The attractive dining room at Makondo Bakery & Restaurant in Port Chester is painted bright yellow and decorated with interesting wall hangings. Jananne Abel|Westmore News
The attractive dining room at Makondo Bakery & Restaurant in Port Chester is painted bright yellow and decorated with interesting wall hangings.

Jananne Abel|Westmore News
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What makes Port Chester's restaurant scene so rich is the diversity of its ethnic choices. With the smorgasbord of Central and South American folks living in and around the village, the Latino restaurants need only cater to people of the same nationality as the food they are serving to survive. For many of them, that is their business model. Other nationalities are welcome, of course, but only the more adventurous cross the transom, and sometimes there is a language barrier.

Makondo Bakery & Restaurant at 139 North Main St. is an example of an authentic Colombian eatery specializing in flour and cheese pastries in different variations and Colombian dishes from the Caldar region where owners Amparo and Jorge Valencia of Greenwich come from. It is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner.

Makondo opened Sept. 5 in the former location of Tequila Blue, a bar that offended some residents when the owners painted the front bright yellow some years ago. Old timers will remember it as China Lang, the first Chinese restaurant in Port Chester, which occupied this space for many years.

The Valencias also own a more casual restaurant in White Plains called El Cafetero. Not that Makondo is fancy, but it is a simply attractive space that was nine months in the making. The Valencias spent that time turning the former bar into their dream restaurant.

"We're calling it a baby," Michelle Munera, niece of the owners, said the day before Makondo's opening.

They received their certificate of occupancy from the Port Chester Building Department on Sept. 4 but are still waiting for their liquor license from the state.

I ran into Javier Mauricia Bermudez, who works down the street at Wells Fargo Bank, getting takeout at Makondo. "As a client, this place is phenomenal," he said. "It tastes like you're in Colombia."

For people like me who have never visited Colombia, that description doesn't mean much. So I tried various items on the menu to get a sense of the food. I started with the typical dish Bandeja Paisa ($14), which combines several Colombian specialties-a spicy chorizo sausage link, fried pork belly (chicharron), grilled steak with a fried egg on top, fried plantains and sliced avocado. A dish of soupy, smoky-tasting beans was served on the side. Aside from the chicharron, which I guess you've got to develop a taste for or grow up with, as I found it too fatty tasting to eat very much of, everything else was good, especially the chorizo and plantains.

It was Thursday, oxtail soup day, so I gave that a whirl. For $5, a deep square bowl containing a generous portion of this thick, hearty, flavorful concoction was placed in front of me. The name of the dish, Sancocho de Cola, comes from the Spanish verb "sancochar," which in English means to parboil. This soup combines chunks of oxtail, which tastes like chewy beef, some pieces on small bones; herbs and spices, potatoes, yucca and a chunk of corn on the cob.

I also had the moro or blackberry fruit drink made with water ($3). Several other flavors are also available as is the option of having any of the refreshing fruit drinks blended with a milk base.

This meal for two, including a pastry to go, cost $24.90 plus tip.

Filling meals, small plates or delicious baked goods

My husband and I returned for Sunday breakfast/ brunch and ordered calentado ($9.50), a huge, filling breakfast consisting of a tasty rice and bean mix, a fried egg, a good-sized slab of not-so-tender steak and mild white cheese on top of a thin grilled arepa or cornmeal cake (delicious).

I opted for a few of the antojitos, literally "little cravings" or small plates: a beef and a chicken empanada ($1.25 each) and a morcilla or blood sausage ($3.50). The empanadas were good-sized, didn't taste like oil as empanadas sometimes do and the chicken variety was literally stuffed with meat. The beef variation was alternatively filled with a savory meat and potato mixture. I only ordered the morcilla when they were out of salchicon or Spanish summer sausage as morcilla translated to blood sausage which I purposely avoided when I spent my junior year in France. This was a thicker sausage than the chorizo, for instance, and actually good-tasting although I read that it is indeed stuffed with pig's blood along with rice, which I could see, onions and spices. The sausage came with a smaller, thicker, fairly bland arepa.

A small container of green hot sauce accompanies almost everything. It can be added as needed to give anything an added zing.

I guess it's hit or miss as to whether Makondo has the various antojitos because I also wanted to try a papa rellena ($3) (potato dough with a filling of beef and onions, olives, hard boiled eggs, cumin and other spices) but was disappointed.

Our breakfast/brunch, with two coffees and free refills, priced out at $18.70.

On another occasion I ordered a bunch of baked goods to go from the case at the front of the eatery and had fun back at the office figuring out which was which on the menu. As far as I can figure, I had a pandebono or cheese ball, bunuelo or dough ball, pastel Gloria made with puff pastry filled with thick dulce de leche or caramel, chicharron de guayaba, which is shaped like the fried pork belly with slits cut in the thin puff pastry, filled with guava paste and topped with sugar, arepa de choclo, a not-so-sweet corn cookie, and pan alinado, traditional bread sold at any bakery in Colombia. It is soft on the inside and crunchy outside. Of these, my favorite was the chicharron de guyaba, as far as savory I preferred the pandebono. Pastel Gloria was too sweet, but everything else was just right.

These breads/pastries cost from $1.25 for pandebono to $3.50 for pan alinado, the latter being much larger in size than the former.

Besides what I have so far sampled and described, there are many more beef, chicken, pork, seafood and typical Colombian dishes at Makondo, ranging in price from $11.50 for carne asada (grilled steak) to $18.50 for pargo marinado (marinated snapper). Salmon en salsa de mango (salmon with mango sauce) at $16.50 sounds like a good bet.

Everything is translated on the menu, which is helpful to non-Spanish speakers like myself. Although none of the servers I have had at Makondo spoke perfect English, they were all pleasant and managed to communicate satisfactorily.

Macondo: A fictional village

The name of the restaurant comes from a fictional village called Macondo, the setting of some of the books by Colombian writer Gabriel Garcia Marquez, one of the most significant authors of the 20th century. The décor- such as a large framed tree on which many yellow butterflies have alighted which covers one wall-reflects that fictional village.

The walls of the spacious dining room are painted bright yellow on top, beige on the bottom. Besides the mythical tree, an impressive 3-dimensional green and gold leaf stands out on the opposite wall. Carved wooden faces, colorful plates and layered flowers also decorate the restaurant space.

Up front is the bakery and takeout counter, up a few steps the dining room where there are 11 reddish wood tables with a shiny finish, chairs with beige seats and matching wood backs and three booths toward the back of the restaurant. The floor covering resembles wood.

Also set back in the room is a wooden bar with six stools that is so far unused.

Lively ethnic music plays in the background.

"They had always wanted a place in Port Chester before White Plains," Munera, the owners' niece, said of her aunt and uncle. "When Tequila Blue went under, they scoped it out and fell in love with this place."

Makondo Bakery & Restaurant is open seven days from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. Parking is on the street where payment is required in the pay stations from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m.