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Paninoteca Warms Wisconsin with Latin American Specialties

By Pamela Sosnowski

Wisconsin may seem an unlikely location for a Latin American restaurant, given that its weather is not exactly tropical-like. But Paninoteca has not only been thriving here, but has been doing so for over 30 years. The Appleton restaurant offers both traditional and South American plates, sandwiches, salads, and more, in a no-frills diner-like atmosphere that puts the focus on the food.

"The inspiration to open Paninoteca is I wanted something unique and family oriented," owner Freddy Orozco said. "We are the only Dominican restaurant [in Wisconsin]. The closest one is 300 miles away in Chicago. I also wanted something for my family as well."

Open daily for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, Paninoteca has been described by diners online as "a hidden gem" and a "favorite restaurant." The name itself alludes to sandwiches (as in the Italian word panini), but the menu is diverse with tacos, Caribbean BBQ ribs, fried plantains with eggs, and much more.

One of the traditional dishes, Tostones Tropical, features a spread of plantains, pork chops, sliced avocado, and sweet and sour sauce. Another popular plate, the Alitas De Pollo Dominicanas (Dominican chicken wings), features wings with Russian potato salad, a choice of fried plantains or fries, and a choice of several sauces.According to Orozco, the slightly sweet side dish known as fried plantains remains one of the favorites among customers.

"We are getting big in fried plantains or like we call them, tostones," he said. "When we started we were going through one case every two weeks and now we are doing four cases a week and growing."

Paninoteca has also become a popular breakfast destination, serving up traditional American morning staples such as bacon and eggs, omelets, steel cut oatmeal, pancakes, crepes, and more. Pancakes and French toast can be prepared plain, or with chocolate chips, blueberries, or pecans. The protein packed Loaded Potato dish consists of hash browns that arrive topped with applewood bacon, sausages, onions, green peppers, and cheese.

The restaurant offers a childrens' menu as well as non-alcoholic beverages made of oranges and papaya. A Jamaican horchata, a creamy beverage made from rice, is also available. Then there are the classic sandwiches such as the Reuben, turkey cranberry, and a "grown up" grilled cheese featuring three different cheeses, pesto, and tomato. New on the burger menu this summer is a volcano burger, where a fried egg, bacon, and sliced avocado sits atop a patty cooked your way.

Soups, salads, and hot entrees round out the menu. A soup and half sandwich lunch special is offered daily, and the restaurant has also started making Latin American desserts.

No matter what kind of food one is in the mood for, Paninoteca has it and treats every customer like they're home.

"The atmosphere at Paninoteca is family oriented, friendly, and we are just here to serve our customer," Orozco said. "For us they are part of family so when they come through this door it's like family is in the house."

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