\Walk into Cocos Lokos, and a couple of things are likely to catch your eye.
First, if you think you detect a resemblance to Havana Rumba, that’s not terribly surprising. The manager and several members of the Cocos Lokos team left the popular Cuban spot in St. Matthews a couple of months ago to open this new spot in the Hunnington Place shopping center just off I-64 and Hurstbourne Parkway.
Second, you may be as pleasantly surprised as I was to see what a remarkable job they’ve done of making a shopping center space look, well, like it isn’t in a shopping center.
Two large rooms each boasts itw own personality; the larger is romantically dim, with gently twirling ceiling fans and a simple, wall-size mural of palm trees against a sunset sky gives it a Caribbean islands feel.
The more intimate bar room, with its floor to ceiling window walls, is bright by day; but if you don’t look out at the acres of parking lots, you could imagine yourself in Old Havana with its old-style bar, Cuban antiques, guitars and conga drums and textured gold wall treatment decorated with the outlines of giant palm leaves.
The food, too, has impressed me on repeat visits. In slight contrast with Havana Rumba, it expands on a basic Cuban theme to add accents from around the South of the Border world and the Caribbean, with offerings from Jamaica (“Jerk” chicken, $9.99), Peru (Ceviches made from shrimp (del Dia, $7.50), and mixed seafood and fish (Mixta, $7.99), and Puerto Rico (tostones, addictive crispy sliced-and-fried plantains, served as garnish with many meals).
In addition to a serious collection of appetizers, salads and sandwiches, a good selection of Cuban and other Latino/Caribbean dishes is subdivided among pollo (chicken), carnes de res (beef), mariscos (seafood) and cerdo (pork). Main course prices top out at an affordable $12.99, with many courses, including most of the chicken items, under $10. It’s a meatful cuisine, but vegetarians will find an all-veggie version of a Cubano sandwich for $6.99.) A lunch menu offers more than a dozen of the favorites in midday portions from $6.99 to $9.99. Full bar service is available.
Our go-to dish, lechon adobado ($11.99 dinner, $9.99 lunch), may be one of the world’s greatest tributes to the noble pig. Pork roast is marinated in pineapple, garlic and citrus, then slowly roasted until it’s as tender as a mother’s kiss. It comes with congris (Cuban beans and rice) and an addictive version of yuca (cassava), cut into sticks, lightly flour-dredged and deep-fried until the outside is glassy crisp and the interior steaming.
Another culinary charmer, pan con picadillo ($6.99 lunch) could be called a Cuban version of a Sloppy Joe, but this mundane comparison fails to capture the lovely complexity of ground beef sauteed with raisins, chopped olives and Caribbean spice, served atop Cuban bread. (Picadillo Caribeño, a dinner version with congris and tostones but without the bread, is $9.99.)
On another visit, pescado a lo macho ($12.99 dinner, $9.99 lunch) is a boneless tilapia fillet, breaded and pan-fried, topped with a trio of perfectly cooked shrimp and coated with a rich sauce of cream filled with neatly diced red, yellow and green peppers and onions. It comes with yellow rice and pan-fried plantains.
A Cuban sandwich ($6.99 lunch, $7.99 on the dinner sandwich menu) featured the standard: shredded roast pork and ham, Swiss-type cheese and a dab of pickle relish pressed and toasted on Cuban bread, quartered and served with a pile of crispy boniato (sweet potato fries).
Flan de coco ($4.99) is a first-rate Cuban interpretation of the Latino classic dessert, caramel sauce over a round of creamy custard, soated with flakes of sweet coconut and garnished with whipped cream, mint and a strawberry.
Food and atmosphere have been excellent on repeated visits. Service is always friendly but sometimes hit-or-miss when there’s a crowd. Meals, with tea and soft drinks, have ranged from $20 to $35 plus tip.
Cocos Lokos Caribbean Cuisine
1850 S. Hurstbourne Pkwy, Suite 164