Alicia Kennedy (Saveur) reviews a new venture by Manolo Lopez, owner of Mofon-GO NY. [Warning: It’s difficult to read this article without starting to feel incredibly hungry. Lote 23, here I come!]

“I’m a bit of a frustrated artist,” Manolo Lopez tells me, his English accent touched with a surfer’s lilt. We’re on a walk through his new home of Old San Juan, Puerto Rico, and he’s bringing me to one of his favorite spots, where the ocean meets a cemetery filled with bright-white headstones. Lopez chose the neighborhood so he could be inspired by the candy-colored colonial architecture that lines the hilly, cobblestone-paved streets. He’s here to run a business, to reconnect with family and old friends, but he also needs to sketch.

The admission shouldn’t be shocking to anyone who’s queued up for his Mofongo NY pop-up since its debut at the massive Brooklyn outdoor food market Smorgasburg in 2014. From the bright green pilón that illustrates its logo to the similarly saturated photos that populate its Instagram feed, it’s clear that whoever’s behind the brand has a deliberate artistic vision—one that aims to bring Puerto Rican cuisine to the kind of audience who’s seduced by a tight concept. Lopez, in running his business, has taken on the role of de facto cultural ambassador for Puerto Rico. He’s taken Mofongo NY to Japan, and he organizes a yearly New York City party with a group of other island-based creatives called Cosa Nuestra that he hopes to take global.


The concept worked in Brooklyn of course, where Lopez had moved in 2011 from western Puerto Rico, to work in marketing and design until growing restless and coming up with the idea of serving a twist on his grandmother’s mofongo—the traditional Puerto Rican dish of fried and mashed plantains topped with a protein, usually pork—to those strolling by.


This year, though, he’s brought his new-school take on mofongo back to his home island to sell—oddly enough—at a new open-air market much like Smorgasburg. The skills he honed in Brooklyn dealing with long lines and fast turn-arounds have come in handy, but here he doesn’t have to set up shop anew each weekend; the kiosks are stand-alone structures, making for a much more streamlined experience. A fresh concept for San Juan, it’s called Lote 23 and vendors are selling everything from cold brew tonics to bao buns to pizzas. Lopez’s food is the most traditional on the roster.

[. . .] Lote 23 was founded by another young Puerto Rican who spent years in New York City working in marketing: Cristina Sumaza. While there, she had a part in founding the nonprofit ConPRmetidos, which was dedicated with connecting the diaspora to the island, but when she moved back she joined her family’s real estate development business. Sumaza and Lopez are part of a generation that is seeking to revive the island’s cultural life as a means of empowering it economically, in spite of, or in direct opposition of the ongoing debt crisis. [. . .]

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