El Taino were the indigenous peoples who inhabited Puerto Rico and most of the Caribbean before Spanish conquistadors settled the area. As an homage to his Puerto Rican lineage, Anthony Perez chose this as the name of his restaurant to honor his ancestors. An illustration of a native sun with the Puerto Rican flag adorns the new South Side eatery.
Don’t let the small footprint fool you: El Taino delivers big on flavor and hospitality. Smells of garlicky sofrito greet you as aromas of pork shoulder permeate the homey dining area. Peeking from the kitchen, Anthony and Liza Perez compose classic Puerto Rican dishes as fast as they’re called out by the hostess.
Personifying the American dream, these two self-starters began selling plates out of their home. After Liza almost died during the birth of their youngest child, she and Anthony were reminded that tomorrow isn’t promised. Inspired, they left stable careers to follow their dream of sharing Anthony’s native Puerto Rican cuisine with the community.
With the help of friends and family, the pair moved to a food trailer and have now graduated to a brick-and-mortar. The move felt like the next logical step, as growing customer demand and tight cooking quarters required an upgrade. The Perezes laugh as they reminisce about trying to fry their sorullitos, melt-in-your-mouth corn fritters stuffed with oozing gouda cheese, in the tiny camper.
Partners in every sense of the word, their synchronized choreography comes from years spent harmonizing in the kitchen. Their passion for good food is incorporated into every dish. A customer favorite, chuleta frita, is slowly marinated in Anthony’s house-made spice rub of mojo, garlic and other spices, then battered and fried until crisp. Some pair the fried pork chop with the popular mofongo, an impressive combination of mashed plantains, pork rinds, garlic and adobo hand-ground with Anthony’s mortar from Puerto Rico.
The carne guisada was a refreshing Caribbean bend to an old favorite, with green olives, adobo, peppers and squash. We’re going back for all of the above, but especially the rellenos de papa, deep-fried mashed potatoes stuffed with seasoned ground beef. May we also recommend dousing everything with Perez’s mayo-ketchup (and ordering another bottle a la carte for home use)? Wash it all down with creamy flan or a guava pastelito.
El Taino offers more than an authentic and satisfying taste of Puerto Rican cuisine: Customers leave El Taino feeling like one of the family.
5425 S. Padre Island Dr. Ste 101-A