Willie O’s: Authentic South American Cuisine
By Ilija Sekulovski
Willie O’s is right off Broadway, which is an area chock full of restaurants. While we’ve passed by it loads of times, we always thought it was something like a sports bar or diner – but you know how the saying goes – don’t judge a book by its cover.
We stopped into Willie O’s on a weekday night, and it was decently filled. The vibe is really laid back and casual – almost comforting. We realized then that it’s actually a Latin Fusion restaurant, with South American and Cuban flavors, and were enthralled.
Now, let’s get to the food. It’s all cooked up by Chef Rolando Mena, who has a background in Mexican cuisine, and has created the menu to be a perfect fusion of all things South American – with a modern twist. The ingredients he uses are fresh and organic – which shows in the food.
We started off with the calamari, which is crispy calamari in citrus salsa criolla and spicy chile rocoto glaze. This was a spicy, saucy calamari – not dry or fried. If you’re someone who loves saucy food – you’ll love this. We also had the octopus, which is grilled and marinated in fresh rosemary, lemon juice and Spanish paprika, the Patecon Mantado, which is crispy plantains served with tomato ragu, avocado and choice of topping, and arepas. We loved all of them – but the arepas were absolutely amazing – classically flavored, and cooked to perfection.
With our appetizers, we also had two of Willie O’s signature cocktails – the Passion Fruit Pisco Sour, which is Ocucaje pisco, lime juice, simple syrup, organic egg whites, passion fruit puree and angostura bitters, and From Colombia With Love, which is Antioqueno Tapa Azul, passion fruit puree, fresh lime juice and gum syrup. While both were slightly sour, passion fruit-y drinks, they each had a distinct flavor and taste.
Our drinks were mixed up by Mixologist Marcos Rodas, who also works as the manager. We quickly realized he knows more about drinks than we ever will, because he paired the most perfect drinks with each meal we tried.
For our entrees, we first had the Black Linguini, which is Squid ink black linguine in a tomato sauce, grilled jumbo shrimp and fresh avocado. Yes – squid ink. We were seriously blown away by how rich it tasted – very unique and savory. Marcos paired it with red pinot grigio wine – which accompanied it perfectly.
We then had the Boneless Red Snapper – which, let’s be honest, looks a little terrifying. As soon as we stuck our forks in though, we were amazing. The fish is completely boneless, and it’s stuffed to the brim with calamari, shrimp, sauce and spices. This is one of the most unique fish dishes we’ve tried, and it was insanely satisfying.
We moved on to the steak, which was cooked just how we like. It was a 13 oz. spice rubbed grilled prime T-bone steak, with crispy truffle fries and Cardenal Mendoza brandy sauce. The chicken we had was pan roasted organic boneless half chicken, served with Mexican bluecorn mashed potatoes and creamy spicy feta cheese sauce.
At this point we needed time to digest, so we indulged in some specialty shots and drinks. These change regularly, so no matter when you go in, you’ll be greeted by a new, unique surprise. We loved the coquito – which is a classic rum based drink.
While we worked on making space for dessert, we had a chance to chat with Andrew Mena, and the namesake himself, Willie O. Both opened Willie O’s together four months ago, with one focus in mind: to bring people together over amazing food.
They both have worked in the entertainment world for 16 years, and decided that they wanted to create a place that is fun, intimate and casual – and filled with amazing food.
After some chatting, it was time for dessert. We indulged in the fried oreo and crème brulee desserts – and if you love sweets, these are both spot on. The crème brulee was creamy and warm, with the fried oreos being perfectly crunchy.
Overall, we really enjoyed our time at Willie O’s. It seems what they’re going for is a classic South American feel – and South Americans are all about food and family – a vibe you definitely get from Willie O’s. We look forward to going back!
If you want to check out Willie O’s, stop by for one of their events! They’ve got comedy nights, as well as Social Friday’s and more – all of which are sure to be a great time.