WALLINGFORD — At Ola Restaurant on Route 5 diners can try traditional Latin dishes with modern twists surrounded by Caribbean inspired art and sunset scenes.
“It’s very tropical,” said Melvin Lopez, co-owner and executive chef of the Wallingford location, which has been open for three years, and the original restaurant in Orange, which has been open for 12 years.
Lights projected on the ceiling dance in a wave-like pattern around the orange and blue-themed rooms. Metal fish swim around the restaurant with signs encouraging diners to “Find your beach at Ola.”
“There’s a particular town that I love — Antigua, Guatemala,” Lopez said of the inspiration. “(The colors) they stay in my mind and my heart so we brought them over to Connecticut.”
The food is also influenced by the culture.
“We use a lot of Latin ingredients with techniques you’re probably accustomed to,” Lopez said.
He said Mediterranean, Spanish and Italian dishes are made using Latin ingredients.
Popular menu items include the sugar cane-dark rum, caramelized salmon with quinoa, baby spinach and shitake mushrooms, served with a ginger lemongrass salsa.
The paella is another highly requested dish, Lopez said, made with a variety of seafood like shrimp, mussels and clams, along with chorizo.
“Any given night we do anywhere from 50 to 60 paellas,” Lopez said.
Margaritas and mojitos are also a hit in the beachy atmosphere.
“Mojitos are most popular,” said Israel Teran, a bartender for the last eight years at both restaurant locations.
The restaurant recently added a short menu of tapas and smaller portions of appetizers at the bar, for those who do not want a full entree.
“They feel they get away,” Lopez said of the customer response to the seaside concept. “They tend to forget what’s going on outside the walls of the restaurant, so it becomes almost like a vacation.”