Milwaukee is on fire, with the Bucks staring down a hopeful NBA Finals visit. And if you’re looking for an equally hot new spot to cheer them on during their upcoming best-of-seven series, you’ll find it at Caliente Latin Kitchen & Rum Bar, 5108 W. Bluemound Rd.
Behind the new Latin sports bar are Jesse Fonseca and Hernan Castillo, owners of Sabor Tropical, the Latin inspired kitchen and lounge at 2258 S. Kinnickinnic Ave. in Bay View.
Fonseca says that, while the two venues share a similar theme, the atmosphere and clientele differ. Sabor tends to skew on the family friendly side, offering lunch and closing earlier. Meanwhile, Caliente was explicitly created to offer an upscale vibe appropriate for mature diners and sports bar fans who are looking for a nice place to catch a game, grab dinner or enjoy a night out.
Bright, modern space
Those familiar with the space when it was Fat Valdy’s Bar & Grill are likely to be surprised by how bright and modern the interior looks with its new black, grey and red color scheme, slick new flooring and sports-themed wall decor.
The large dining room, currently set for 60, can hold up to 100 guests, offering great views of the game on 10+ televisions, plus a large flat screen on the southern wall.
There's also lounge-style seating that's perfect for game watching and late-night drinks.
Guests also have great views at Caliente’s long refurbished red and white bar, which trails along the western wall of the restaurant.
The bar is currently stocked with 120 rums (the goal is for the bar to offer 200+), a variety of domestic and imported beer and a cocktail menu that showcases 20 riffs on the classic mojito (including flavors like passion fruit, guava, mango and watermelon), along with popular drinks like pina-coladas, margaritas and Caribbean sangria.
During Packers, Brewers and Bucks games, guests can also take advantage of all day happy hour specials including $3 domestic or imported beer and $5 mojitos.
On the menu
And when hunger strikes, Chef Rogellio Escobar is at the helm of a fully remodeled kitchen which serves up a menu featuring myriad dishes from countries in Latin America and the Caribbean.
Highlights include game day staples like Cuban sandwiches and burgers, along with tropical wings served with carrots, celery and blue cheese or ranch for dipping. Wing sauces include mango bbq, fuego caliente, chimichurri, garlic parmesan, teriyaki, Caribbean jerk, honey bbq or lemon pepper dry rub.
But even more compelling are the Latin American and Caribbean dishes, which include staples deep-fried Caribbean inspired empanadas and the Taste of Puerto Rico, an appetizer platter (which could also be enjoyed as a meal) featuring mofongo (mashed green plantains) filled with carne frita (fried pork); garlic chicken; grilled steak and garlic shrimp served with Caribbean tangy aioli.
Easy favorites also include ropa vieja (steak and peppers) served with Cuban rice and tostones; slow-roasted pernil (roasted pork) with Puerto rican rice and a choice of tostones, yuca frita or sweet plantains; and the popular aguacate rellenos (avocado halves stuffed with garlic shrimp, garlic chicken breast, chopped skirt steak, or pork topped with Caribbean tangy aioli and chimichurri and served with Puerto Rican beans and rice.
Fonseca says that the Caliente patio, which seats 24 guests is slated to open July 1, just in time for the holiday weekend. It will be decked out with new seating and a big screen TV during major games.
Guests can also look forward to Caliente shuttle service to baseball and basketball games starting this fall.
Caliente Latin Kitchen and Rum Bar is open seven days a week with hours Sunday through Thursday from 4 p.m. to midnight and Friday and Saturday from 4 p.m. to close. The Kitchen is open until 11 p.m. on weeknights and midnight on weekends. Reservations are available by phone at (414) 763-9447 or online at calientemke.com.
Lori is an avid cook whose accrual of condiments and spices is rivaled only by her cookbook collection. Her passion for the culinary industry was birthed while balancing A&W root beer mugs as a teenage carhop, fed by insatiable curiosity and fueled by the people whose stories entwine with each and every dish. She’s had the privilege of chronicling these tales via numerous media, including OnMilwaukee and in her book “Milwaukee Food.” Her work has garnered journalism awards from entities including the Milwaukee Press Club.
When she’s not eating, photographing food, writing or recording the FoodCrush podcast, you’ll find Lori seeking out adventures with her husband Paul, traveling, cooking, reading, learning, snuggling with her cats and looking for ways to make a difference.