Some of the most memorable meals are those made with love - mom's chicken soup to help combat a cold or grandma's Swedish meatballs for monthly family dinners.
So that's the approach that the Rondon family took when they decided to open Mambo Bar & Restaurant in October 2009.
"We wanted something very traditional, homemade foods made with love," says Ambiorix Rondon Jr., who operates the Bank Street eatery with his parents, two sisters, an uncle, a brother-in-law and a cousin.
"Some things take three to four steps to prepare, but we don't mind. We want people to have fun and enjoy themselves."
A laid-back, tropical, yet festive atmosphere is what you'll find at Mambo. Its brightly painted walls, adorned with palm trees, birds and native plants, are reminiscent of the family's homeland, the Dominican Republic. But what immediately hits patrons walking through the door aren't the sights, but the scents.
Along with a variety of herbs and spices wafting through the air is the smell of stewed chicken (pollo guisado), seafood mixed with rice (paella), roasted pork (pernil), yellow rice and beans (arroz amarillo con habichuela) and sweet yellow plantains (maduros).
All of these dishes, menu staples, can be tweaked at a diner's request.
"If we're not too busy, we like to offer traditional things that are not on the menu," he explains.
Rondon's favorite is shrimp mofongo, a dish made with green plantains that have been fried or mashed. Flavored with garlic and other seasonings, the mofongo is served in an edible bowl over the seafood with lettuce and tomato. Chicken or beef can be substituted for the shrimp.
Mambo serves Dominican cake supplied by a local baker, but soon the eatery will make the treat in house. Flan, a custard-based dessert baked in a pie dish that is prepared with condensed and evaporated milk, is made on site every other day by Rondon's father.
Rondon's mother, who makes most of the meals at Mambo, comes from a long line of people who love spending time in the kitchen.
"My grandma won't be expecting people, but when you stop in it looks like Thanksgiving," he explains. "In DR (the Dominican Republic), my mom's side of the family had tons of land. They'd have 70 or 80 people working for them that they had to feed breakfast and lunch to. And they had to whip it up all within 45 minutes."
During many early and midday meals, Rondon recalls, employees continuously commented on the food and how it would be great for the family to turn it into another business. Already working in the construction field, the family used their expertise to complete renovations to the local site within three months.
Tropical drinks are served from the first-floor bar, in addition to the second floor bar that is also home to a dance floor. Several nights a week, patrons can dance to the Caribbean rhythms of meringue, bachata, salsa and reggae music.
"We thought about serving breakfast, but when you close at 2 a.m., it's kind of hard to get up at 5 for breakfast," he explains. "I think New London needs an authentic Spanish restaurant that everyone, not just Spanish-speaking people, can enjoy."
Mambo Bar & Restaurant
194 Bank St., New London
11 a.m. to 11 p.m., Tuesday and Wednesday; 11 a.m. to 1 a.m., Thursday; 11 a.m. to 2 a.m., Friday and Saturday; 11 a.m. to 1 a.m., Sunday; closed Monday