December 31, 2023

Nurse Turned Culinary Maestro Brings Authentic Latin Cuisine

3.5 min read| Published On: December 31st, 2023|

By Roxanne Brown

Nurse Turned Culinary Maestro Brings Authentic Latin Cuisine

3.5 min read| Published On: December 31st, 2023|

Nurse turned culinary maestro brings authentic Latin cuisine, blend of tradition and innovation to The Villages area.

Latin Flavors Bar and Grill is redefining the culinary landscape with a delectable array of Puerto Rican dishes. 

Located in Lady Lake and spearheaded by owner and chef Roberto Diaz, the restaurant was born out of Roberto’s passion for his heritage and nurtured by family recipes.  The restaurant promises an immersive experience into the rich tapestry of Latin American flavors.

“I really love cooking and experimenting with flavors and different ingredients,” Roberto says.

Roberto, originally from Puerto Rico, began working in the food industry at 19 before attending nursing school. 

He moved to Florida after Hurricane Maria ravaged the island in 2017 and found himself working in the culinary and kitchen arts department at Disney, where he eventually became a chef. 

After a couple of years, when faced with a hard-to-pass-up opportunity to open his own restaurant, Roberto decided to take the leap. 

Since opening in March 2023, his restaurant has become a local sensation with a menu that showcases the diversity of Latin cuisine — 80% of the offerings are Puerto Rican, but choices also include Mexican, Cuban, Dominican and American specialties.

From the savory delights of mofongo to the crispy perfection of alcapurrias, every dish tells a story of heritage and home-cooked goodness.

“I bring the experience I have from working at other restaurants, but even more, my menu is based on the experience I have cooking with my mom and grandma. Some of the recipes here are from them and some I created on my own,” Roberto says.

Great food is only part of the story. The welcoming atmosphere at Latin Flavors is enhanced by Roberto’s personal touches and the above-and-beyond service of the staff led by manager Mariam Pacheco.

“I love my job here and people love our food,” Mariam says. “Sometimes people ask me questions about the food and what certain dishes may contain or taste like and I like explaining that to them or recommending dishes I feel will allow them to really savor the tastes of Latin cooking.” 

Diana Minotti, a customer who has eaten at the restaurant several times since its opening, says she’s enjoyed the experience every visit.

“The food is very good. I had the mofongo and it’s very tasty. I like garlic and it made me feel like I was in Puerto Rico,” Diana says. “I especially enjoy the service. The servers are all very sweet, the food does not take a long time to come out and it’s always on target.”

Words like that make Roberto feel proud. He says he sees his customers as an extension of his family.

“I like to see my restaurant full and I’m a people person, so I like going out and talking to them.  Sometimes, I even sit with them at their tables and they feel like it’s something special,” Roberto says. 

If that’s not enough, the restaurant hosts weekly karaoke nights, and offers a nice selection of wine, beer and fruity drinks like virgin Piña Coladas and Nutella Frappes.

Recently, Style Photographer Nicole Hamel and I visited Latin Flavors. 

Mariam greeted us warmly and immediately made us feel at home. We then asked for a few suggestions and ended up with many goodies. First came the queso frito (fried cheese) with a guava dipping sauce and an appetizer sampler that included chicken, ground beef and guava empanadas. Puerto Rican fried cheese is often referred to as squeaky cheese because of its rubbery consistency. It’s usually cut into cubes, brushed with water, lightly coated in flour and fried. Unlike other cheeses, this one softens when fried, but doesn’t melt.

If you’ve never tried empanadas, make it a point to. The small, handheld pastries with either savory or sweet fillings are a must.  

As for entrees, I had the fried pork chunks with pickled onions and a side of mofongo, a Puerto Rican staple made of fried green plantains mashed together with salt, garlic and broth in a wooden pilon, topped with garlic butter sauce. 

I also tried the mamposteao rice (which I had never heard of) because it came highly recommended by Mariam. Rightfully so. It was seasoned perfectly and mixed with stewed red beans. I’ve had Mexican rice that sometimes contains peas, but this rice was richer.  

Nicole was particularly pleased with the Latin Fajitas with steak, chicken and shrimp, refried beans and rice. 

“I’ve had fajitas before, but it’s a different type of seasoning that I believe made the dish,” Nicole says. 

Overall, our experience at Latin Flavors was a great one, and I, for one, will be returning to try other Puerto Rican dishes that looked and sounded delicious like the pasteles, pernil and tostones. 

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About the Author: Roxanne Brown

Originally from Nogales, Arizona, Roxanne worked in the customer service industry while writing independently for years. After moving to Florida in 1999, Roxanne eventually switched her career path to focus more on writing and went on to become an award-winning reporter for The Daily Commercial/South Lake Press newspapers for 16 years prior to coming on board with Akers Media as a staff writer in July 2020 – her dream job come true.

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