If it seems like the area around the Parks at Arlington mall is cluttered with nothing but chain restaurants, look a little harder. Less than a mile north on Cooper Street, several family-run spots, all serving ethnic cuisine, have opened in the same strip mall, within a few steps of one another.

Excellent Peruvian food can be had at Las Brasas, opened last year. A few feet to the south is the new Ahi Poke Bowl, offering Hawaiian/Japanese-influenced dishes composed of raw fish and fresh vegetables. Sandwiched between the two is the also-new D’Afrique & Bar, which serves African cuisine, buffet-style. Long-running and well-liked Thai House anchors this global-food hub.

Joining the fold is El Mofongo Caribbean Restaurant, which brings Puerto Rican-inspired food to this growing community of mom-and-pop spots.

For many, the term “Caribbean food” brings to mind jerk chicken and goat stew. El Mofongo’s food leans more toward the Puerto Rican/South American side of the Caribbean — dishes composed of plantains, fried pork chops and, the restaurant’s namesake dish, mofongo. Mostly everything is made in-house by owner Manuel Rodriguez and his family, who moved from Puerto Rico to the North Texas area.

Even though it opened a month ago, it’s already populated with regulars — people who know the food and can speak to what’s good. That’s how we learned of the bacalaito appetizer ($2), a pancake-shaped fried codfish fritter. You could eat it with a fork but we used our hands, tearing off portions little by little. We admired the moist, flaky fish and a flour batter so golden and sweet, it reminded us of funnel cake. Our server recommended we try a pastelillo ($2). Similar to an empanada, the half-moon pastry was filled with a savory, slightly spicy mix of ground beef and diced potato. Good thing we only had one; it was as hearty as it was filling.

The restaurant’s signature item is an Afro-Puerto Rican dish called mofongo ($12.95), sauteed green plantains mashed with olive oil, raw garlic and butter, then shaped into a ball. Some restaurants use contemporary equipment to make it, but here it was done by hand, smashed in a wooden bowl called a pilon. Served with a half-dozen shrimp in a light garlic sauce, it tasted best when it acted as a sponge, soaking up the flavors of the terrific garlic sauce. It can also be stuffed with various fillings, from ground beef to pork.

Pork, rightfully, starred in its own dish, called pernil ($10), consisting of about a quarter-pound of roasted meat, pull-apart tender and lightly seasoned with salt and garlic; it was the best thing we had. On the side came likable yellow rice, dotted with pigeon peas.

Desserts are made in-house, by Rodriguez’s mother, but they go fast. Of the nine offered, only one had not sold out, and we got the last piece of it: Nutella flan ($3). Its texture was thicker than typical flan, and it was sweeter, too, thanks to a drizzle of caramel sauce.

The 12-table spot embodies the definition of a neighborhood restaurant. The small tables are clustered together, like a New York bistro, and lively conversations among diners and servers boomerang from one end of the room to the other, creating a sense of community. Even if you’re unfamiliar with the food, you’ll feel at home.

El Mofongo Caribbean Restaurant 3701 S. Cooper St., No. 141, Arlington 817-466-8802