What do Puerto Rican mofongo and Chinese char siu have in common?
Not much. But you'll find them on a plate side-by-side at Asian Sofrito.
The Chinese-Caribbean fusion restaurant quietly opened Wednesday in the former space of the original Wild Garlic Grill at 2530 N. 1st Ave. The patio isn't utilized yet, so the restaurant is operating out of an 1,800-square-foot interior with 32 seats at the moment.
Owner-chef Jose Chung has Chinese heritage, but was born and raised in Panama. After about a decade, he moved to Puerto Rico, where his family opened a Chinese-Caribbean fusion restaurant called Rico Cream.
Once Chung was 18 years old, he moved to Tucson to study at the University of Arizona and continued to work in the food industry. He eventually wanted to open his own restaurant similar to Rico Cream.
"I like to talk to people," Chung said. "[The restaurant is here] to make you feel at home while you get a different taste."
When Chung saw Wild Garlic Grill move to another location, he saw his chance at the cozy, small space. It was also a coincidence, considering his affinity for garlic.
"We use a lot of garlic in almost everything here," Chung said.
The generous use of garlic is most apparent in the mofongo ($6), the Puerto Rican dish of fried, mashed, and re-fried plantains. The mound is almost too thick and starchy for a plastic fork to handle, so split it with finesse. Once it's cut open, the fragrance of roasted garlic immediately pierces the air. Order it as a combo with meat ($12) and choose carne frita, fried chunks of pork marinated with garlic, oregano, vinegar, and adobo seasoning.
While you're at Asian Sofrito, feel free to forgo the Puerto Rican carne frita in favor of Chinese char siu or garlic chicken.
If this is your first time trying mofongo, a brothy sauce will help keep the starchy plantains from being overwhelming. Order the mofongo combo with "soup" ($14) and choose the camarón enchilado, shrimp in a tomato and chili sauce.
For another substantial fusion meal, order the fried chicken combo ($7.50 for two pieces with fried rice and a side).
The rest of the menu primarily features Cantonese and Chinese-American dishes such as lo mein and egg foo young and Caribbean appetizers such as tostones (fried plantains), amarillo (fried sweet plantains, also known as maduros), and a tomato-less Caribbean ceviche with wonton strips.
With so much of the menu fried, Asian Sofrito is slightly evocative of what would happen if Lucky Wishbone moved to an island and added Chinese take-out. It doesn't try to be fancy, but it's a comforting taste of home in its one-of-a-kind way.
Operating hours are 10:30 a.m. - 10 p.m. daily.
Asian Sofrito is located at 2530 N. 1st Ave. Keep up with Asian Sofrito on Instagram.
Jackie Tran is a Tucson-based food writer, photographer, culinary educator, and owner-chef of the food truck Tran's Fats. Although he...