By Krystal Hardy Contributor Published Feb 05, 2020 at 12:01 PM

La Caribeña is an escape to a Caribbean paradise, especially in this dark and cold Wisconsin winter.

I first ventured there years ago, having just moved back from Florida. I missed Cuban, Puerto Rican and Dominican food terribly. La comida criolla, as the cuisine is called, is a culinary fusion of African, Indigenous and Spanish cooking techniques, seasonings and foods. Now, La Caribeña – found at 1704 S. Pearl St. – has become a favorite outing for my daughter and me, as well as a place for her to connect to her Dominican roots.

My daughter loves the $5 kids menu where she orders arroz con gandules y carne – rice with pigeon peas and a choice of meat that tastes like her abuela made it.  "I like the restaurant because it has lots of fish. I can speak Spanish, and it has good food from my daddy’s country," she tells me – so it has to be pretty decent if it is 7-year-old approved. 

My preferred dish is simple: la bandera, a typical plate in many Latin Caribbean households. La bandera consists of white rice, stewed pink beans with potatoes, salad and a selection of meat to choose from, such as pollo frito ("fried chicken") or bistec encebollado (steak with onions). The traditional plate is not complete without a side of tostones, which are twice-fried plantains that come with a ketchup and mayo dipping sauce.

I also recommend the mangu especial, or as it’s known in the Dominican Republic, mangu con los tres golpes – or the three hits. Mangu is boiled and mashed plantains that are served with red onions, fried cheese, eggs and Dominican salami. While it is considered "breakfast," los tres golpes is a win any time of the day.  

The restaurant gives off a jovial vibe with its vibrant colors and the mix of salsa, merengue and bachata music playing through the sound system. The atmosphere is kid-friendly with spacious booths and an aquarium full of colorful fish. Plus, you can enjoy generous portions at a great price as most plates begin at $8.50 with specialty plates up to $19.95. There is also a full bar.

So eat. Drink. Dance in your seats. Sing along with bachata legend Antony Santos or salsa great Hector LaVoe. And have an amazing trip to the Caribbean – at least while you dine in.

Krystal is a Milwaukee native, Marquette University alum (Go Marquette!) and has been a freelance writer for over ten years.  With KDH_Creative, she continues to focus on being a multi-disciplinary creative in the areas of journalism, literature, film, marketing and public relations.  

In her free time, she likes to explore the city as if she is a new transplant, to fall in love with Milwaukee all over again. She loves all things artistic such as theatrical productions, art galleries, film festivals and more. Her hobbies include playing in makeup, gardening, blogging, endlessly scrolling on Pinterest, taking romantic strolls through our public libraries and trying to learn guitar.  

She's a #MamaBee of one, #MPSproud, #MontessoriAdvocate and thinks teachers are the real superheroes of the world.

Krystal is currently working on self-publishing her first book.