New Haven is bursting with Latin-themed restaurants. The latest addition is Mambo Cocina Latina on State Street, with the 2014 Elm City Iron Chef Alex Morales at the helm. Another pearl on the Gennaro “Gerry” Iannaccone family string of restaurants (Cafe Goodfellas, Luce and Bin 100), this time around he co-owns Mambo with his sister Elena Fusco and Morales.
Morales, originally from Guatemala City, is the classic American success story. He started as a dishwasher in Rye, NY in 1999, working his way up to through prep, salads, then line cook. It was when he was on the line that he found his passion for cooking. That took him to restaurants in Greenwich, two were Gaia and Rebecca’s, and then he connected with restaurateur and chef Rafael Palomino, performing head-chef duties at various Palomino restaurants for 12 years. In 2011 he came to New Haven to be head chef at Pacifico, also a Palomino restaurant. In late 2013 he found the opportunity to open Mambo with Fusco and Iannaccone.
Morales calls the food he is serving American food with a Latin twist. Everything they make is from scratch. The fish is wild caught and during the warmer months they buy local produce. Mambo’s menu is primarily seafood, and the majority of what they cook is gluten-free. When possible, they can accommodate diners’ food allergies.
Manager Michael Rodriguez says about Morales, “He is really passionate about the way he cooks. He is always checking and reviewing his own dishes. He is very critical of his own work. He is always trying to improve, always looking to see how we can do better. And he listens to the feedback, reads the comment cards. It’s an art for him and he enjoys doing it.”
Restaurant Website: http://www.mambonewhaven.com/
• The Detes: 758 State St., New Haven. 203-562-0660. Open Monday through Saturday for lunch and dinner: lunch 11:30 a.m. – 3:30 p.m., dinner Monday through Thursday 4:30 p.m. – 10 p.m., Friday and Saturday 4:30 p.m. – 11 p.m.
• Price Range: Appetizers $8-15, ceviches and raw bar $9-market price, salads $6-12, entrees $18-28.
• Style of Food: American with a Latin twist
• Favorite dishes: Seafood paella, vegetable paella, short ribs.
• Drinks: full bar
• Vegetarian/gluten free: 85% of the menu is gluten-free
• Events: yes
• Outdoor dining: yes, in the summer