Cocina Candela: Authentic Puerto Rican Food in Montclair

The vibrancy of Puerto Rican culture comes alive in its dishes. And though it might be hard to imagine a little slice of la Isla de Encanto right in the heart of Montclair, it exists in the form of Cocina Candela. Tucked into the middle of the sidewalk is a Puerto Rican restaurant serving up native dishes, playing the island’s very own salsa music, and transforming the street into an upscale tropical experience. Here’s a peek at what’s on the menu at Cocinna Candela.

cocina candela montclair

About The Owner

The owner, Kenny Candelaria explains what inspired him to open the restaurant, “Cocina Candela is an experiment in Puerto Rican gastronomy honoring the traditions of our Taíno roots, and the purity of ingredients. I remember from my childhood in Puerto Rico when I pulled yams from the ground with my grandmother, drank fresh milk from a cow in the morning with my grandfather, and ate dinners prepared on the fogón with whatever else could be found on the land in the evenings.” He continues, “Before Brooklyn, before supermarkets, and before sazón and adobo, these are my earliest memories of Puerto Rican food,” he stated on the website.

The Atmosphere

cocina candela montclair

The interior of the restaurant is reflective of an upscale design that you would typically see in San Juan, Puerto Rico. The bare, concrete walls are a warm beige, similar to the pueblos on the island. The accents around the dining room are gold, adding a flair to the earth tones. Native artwork hangs on the wall, and the island’s national symbol, the coqui frog, is centered on each table.

The outdoor dining space is consistent with the aesthetic of the interior. The dark wood tables are framed with tropical plants, and patrons can hear the salsa music pouring out of the restaurant, and into the street.

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The Menu

cocina candela montclair

{Photo credit: @cocinacandela}

Puerto Rican food is known to be on the heavy side, but rest assured, it’s delcioso. The food at Cocina Candela is made by a conscientious chef who works with fresh, organic, no antibiotics, grass-fed meats. The ingredients are locally grown and the fresh fish comes from American waters. Vegans, fret not, the chef made it a point to create several vegan dishes including mofongo, and paella.

Brunch

cocina candela montclair

The brunch menu is served on Saturday and Sunday from 11:00AM-3:00PM. The brunch menu alone is reason enough to visit this gem. Starters like the sorullitos con queso {corn fritters with fontina cheese}, cremita de farina {warm cream of wheat}, and empanadas will kick off your culinary experience on the right foot. The empanadas are a fan favorite and come in eight flavors, and three sauces {mayo-ketchup, sour cream with garlic, and a salsa verde}. Some of the flavors include beef and sweet plantain, guava and cheese, buffalo shrimp, chipotle chicken. The chef makes his own dough for the empanadas, and they’re the perfect balance of soft, and crispy.

From the griddle, opt for the creme brûleée French toast or the buttermilk pancakes, {these are some of the best pancakes you’ll ever have}. Other dishes include huevos rancheros, omelets, avocado toast, and most importantly, mofongo con queso {a traditional Puerto Rican dish of mashed fried plantains with cheese, eggs, and bacon}, and churrasco con huevos {skirt steak, chimichurri, eggs, and home fries}.

Arguably the best item on the brunch menu is the jibarito plantain sandwich {skirt steak, lettuce, tomato, black garlic aioli on fried plantains}. The skirt steak is juicy, and tender, with the fried plantain fried to perfection, adding a contrasting crunch. Additionally, there’s a take on the classic Cuban sandwich, a vegan burger, and a Dominican-style Benedict {mangu, salami, fried cheese, poached eggs, and sriracha hollandaise}.

Dinner

cocina candela montclair

{Photo credit: @cocinacandela}

If you’re visiting for dinner, come hungry, as the portions are large. Like most Latin-American restaurants, Cocina Candela is very meat, and seafood forward.

Consider appetizers like the pastel al caldero {deconstructed pastel, Caribbean root vegetables “masa, and stewed pork}, the ensalada de pulpo {poached Spanish octopus, avocado, bell peppers, shallots, olives, and red wine vinaigrette}, and the bacalaitos {crispy cod fritters}.

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With 15entree options, it may be difficult to choose but you can’t go wrong. Traditional dishes like ropa vieja {slow-cooked shredded flank steak, white rice, beans}, churrasco encebollado {skirt steak, onions, chimichurri, white rice, and beans}, and pastelon {Puerto Rican lasagna with sweet plantains, ground beef, green beans, and fontina cheese}, will always be safe bets.

Another dish that stands out is the chuleta cancan. It comes with a Berkshire pork chop, chicharron, rib meat, sweet plantains, rice, and beans. There are several soups, salads, and sides to compliment any dish as well.

Drinks and Dessert

cocina candela montclair

{Photo credit: @cocinacandela}

Of course, it wouldn’t be a true Caribbean-inspired restaurant without fresh tropical juices. It is a BYOB spot, so be sure to bring your drink of choice. Pro-tip, the sweet juices pair deliciously with vodka and rum. For a true island experience, the coconut water is served straight out of the coconut with a straw.

Finally, to end dinner on a sweet note, order one of the freshly baked pastries. The tembleque is a Puerto Rican-style coconut pudding with cinnamon. Naturally, there’s a flan, the classic creamy caramel vanilla custard. The tres leches is soaked in coquito {think Puerto Rican eggnog but made with coconut milk}for an added kick of flavor. The budín de guayaba is a warm guava bread pudding with rum sauce, served with vanilla ice cream on the side.

cocina candela montclair

{Photo credit: @cocinacandela}

Last but certainly not least, the pastel de chocolate is an experience. It consists of molten chocolate cake, vanilla ice cream, and warm drunken caramel, inside of a white chocolate sphere. The hot caramel melts the chocolate sphere forcing it to collapse, and frame the cake inside. And dessert wouldn’t be complete without a little cafecito on the side.

Cocina Candela is open for outdoor dining, takeout, and delivery on Grubhub.

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Written by:

Victoria is HG's Editorial Assistant. She is a fourth-generation Hoboken native, BNR in the Mile Square, and Jersey City. Through playing softball in town for fourteen years, playing the trumpet for the Hoboken High School Redwings Band, and graduating from New Jersey City University, these two cities have a special place in her heart. When she isn’t Style Assisting or volunteering at Symposia Bookstore, Hoboken Fire Museum/Hoboken Historical Museum, she’s exploring everything the Concrete Jungle has to offer. You can catch her at art exhibitions, local festivities, traveling, diving into a new book, thrifting, or indulging in some form of arts and crafts.