Diners at Smokin’ Looney Q near BJ’s Wholesale Club in Woodbridge knew a secret: On weekends, one of the co-owners of the barbecue restaurant, Luz Oliveras, would make some of her native Dominican dishes to share with customers. “On weekends, business would pick up,” recalls friend and restaurant consultant Jesus Camacho, whom Oliveras asked to speak to Northern Virginia Magazine for her. The original business didn’t last (Smokin’ Looney still exists as a truck), but Oliveras had a feeling that devotees of her mofongo would continue to visit her restaurant if she served the mashed plantain dish every day. So much so, that she named her restaurant, which opened in the spring of 2019, Mofongo Steakhouse & Grill.
According to Camacho, Oliveras spent most of her adult life as a homemaker. In that time, she honed her recipe for mofongo to perfection. The starchy plantains are deeply suffused with enough garlic to scare a vampire from miles away. The best way to savor them is with the addition of “los 5 golpes,” which translates as the “five hits.” In this case, that means five different proteins, all prepared with precision. The mound of plantains, woven not just with garlic, but also crunchy pork cracklings, is crowned with buttery shrimp in the house sauce, a Puerto Rican take on tomato-based (and similarly garlicky) ranchero.
The vaguely cylindrical pile of mofongo is hedged with animal products. Fried chunks of pork crunch, then unravel. A tangy steak bathed in the ranchero sauce is fork-tender, as are braised bone-in pieces of chicken. Crispy, milky queso frito (fried cheese) completes the plate that’s adorned with red and green bell peppers. When I tried the dish, it easily fed three hungry adults, but we still craved more.
If plantains were what we were after, we were in luck. They’re on nearly every plate in some form, whether as the centerpiece or a side. They’re definitely the former in the case of the mangú, though butter is almost as prominent in the comforting mashed plantain dish. The pile of plantain is blanketed in sautéed red onions and surrounded by a pair of rectangles of queso frito, as well as pan-crisped discs of disarmingly juicy salami. For those who didn’t grow up in the Caribbean, it’s the comfort food you didn’t know you were craving.
The jibarito takes advantage of the plantain’s versatility by using crispy smashed lengths of the fruit as the bread in a satisfying sandwich. It’s stuffed with beefy shaved steak and fresh veggies bound together with American cheese and a slick of ketchup-mayo blend.
The flattened rounds of double-fried plantain known as tostones appear alongside each of the four steaks. These include, ribeye and filet mignon, but I chose the churrasco, or marinated skirt steak. The thin slab of beef, colorfully bestrewn with peppers, couldn’t be more tender. But while the marinade surely aids in that suppleness, it doesn’t add the “Caribbean flavors” the menu promises.
Even when plantains aren’t part of the dish, carbs are usually the centerpiece. This is particularly true of appetizers. One of the highlights is a plate of yuca formed and fried into cups. The crispy cassava is filled with a choice of meat, dripping with the garlicky house sauce. I was less impressed with the alcapurrias, a pair of Puerto Rican fritters that rely too heavily on the fluffy plantain and taro dough that contains bland ground beef.
Desserts, while certainly not the incentive to dine at Mofongo, are solid. The pastelillo de guayaba, puff pastry filled with guava paste, is a tad dry, something that cannot be said about the tres leches cake. The crumbly cake is doused in dairy, but what makes it most appealing is the caramel sauce that’s zig-zagged across the top and lies in shallow pools on the plate.
Each time I ordered dessert, I had to ask specifically to do so. There’s no hard sell at Mofongo, but there’s also not a great deal of attention paid. Servers seemed harried even when my party was the only one in the restaurant. It’s a shame because, besides serving victuals worth a trip, the restaurant is cheerful and comfortable. It has atmosphere thanks to lots of color on the walls and Caribbean music on the stereo, but the relaxed service makes it feel more casual than it appears.
Does that mean diners shouldn’t travel for their plantain fix? Definitely not. Oliveras’ consummate craft stands on its own. Food lovers in search of big flavor will find exactly what they crave—in large portions—at Mofongo Steakhouse & Grill. // 14035 Noblewood Plaza, Woodbridge
See this: Red walls and paintings of island life give a buoyant vibe, though the sports on the TVs at the bar bring matters down to earth.
Eat this: Mofongo los 5 golpes, jibarito, tres leches cake
★ Fair ★★ Good ★★★ Great ★★★★ Excellent ★★★★★ Superior
For more restaurant reviews, subscribe to our Food newsletter.