk too far.

Mecca Caribbean and Soul Food

I walked in around 5 p.m. and was the only customer. I’m not going to lie: it was a little worrisome. But it actually worked out to my advantage because I was able to get great customer service and an explanation of all of the dishes that were on the warming table.

There were between a dozen and 15 items between the warming table and the heat lamp (where the fried chicken and other fried items were found) and most sounded like things that I would enjoy, but I had to narrow it down.

Mecca Caribbean and Soul Food

I ordered two Mecca meals, essentially they are sample platters where customers get their choice of main and sides to fill the large Styrofoam box. Dessert is also included in the meal.  (I also ordered a separate bowl of mac and cheese for my 15-month-old son).

The first box – mine – included ribs, rice and beans, collared greens and candied yams.

Mecca Caribbean and Soul Food

The ribs were more like riblets – small pieces that had a decent amount of meat on them. The sauce was super sweet, but I liked it. There was more fat on the ribs than I would have liked, but I enjoyed all of the meat that I ate off the bone.

The barbecue sauce from the ribs also made a great topping for the rice and beans. It was my server’s suggestion to drizzle some over the rice and beans. It was a great combination and I ended up pouring the rest of the sauce over them.

But the best thing on my plate was the candied yams – I believe the Instagram post that day called them butterscotch yams. They were more like a dessert than a side dish, the yams having been reduced into a sweet puree.

The only downer for me were the collard greens. They weren’t bad, but I have had better (Signatures by Angell comes to mind).

Mecca Caribbean and Soul Food

Julie’s box, which I picked out for her, included jerk chicken, mac and cheese, cilantro white rice and more of the yams.

The chicken was very good but definitely on the spicy side (as jerk chicken should be). The white rice was pretty good on its own, but I preferred the yellow rice from my dish.

Both Julie and Jakob enjoyed their mac and cheese – Jakob cleaned his plate while Julie saved a little of hers for later.

Mecca Caribbean and Soul Food Pumpkin Pie

Dessert was pumpkin pie. There were no options, but I wasn’t mad about it. I enjoy pumpkin pie, and this was a very good version of the southern staple. It was a sweet with a good amount of pumpkin spice and a nice crust. No complaints about the way the meal finished.

Honestly, I have no complaints about the meal at all. There were a couple truly great items and everything else was good enough. I thought my $30 was well-spent.

Mecca may be a little off the main drag, but it’s still a convenient place for a good grab-and-go meal, one that I will take advantage of again in the future.

BCE Rating
Food: Very Good
Service: Very Good
Ambiance: Good
Value: Reasonable

Mecca Caribbean and Soul Food
166 Franklin St
West Reading, PA 19611

Caribbean & Latin American Dessert Lunch & Dinner Reviews

Mi Casa Su Casa Cafe at the Shillington Farmers Market

Mi Casa Su Casa Cafe at the Shillington Farmers Market

Berks County is full of restaurant success stories. One of those stories is Mi Casa Su Casa Cafe, the downtown Reading restaurant that has been serving traditional Latin American cuisine for more than a decade.

We visited Mi Casa Su Casa’s Penn Street location for a review in 2015 and have enjoyed the cafe’s food many times since. When a second location opened in the Shillington Farmers Market in April, we were more than a little excited.

It’s not that we won’t go into the city, but the hours at the downtown cafe make it harder for me to get there (the cafe closes at 4 p.m. I get home at 6 during the week). But with the market open until 7 p.m. on Thursday and Friday, Mi Casa Su Casa just became a viable option for dinner.

And we took advantage of that recently with a Friday night visit to the market stand.

We arrived around 6:15 and had nearly the whole market to ourselves. The warming table at Mi Casa Su Casa was still well-stocked with entrees and sides.

It’s a simple menu  with four proteins (baked or stewed chicken, peppered steak and roast pork), eight sides (rice and peas, rice and beans, mac and cheese, mixed vegetables, sweet or fried plantains, yuca fries and potato salad), empanadas, sorullos and desserts.

I made a platter with peppered steak, rice and peas, and mixed vegetables.

The peppered steak, in my opinion, was the best thing that either of us tried. It looked like a hearty beef stew but with meat that pulled apart like pot roast. The beef was melt-in-your-mouth good in a gravy-like sauce. It was well-seasoned, slow cooked to perfection, and absolutely delicious. There was also one piece of potato. I’m sure other servings probably got more, but more meat is fine with me.

The rice and peas were fine. I always like rice and beans but wanted to give the peas a try and it was good, but nothing real special. The mixed vegetables were very good with lots of cauliflower, root vegetables and squash.

One thing to point out, and Julie agreed with this, is that the food could have been a little hotter. It wasn’t cold, but it had definitely cooled off on the warming table. Had it been made to order, it would have truly made the meal great.

Julie’s meal consisted of baked chicken, plantains, and a guava and cheese empanada.

She found the chicken to be very good. It was moist and coated in traditional Latin American seasonings to give it a salty and slightly spicy flavor.

The plantains were delicious as always. The empanada was a surprising hit. We’ve tried their savory empanadas before – the beef and chicken are both winners – but this was our first taste of a sweet empanada. Julie felt the best comparison was to a cheese Danish. I would tend to agree, but I think the fried dough made it feel less dessert-like, and more like a side or entree.

While there are three counter seats at the stand, we took our food to the small seating area at the other end of the market. Seating is at a premium at lunchtime, but at dinner, that wasn’t a problem.

With our two drinks, the total bill came to $32 (empanadas don’t count as a side when building a platter so Julie had to order it a la carte). The two platters, themselves, were $12 each which seemed like a very reasonable price for what was actually a lot of food.

Having another location for Mi Casa Su Casa is a great thing for Berks County and for the Shillington Farmers Market.

While we were there, Julie picked up a card for the Mi Cocina School, cooking classes that are held at the Penn Street location. I think the next time that I review Mi Casa Su Casa, it will be reviewing my own cooking.

BCE Rating
Food: Very Good
Service: Very Good
Ambiance: Good
Price: Reasonable

Mi Casa Su Casa Cafe
Shillington Farmers Market
10 S. Summit Ave
Shillington, PA 19607

Caribbean & Latin American Lunch & Dinner Reviews

El Morro Cafe


In February, Julie and I had our first chance to visit Reading’s Old San Juan Cafe for a taste of Puerto Rico.

We loved the simple little counter-service restaurant in the old Outlet District.

So when, just a few weeks later, it was announced that Old San Juan would be expanding into West Reading, we got more than a little excited.

On our walks through town, we kept tabs on the progress at the corner of Sixth and Reading Avenues until the grand opening celebration in mid-May.

Two months later, we made our first visit to the brand new El Morro Cafe.


The setup is much the same with entrees and sides sitting in warming dishes at the order counter. Steph, El Morro’s manager, was more than happy to help us overcome our ignorance of the options.

We felt bad as a small line formed behind us, but we made our decisions and grabbed one of the handful of tables in the “dining room” off to the left side of the restaurant.

Our meals were delivered to our seats, with the plates looking very much the same as they did at the city location. Mine featured a mountain of rice — we both ordered yellow instead of white this time — and a pile of fried pork (chicharon).


The tender meat was covered in a thick fried outer skin with excellent flavor and texture. Black beans were sprinkled in with the yellow rice, and while I enjoyed it, it was just too much for me to handle both the rice and the meat (and I wasn’t going to let any of the meat go to waste).

If I have one complaint, it’s that the plastic cutlery wasn’t strong enough to cut through the hard fried shell around the meat.

Julie enjoyed her stewed chicken from Old San Juan so much that she ordered the same thing at El Morro.


The dark meat chicken (her request), along with the chunks of potatoes and carrots, absorbed a lot of flavor from the broth. It’s hard to pick out the spice(s) that make it so good, but it is definitely worth a try.

Each meal also includes a choice of salad. And, just like in the city, I went with a boring side salad while Julie had an excellent potato salad. It still had the bell peppers mixed in, but wasn’t as creamy. Instead, it ate almost like a mashed potato.

What’s most amazing about El Morro is that even with two drinks, our total bill was less than $20. I can’t remember the last time we ate dinner for less than that outside of a quick-service restaurant.

Not only is El Morro Cafe a great extension of Old San Juan Cafe, it fills a much-needed niche for Puerto Rican food in Reading’s western suburbs.

The fact that we can walk to it from our house is just an added bonus.

BCE Rating
Food: Very Good
Service: Very Good
Ambiance: Fair
Price: Very Reasonable

El Morro Cafe
36 N. Sixth Ave
West Reading, PA 19611

El Morro Cafe Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Caribbean & Latin American Lunch & Dinner Reviews

Old San Juan Cafe


Reading is a constantly changing city.

Abandoned factories tell the story of the once-thriving industrial era. Bumpy crossings serve as reminders of the days when railroads were king. And we’re just a generation removed from when Reading was the outlet capital of the world.

The brand names are gone, but the Outlet District continues to evolve, with small independent stores and restaurants to cater to locals, not out-of-state bus trips.

And among the empty buildings are thriving businesses, like the Old San Juan Cafe.

Old San Juan Cafe is located along North Ninth Street in the heart of the Outlet District. There is no off-street parking for the Cafe, so we grabbed a space across the street under the shadow of one of the old outlet buildings. Signs for long-forgotten stores like the Designer Bags Outlet and Cape Craftsmen still adorn the abandoned building.

Another sign advertised, “TOP OF THE ROC, An American Dining House.”


Though the outlet is silent, the street still bustles with activity, highlighted by the seemingly endless stream of customers coming and going through Old San Juan.

Neither Julie nor I had any idea what to expect going into Old San Juan for the first time. The interior was bright, with simple, but beautiful murals covering the walls.


They depicted scenes from Puerto Rico — one side the vibrant beaches, the other a small hut in rural farmland.

In front of us was the order counter, where a steady line had developed and would remain throughout our dinner.


Steam plates behind the counter were filled with delicious looking goods. Our biggest concern was a potential language barrier, with us not knowing what we were looking at on the other side of the glass.

We were thankful that the woman behind the counter not only spoke English, but was patient enough with us to give us the full rundown of everything available, from the tripe to the sonocho to beef stew.


The two of us each picked out an entree and paid at the register before grabbing a table. I think we were both surprised to find so much seating inside the narrow building, ample room to have housed everyone who came in for takeout during our brief stay.

I have eaten at a number of Latin American restaurants for Berks County Eats, but never one that exclusively serves Puerto Rican dishes and was excited to try my roast pork (pernil).


When we were at the counter, there was only a sliver of pork left so the woman who was helping us went back and grabbed a fresh batch from the kitchen. It was outstanding.

The meat was so tender, slow-cooked to fall off the bone (most of the meats appeared to be bone-in). It was hard to pinpoint exactly what made it so good. There was no sauce, and no one flavor that stood out. It seemed so simple, but it was among the best pork that I have tried.

All of the entrees are served with a side of rice and beans. The white rice is placed on the plate with the entree while the beans were served in a cup on the side.


I was surprised to find that potatoes are featured in Puerto Rican style beans. The small cubes had been sitting in the sauce for so long that they now looked like sweet potatoes, taking on the same orange hue as the sauce.

Mixed together with the rice, it was an excellent side. It wasn’t spicy as far as heat, but there was enough spices mixed in to give it a great flavor.


Julie opted for one of the saucier entrees, the stewed chicken. The juice had soaked through the chicken skin to the bone, ensuring flavorful and tender bites throughout.

She had a thigh and a leg and cleaned the meat off of both, savoring every bite.

In addition to the meat and sides, our meals were served with a choice of salad. For me, it was a simple lettuce and tomato.


For Julie, it was potato salad, one of the best that she has ever tried. It was extra creamy, with a flavorful potato (not a simple baking potato) as the base. She also enjoyed the addition of the green peppers to the mix, something she’s never found in any other potato salad.


Though we really didn’t need any more food, both of us have a weakness for plantains so we got a small plate with five pieces of the fried fruit. Though they would have made a nice end to the meal, neither of us could wait to eat them so they were gone long before the rest of our food.

While we both finished off our meats, we ended up taking home quite a bit of rice and beans, as well as about half of her cup of potato salad.

One of the great things about a place like Old San Juan is that not having waiters and waitresses allows them to charge lower prices. Our total dinner bill was less than $20.

This trip was the first time that Julie had been to the Outlet District since she was a child, when her grandmother used to take her on shopping trips. It brought back a flood of memories for her.


Future memories in the neighborhood won’t be made in large shopping centers. They’ll be made in little places like Old San Juan Cafe.

BCE Rating
Food: Very Good
Service: Excellent
Ambiance: Fair
Price: Very Reasonable

Old San Juan Cafe
808 N. 9th St
Reading, PA 19604

Old San Juan Cafe Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Caribbean & Latin American Lunch & Dinner Reviews

6th Street Deli


Most times, I only get to visit a restaurant once before writing a review. But in the past two months, I have had two meetings in downtown Reading — one over breakfast and one over lunch — and both were at the previously unknown-to-me 6th Street Deli.

You won’t find the 6th Street Deli on Yelp. Or TripAdvisor. Or Zomato. They have a Facebook page that hasn’t been updated since 2012 and a website that isn’t much newer.

My first visit came on a Wednesday morning in early December. It was late in the breakfast service, about 9 a.m. Everyone was already at work leaving the restaurant mostly empty.

The hot bar was only about half-full and probably wouldn’t be restocked until lunch. I filled a Styrofoam clamshell with a little bit of everything. Meals are priced out by weight at the counter so I kept that in the back of my mind while dipping out my meal.

After paying a little more than $5 at the register (I also had a Clover Farms chocolate milk), I retreated to the back of the restaurant where most of the seating is located.

Six or seven round tables are set in the dining area (a handful of two-person tables are in the front as well). A TV on the wall was playing an old direct-to-video holiday special that I didn’t recognize.


My meal was a mix of familiar and unfamiliar breakfast foods. Nothing is labeled so I am still not exactly sure about everything that was on my plate.

What I did recognize were the breakfast potatoes, yucca and the sausage patty. The potatoes were good, diced and cooked like a typical American diner would do them.

The yucca was very different. It was cooked in the Dominican style with onions and vinegar that gives it a slightly sour taste. But it’s an enjoyable sour in the same way as sauerkraut. I also took a scoop of mashed yucca, which had pickled onions, but a little less pungent flavor.

Also on the plate was queso frito, a fried cheese dish that is another Dominican breakfast staple. It looks kind of like the insides of a mozzarella stick, but was surprisingly tasty. I wish I had gotten there when it was fresh out of the pan because it would probably would have been my favorite thing on the plate.

A month later and I returned to the 6th Street Deli for another meeting, this time over lunch. It was a rare opportunity for me to experience two meals at a restaurant before writing a review.

I’m glad I waited because lunch was delicious.


It was about 1 p.m. when I arrived, and the lunch rush was still in full swing. The hot bar was fully stocked, as was the salad bar on the opposite wall which I hadn’t even noticed on my first visit.

Skipping the salad, I filled up on a variety of hot items including rice and beans, meatballs in marinara sauce, candied sweet potatoes, fried plantains, baked beans and more yucca.

The rice and beans were excellent, as was the soupy, baked-bean like dish that I found next to it. The candied sweet potatoes were very good as well (especially with the little bit of marshmallow I found with it). The yucca was just as good as I remembered. And the plantains were a sweet little ending to the meal.


What I, and the other five people I was with, hadn’t counted on was being delivered a complimentary plate of pineapple bread pudding.

Cut up in bite size pieces for us to try, we all happily dug in. It was incredible. The pineapple filling oozed out from between the layers of bread. The whole thing just melted away in your mouth.

Like breakfast, my lunch was inexpensive, coming in at just over $7 (obligatory chocolate milk included).

The restaurant is one of many in the city that caters to those who work downtown, offering weekday-only breakfast and lunch service (though I did see them open in the evening prior to a concert at the Performing Arts Center). Because it’s a self-serve buffet, the wait is never very long so go during the busiest hours to ensure you’re getting the freshest food and the best experience.

There’s not much parking on 6th Street, but that’s OK. You don’t go into the city to visit the Deli; you go to the Deli because you’re in the city.

And while I probably won’t make a special trip downtown just to eat there, I’ll certainly eat there again when I find myself downtown.

BCE Rating
Food: Good
Service: Good
Ambiance: Fair
Price: Very Reasonable

6th Street Deli
34 N. 6th St
Reading, PA 19601

Breakfast & Brunch Caribbean & Latin American Lunch & Dinner Reviews

Road Trip: Empanada Mama

Empanada Mama in Doylestown

Berks County Eats crosses the county line to bring you some of the best dining both near and far. This edition takes us 90 minutes east of Reading to Doylestown, PA.

Sometimes simple is better.

The old saying is especially true when it comes to restaurants. Some places try to be everything to everyone. Their menus become too large and too diverse to deliver consistent meals.

I think that’s one of the reasons why restaurants with a single-focus have remained so popular. Places like Taste of Crepes and Steak Shack have limited menus that all revolve around one item. The Crystal Palace was one of Reading’s most beloved restaurants, and its business was built entirely around hot dogs.

These kinds of restaurants are certainly not exclusive to Berks County. A few weeks ago, Julie and I had a weekend getaway planned that started with an afternoon Doylestown. I reached out to my friends at Visit Bucks County for suggestions, hoping for something new and different.

They told me if we are going to Doylestown, I had to check out Empanada Mama.


As the name suggests, Empanada Mama specializes in the stuffed Spanish pastries. With the exception for some pre-made salads, that’s all they do.

In a town that is known for its restaurants, Empanada Mama is more of an in-and-out lunch counter. The daily menu consists of 13 flavors that guests can mix and match in quantities of a full dozen, half-dozen or lunch box (three).

The choices were overwhelming: pulled pork, buffalo chicken, peperoni and mozzarella, and sweet onion were among the ones I had to pass over.

I settled on two Korean beef and one chicken salsa verde. Julie opted for one bacon and date, one summer squash and sweet corn, and one Caprese.


We were lucky that no one had yet claimed one of just four seats (not a problem on a nice day as Doylestown has plenty of park benches to go around) so we were able to sit down and enjoy them.

First up was the Korean beef. Filled with a mixture of ground beef, hoisin sauce, sesame, ginger, garlic and scallions, it packed quite a punch. It was perfectly seasoned with just a little bit of burn. Mixed with the thick Asian dipping sauce, it was perfect.

The chicken salsa verde was just as delicious in its own right. It had the longest ingredient list of all of the day’s offerings: shredded chicken, tomatillos, cilantro, garlic, onions, jalapeno, lime juice and mozzarella.

All of the flavors blended beautifully. The mozzarella helped balance out the heat from jalapenos. And the lime juice was the perfect finishing touch.


Julie couldn’t wait to dig into her bacon and date empanada. It was filled with maple-smoked bacon, organic dates and goat cheese for the perfect blend of sweet and spicy. The rich sweetness from the goat cheese mixed with the dates made it feel almost like dessert.

Her other two empanadas at least felt a little lighter. The summer squash and sweet corn had a little lemon zest mixed in that added to the bright tones of the vegetables and ricotta. The Caprese was like a salad in a puff pastry. The ingredients in both tasted fresh and refreshing.

Not only were all of the empanadas delicious, they were massive. We could have probably shared a $10 lunch box and been just fine. With each of us eating our own, we were stuffed.

Empanada Mama is doing empanadas different than anyone else and better than anyone else. But saying that Empanada Mama only does one thing is a disservice to them.

In reality, Empanada Mama is making an incredible variety of delicious meals. It just so happens that they stuff them into a pastry and fry them.

And they are so much better that way.

Empanada Mama Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Caribbean & Latin American Lunch & Dinner Reviews

Shirley’s Cafe & Tequila Bar


One of the best ways to experience a new restaurant is with friends, especially ones who are already regulars there. Knowing you can lean on their expertise helps ease the angst of trying something new.

So when some friends asked us to join them for dinner at Shirley’s Cafe & Tequila Bar, we couldn’t turn it down.

Shirley’s is a little off the beaten path, set in the middle of what was once a thriving industrial district in Laureldale. An abandoned factory sits rotting across Duke Street. Our friends have claimed the vacant driveway as their personal “VIP” parking space.

The building that houses Shirley’s blends in with the neighborhood. Utilitarian in appearance, only the glowing sign above gives away that it’s a restaurant.

Inside the front door is the crowded bar area. Hang a left, and you’ll find the patio (and after a few seconds, you might also find the button that opens the sliding glass door). That’s where our group of six relaxed for a pleasant evening.


Being that Shirley’s is a tequila bar (and being that I don’t drink), Julie had to try one of their margaritas. The Coco Cobana was one of eight fruity margaritas and featured a lot of coconut, a little mango, and just enough tequila.

We were dining a little later than usual, so we were excited when our chips and guacamole arrived at the table.


The chips were advertised as fresh “made locally,” and it showed. The corn chips were fried and much thicker than the store-bought variety. The guacamole was also fresh, topped with a wedge of lime and slices of jalapeno peppers.

Once I ate the first chip, I couldn’t stop. The chips could not have been any better, and the guacamole was excellent, with diced red onions and the occasional chunk of tomato.

I wasn’t expecting a tequila bar to have such variety on its menu. Of course there were tacos and quesadillas, but the Latin American influence was strong throughout the rest of the menu. Along with seven traditional pizza varieties, there were three pizzadillas: pizzas done quesadilla style.

But my eye stopped at something I had never come across before: cazuelas.


The word cazuela comes from the Spanish for “cooking pot,” and refers to a variety of South American dishes. Shirley’s offers three varieties including the “Shrimp Vera Cruz” (shrimp, tomatoes, assorted vegetables and rice) and the “El Cioppino” (an ocean of seafood like clams, mussels, and calamari mixed with sausage, vegetables and rice).

But if I’m going to try something for the first time, I’m going to go with the one called “The Classic.”  Here’s a look at everything that was packed into it:

  • black beans
  • red beans
  • white beans
  • hominy
  • sautéed tomatoes
  • garlic
  • carrots
  • celery
  • onions

Add to that my choice of meat—carnita style pork shank—and three pieces of flatbread and it was one hearty meal.


And Shirley’s doesn’t skimp on the portions either. It was served in a seemingly bottomless terra cotta bowl. The dish looked like chili, but lacked the heat of the chili powder. That’s not to say it was without spice, as it got a little bit of a kick from the chipotle seasoning.

Digging beneath the surface, I found my three pork shanks. The meat pulled right off the bone and blended nicely with the beans and vegetables. Half of the stew and one of the pork shanks came home with me, but I enjoyed every bite I had at Shirley’s.


Julie went with something a little lighter, but no less flavorful. The Texas pulled pork sandwich was topped with Colby Jack cheese and sweet and sour slaw. The top of the roll was lightly buttered like a slice of garlic bread or Texas toast. The pork was lightly sauced, which helped the other elements truly blend well to create a delicious sandwich.

All of the sandwiches are served with a choice of beer battered fries or a salad. Julie opted for the healthier, lighter option with a cup of ranch.

When the meal was over and the checks were split, our total came to $30 (that did not include the $7 chips and guacamole). It was worth every penny.

A great night out with friends is always worth the cost.

But when that night out includes an introduction to a new restaurant, it makes it all the better.

BCE Rating
Food: Very Good
Service: Good
Ambiance: Very Good
Price: Reasonable

Shirley’s Tequila Bar
1615 Duke St
Laureldale, PA 19605

Shirley's Cafe and Tequila Bar Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Bars & Pubs Caribbean & Latin American Lunch & Dinner Reviews

Mi Casa Su Casa Cafe


Downtown Reading is probably one of the most underrated food hubs in Berks County.

Penn Street alone offers a wonderful variety of options. Yet for those of us who don’t live or work downtown, making the trip into the city for a meal seems like a lot of work.

Sometimes all it takes is a little push to get us suburbanites to head into town. For me, that push came in the form of a half-price gift certificate for Mi Casa Su Casa Cafe.

While the Peanut Bar may be Penn Street’s most famous eatery, it is far from the only option. Just two doors down from the Reading landmark is a restaurant that has been building a legacy of its own for the better part of the last decade.

A display case just inside the front door of Mi Casa Su Casa shows off the accolades that the restaurant has earned in its first eight years of business. The restaurant’s success has led to a second location, as Mi Casa Su Casa also operates a cafe inside the Goggleworks.

Because of its location, Mi Casa Su Casa is perfect for breakfast and lunch for those working downtown. When we walked in, it was clear that Saturdays were a much slower time. But for a couple people sitting at the counter, we had the dining room to ourselves.

Mi Casa Su Casa’s menu isn’t very big, but it is varied, reflecting both American tastes and the Caribbean heritage of the owners.

Did you ever have one of those days when you just couldn’t make up your mind? That was us on this day. There were just too many delicious-sounding options that we decided to create our own mini-buffet by ordering four sides to split between the two of us.

Our waitress delivered our meal, one plate at a time until our table was no longer visible under a sea of white plates.


The first item set down in front of us was the yuca fries. Yuca is a distant relative of the potato, a starchy root vegetable native to South America and a staple food for millions of people. The thick-cut yuca were deep fried to a light yellow and served with two options for dipping: mayo ketchup and garlic butter.

Yuca is much starchier than a potato so the fries maintained a lot more substance through the frying process. But after a nice soak in the garlic butter (which I claimed for myself while Julie happily took the house-made mayo ketchup), the fries went down smooth. Though I have to say they were much more filling than I had expected.


Our rice and beans were next to arrive. When it was presented, the rice was neatly piled on the plate with the beans in a small bowl. The use of red beans (I wrongly assumed black when I read ‘rice and beans’) made it look like a bowl of baked beans, but the flavor was altogether different. There was no brown sugar or bacon. Instead it used mild spices that let the natural flavor of the beans come through.


A pair of beef empanadas served as a stand-in for our main course. The trip through the fryer made the outer pastry crispy and delicious. I was expecting cheese to come oozing out after my first bite, but was pleasantly surprised that the filling was mostly beef, with just enough cheese to hold it together. It was about as perfect as I could have hoped for.


Completing our make-shift four-course meal was an order of tostones, fried plantains. Plantains contain more starch than a banana, making them perfect candidates to join the rest of our meal in the deep fryer (only now do I realize how much of our meal was actually fried). They were delicious, and despite having had more than my fair share of food already, I could not stop popping them in my mouth.

After adding on a couple bottles of soda to our final bill, our lunch was still just $17, a bargain for what appeared to be an endless amount of food. The best bargain Mi Casa Su Casa offers, however, may be the free parking in the lot behind the restaurant, which will save you a little money and a lot of hassle.

Our meal at Mi Casa Su Casa Cafe was well-worth the drive downtown. It was a great meal at a great price. You can’t ask for much more than that.

It took a little motivation to get there, but the food is more than enough motivation to go back.

BCE Rating
Food: Very Good
Service: Excellent
Ambiance: Good
Price: Very Reasonable

Mi Casa Su Casa Cafe
320 Penn St
Reading, PA 19602

Mi Casa Su Casa on Urbanspoon

Caribbean & Latin American Lunch & Dinner Reviews

Sofrito Gastro Pub – CLOSED

Editor’s Note: Sofrito Gastro Pub is now closed. The restaurant and bar closed at the end of summer 2019.

America is a place that is defined by its neighborhoods.

Our country is nothing more than a string of communities that have been knitted together over time.

Friendships were forged in the neighborhood bars and restaurants. There was at least one in every town; sometimes, one on every corner. Long before Applebee’s usurped the name, a neighborhood bar and grill was the place that truly helped define a community.

The rise of housing developments and shopping centers helped lead to the decline of the traditional neighborhood. And today it seems like more friendships exist through social media than in our towns.

The one place where the word neighborhood still means something is in our cities, and Reading is no exception.

One of the most recognizable of the city’s neighborhoods is the Centre Park Historic District, a mix of Victorian mansions, quaint row homes and the beautiful open space for which the neighborhood takes its name: Centre Park.

The neighborhood is a true treasure for the city, one with a personality all to its own. And inside this neighborhood is a restaurant that perfectly complements its surroundings.


Sofrito Gastro Pub sits on the corner of Douglas and Thorn Streets, just a short walk west from Centre Park. The front of the building looks more like the adobe homes of the American southwest than the stone mansions of Centre Park.

Inside, the best way to describe Sofrito is eclectic chic. The barroom is adorned with beer signs and flat screens. To the left of our table was a large swine statue that read “Sofrito Pig Roast.”

Our table was pushed against a support pillar, and on the other side, the Bryan Betts Group was serenading patrons with their smooth jazz sounds.

When the weather’s warm, diners can take the party to the outside deck, where a large mural of city’s history adorns one of the large outer walls.

Sofrito’s menu is as eclectic as the atmosphere, drawing inspiration from across the Caribbean islands and Latin America, with a few American favorites thrown in.


We started with a half basket of fresh-cut fries (a steal at just $2.00), still glistening from their bath in the deep fryer.


My entree also came with my choice of starter salad. I opted for Sofrito’s original creation, the Centre Park Urban Salad, a spring mix with Spanish olives and red peppers tossed in a rosemary garlic and brown sugar vinaigrette (which I found also makes an excellent dipping sauce for the fries). It was a hefty salad to start, and before I could finish it, my main course was on the table.


And for my main course, I chose mofongo al pilon. Mofongo is a Puerto Rican specialty of mashed plantains, in this case mixed with onions, garlic and cilantro and topped with chunks of fried pork and served with black beans and the brightest yellow rice I have ever seen.

The cilantro really came through in the mofongo, which was much heavier and more filling than I had expected. The pork was fried to a golden brown and was very good, though a couple pieces were a little too fatty for my taste. Overall though, it was excellent in both presentation and taste.


My wife opted for the chicken mango quesadillas. The chicken had a nice char from the grill, which mixed well with the sweetness of the mango. Add in the locally made tortilla and gooey cheese, and it was an awesome dish, one that was big enough to also enjoy for lunch the next day.

Sofrito’s motto is “Tu sabes!” which, according to Google Translate, means “You know!” Judging by the full tables and bar stools, it’s safe to say that a lot of people know about Sofrito’s great food, unique atmosphere and reasonable prices (less than $25 for our meal).

It’s a true neighborhood gem, one that adds to the unique character of Reading’s Centre Park district. But more importantly, it’s a great place to enjoy a great meal.

Tu sabes!

BCE Rating
Food: Very Good
Service: Good
Ambiance: Very Good
Price: Reasonable

Sofrito Gastro Pub
220 Douglass St
Reading, PA 19601

Sofrito Gastro Pub on Urbanspoon

Bars & Pubs Caribbean & Latin American Lunch & Dinner Reviews