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Sandy • A bit of sunshine is in order. After a season wrought with the grounding, earthy, holiday flavors — the tastes that bind us to the cold season — I'm ready for more colorful flavors.

I want spice. I want brightness. I want a bit of flair. Short of plane tickets to Puerto Rico, I can conjure up a sun-saturated moods in a Sandy strip mall at Adobos Caribbean Grill.

The location may be far away from tropical beaches, but Adobos skimps on the decor while it successfully saves its frills for the plate. It's the best Puerto Rican food we have in Zion — and it's a respectable representation of the Caribbean's cross-cultural island cuisine.

In Lamplighter Square, head to the western edge of the complex and look for the bright banners with a palm tree illustration. Inside, you'll smell sofrito, that sacred combination of chopped onions, garlic, peppers and tomato.

Those aromatics are the basis of all of Adobos' dishes. Everything from the garlic-spiked tostones ajillo ($3.95) — you could eat these like potato chips, but not with an ice cold beer, since there's no liquor license here — to the beef picadillo empanadillas ($4.25), deep-fried pockets notable for the sofrito-infused ground beef mixture studded with black olives and raisins. The salty empanadas are a nice foil to the pina coladas and coco locos that aren't too sweet, but really fruity.

These two dishes are served as appetizers, but could constitute a meal. Sorrullitos de maiz ($3.95) reminded us of corn dogs, minus the dogs, and they tasted slightly sweet and comforting, sparked after a dip in garlic sauce by a squirt of hot sauce. Yuca alcapurrias ($4.95) are crunchy fingers of mashed yucca seasoned with red-hued annatto, spices and stuffed with the punchy beef picadillo mixture.

The same sofrito echoes through the entrees, mostly based on meat. One specialty is the ropa vieja, Cuban-style shredded beef, which is served with well-seasoned rice and a side bowl of delicious beans ($9.95), or cradled in a bowl of mashed and fried plantains, garlic and chicharones, known to the Caribbean world as "mofongo" ($10.95).

It's delicious, with a complex texture of starchy crunch and creaminess. It's also a worthy vessel for the chicharones de pollo ($8.95 to $9.95), bone-in, skin-on fried chicken pieces marinated in an island mojo sauce.

Shrimp ajillo ($13.95) is garlic-laced and intense, and tastes delicious with the house rice and beans — both red and black are equally good. Daily specials are offered in the same manner, with a few exceptions, like my favorite, arroz con pollo, or chicken with rice ($10.95). Adobos' version tastes homey and addictive, thanks to the fluffy rice and tender chicken. As it's only served on Monday nights, we made a brief tradition of arroz con pollo paired with Monday Night Football on the dining room's TV, and a plate of those crunchy tostones ajillo. Game on.

The flavors might be nostalgic for everyone who grew up with Caribbean dishes, yet Adobos' plating is more indicative of a higher-end restaurant. Servings aren't sparse, but they aren't grandma-generous sized either.

For me, the serving size was ideal. And in some instances, I was thankful for smaller servings of lackluster chicken wings ($7.95) or the shrimp Creole ($13.50), which was decent, but paled in comparison to the ajillo version.

Servers are helpful, and you'll need their aid to guide you through the menu if you're new to Caribbean food. Whenever I visited, the restaurant wasn't busy, which is a shame. But at the same time, the food sometimes took a while to be prepared from the quiet kitchen. And in some cases, the temperature of the food was lukewarm, which undermines the appeal of the tostones ajillo, a bubbling pepper-laced beef stew ($10.95).

Temperature isn't an issue with dessert with dense flans ($3.50 to $3.95), which are delivered cool and rich, or the formidable, memorable guavabestia empanada ($6.95), which arrived piping hot. The mad drizzle of Hershey's syrup is superfluous, maybe even detracting, and the ice cream and whipped cream piled on top are good, but definitely not necessary. The beauty of this dish is the interplay between the hot, flaky pastry of the half-moon shaped pastry and the sweet, floral and tangy guava paste oozing beneath it. It's beautiful, and worth the extra space in your stomach even after a huge meal.

After all, sunshine can feel hearty and satisfying.

HH

Adobos Caribbean Grill

Food • HHhj

Mood • Hhj

Service • HH

Noise • b

Puerto Rican comes to Zion in this small family-run, strip-mall restaurant. Plain d├ęcor, but flashy food with mofongos (fried plantains with garlic and chicharones), savory red beans and rice, crunchy alcapurrias and a Monday special of chicken with rice. For dessert, order the Guavabestia, a guava empanada.

Location • 9460 S. Union Square Plaza, Suite 106 (in Lamplighter Square), Sandy; 801-523-3672

Hours • Monday to Thursday, 11:30 a.m. to 9 p.m.; Friday and Saturday, 11:30 a.m. to 10 p.m.

Children's menu • Yes

Prices • $$

Liquor • None

Reservations • No

Takeout • Yes

Wheelchair access • Yes

Outdoor dining • No

On-site parking • Yes

Credit cards • All major