Miamians have long trekked to Homestead for Mexican food, BYOB coolers in tow. Now there’s a new reason to pack up the cooler, but instead of mole and menudo, it’s for mofongo, deep-fried alcapurria fritters and possibly the largest pork chop you’ve ever seen on one plate.
Yes, Homestead has gone Puerto Rican.
Chefs on the Run has been drawing a steady stream of locals since it opened almost two years ago in a cranny once occupied by Los Nopalitos, a favorite among Mexican farm workers for its inexpensive, heaping plates of rice and beans and banda juke box.
Chef-owner Jodrick Ujaque has raised the bar for the humble, seven-table space by offering an eclectic menu that reflects his Puerto Rican roots and fascination with Asian and Middle Eastern food. Like El Toro Taco, its popular neighbor down the street, Chefs on the Run encourages diners to bring their own beer and wine, with no corkage fee.
The plumbing remains “historic” and the bathroom windows barred, but Mexican music has been replaced by an odd mix of K-tel pop tunes. The chef’s vivacious young wife, Jessica Ujaque, doubles as hostess-server. Born and raised in Homestead, she eagerly chats up visitors with background on food, family and the local artwork on the walls. A giant, framed American flag dominates the dining room, a gift from a local VFW post for collecting supplies for soldiers.
Jodrick Ujaque cooked at Dolores But You Can Call Me Lolita and Café Tu Tu Tango, and his menu is reminiscent of their globally tinged, mass-appeal approach. Arroz con gandules (pigeon peas and rice) is a mainstay, but so is mango chutney, mac and cheese with truffle oil, honey-miso salmon and gingered pork loin. Vegetarian options include fattoush (bread and vegetable salad) with garlic nan and meat-free mofongo. (Yes, it’s possible.)
Ujaque’s jerk chicken pasta slaps eaters silly on the first bite, but immediately mellows into layers of scrumptious flavor, cooled by a cilantro cream sauce. The moist and flaky plantain-crusted grouper, with chorizo milled mashed potatoes, is another standout.
Puerto Rican purists may object to the liberties that Ujaque, who was born in Mayagüez, takes with Boricua classics. He shrugs; when you grow up working summers in your uncle’s butcher shop, you learn to follow your instincts.
Instead of mayoketchup, the island’s trademark condiment, there’s a cilantro-lemon criolla sauce paired with surullitos (fried corn sticks) as an appetizer. His mofongo — churrasco, chicken, pork or shrimp — comes with the garlic broth on the side, which can make for dry eating if you don’t sufficiently soak the fried plantain mash.
There is no fear of frying at Chefs on Run, named for the go-go atmosphere of life in the kitchen. The ultimate, heart-stopping result is a scoop of double-fried mofongo on the side with an enormous Kan Kan Pork Chop special that Ujaque makes when he can find the right cut — a rib, chop and rind combination that arcs off the plate like a chorus line caught in mid-kick. Ringed with its own crispy pork rind, this, too, can be extremely dry and an acquired taste.
Tembleque (coconut pudding), a moist rum cake with pineapple-coconut topping and other desserts stick largely to tradition.
Currently open for dinner only on Fridays and Saturdays, Chefs on the Run has built a fan base. One Saturday evening, as chattering diners began filling up tables, a Homestead policeman rolled slowly by and waved out his open cruiser window. Ujaque may be young and still searching for his identity in the kitchen, but he’s found an ideal spot for his trial-and-error experimentation.