Sunday, March 18, 2012

Islas Canarias Restaurant

Miami has always been known for its melting pot of cultures. It's no wonder then that in a city with streets named Celia Cruz Way and Jose Marti Blvd., there would be an intense, welcoming charm and political passion; or that in a section of town called "La Pequena Habana", or Little Havana,  you would find an older generation of men in Maximo Gomez Park, ( Domino Park as it is referred to by the locals), playing dominoes and chess, and smoking hand-rolled cigars. All this takes place while tourists walk down the "Paseo de las Estrellas" ( Walkway of the Stars), taking photographs of  engraved stars on the sidewalk, and paying tribute to celebrities such as Gloria Estefan and Willy Chirino; with as much excitement and anticipation as you'd find in the Hollywood Walk of Fame. Add to that a huge annual festival, Calle Ocho, that brings in millions of people to the city each year, and that in 1988 was the scene of a Guinness World Record, as 119,986 people joined in the world’s longest conga line, and you've got yourself an image of the strong, colorful and proud Cuban culture you could find in Miami.

While we can choose from an infinite number of restaurants in this part of the city, serving authentic Cuban cuisine, with a cafecito to complete your meal, my adventure takes place farther west, in another part of Miami known simply as West Dade. Venture here with me, and you will find a popular gem, always full of people either sitting inside the restaurant or standing outside the cafeteria, engaged in conversation and friendly banter, greeting you warmly as you walk by. This place is Islas Canarias Restaurant, located at 13697 SW 26th St (Coral Way).  Islas Canarias is a Cuban restaurant established in 1977, which has grown into an empire including two locations, cafe/bakery, catering services and most recently, a food truck known as CubanCube. I happen to love this place, and quite honestly, sometimes come here on the weekends for breakfast, lunch and dinner. It is very convenient, since it even offers a drive-thru service, similar to fast food chains, where you can order delicious, traditional Cuban food after a long day at work, and just pick it up without ever leaving your car. Pretty awesome, right?

There are so many dishes I can recommend at Islas Canarias, that I'm just  going to talk about my latest dinner adventure there to get things started. If you're familiar with this place, and I ask you what is your absolute favorite food here, I'm sure nine times out of ten, I'd get the same response: their Croquetas. I'm not sure exactly what it is, but when I say addicting, please take me seriously. In the cafeteria alone, they take them out in batches of 25, and they don't last. People order them in large quantities because they are so extremely amazing. Possessing a flavor totally different from any other croquetas, these are big, creamy inside, and make you ooh and aah as you bite into their soft, tasty texture. I would literally fight someone for the last croqueta remaining on the tray. Great, now I can't stop thinking about them!

Tostones Rellenos
I'll move on to an appetizer I love: their Tostones Rellenos (stuffed green plantains). There  are a variety of fillings that you can order these delectable treats with: seafood, shrimp, chicken or ground beef. The order of three plantains comes with just one of these fillings, but I asked for a combination of shrimp and ground beef because they are my favorite. Aside from having the most incredible seasoning, the tostones sit on a pool of black bean sauce which gives it an additional flavor you want to scoop up with your spoon. So extraordinary!

Vaca Frita
As for entrees, their selection is huge, and reminiscent of the homemade cooking we find in Cuban homes. I had the Vaca Frita, which would loosely translate to Fried Cow, but is really Marinated Grilled Flank Steak.  It is a slice of heaven, cooked to perfection, crunchy yet tender and juicy, and topped with a mound of cooked onions. I like to add a spritz of lemon, to give it that tangy finish that makes you want to jump up and dance a cha cha cha. The dish comes with two sides, and you have a variety to choose from. I chose Arroz Moros (black beans and rice cooked together) and Platanos Maduros Fritos (fried sweet plantains).

Bistec Empanizado
Another entree I tried was their Bistec Empanizado (breaded steak). It is gastronomical! Big! Humongous! The steak actually extends out of the plate. And it is delicious. It is thin, well seasoned, and a pleasure to chew, not tough like can be the case in other restaurants. This dish comes with one side, so we had the Arroz Blanco (white rice), and ordered a side of Frijoles Negros (black beans), and  tostones (green plantains) Yes, we're fans!

Flan de Queso
By the time we finished what we could (the rest we packed in a to go box), we decided we had to have traditional dessert to finish our Cuban extravaganza. We shared a slice of Flan de Queso (cheese flan). While it was good, it wasn't the best part of the meal. I would've liked it more moist and with a tad bit more caramel on it, but it was still an amazing dinner and I was happy. Of course, after we paid and walked out, I stopped outside their cafeteria, and ordered my usual Cortadito for the road. This is an espresso, "cut" with a small amount of warm milk to reduce the  strength of the coffee. (The ratio of milk and coffee is about 1:1) I love to have it sweet, light and with evaporated milk, as it gives it a creamier finish. Sure, I could've ordered it inside, but no one prepares it like Yenisleiny. She always knows exactly how dark and sweet I like it, and I look forward to my afternoon shot almost everyday. She is amazing!

Islas Canarias is a staple in the neighborhood, and this particular location is the one I love. I highly recommend that when you get a craving for some outstanding Cuban food, with a homemade, nostalgic taste, and you want to go out and explore another cultural part of town, you stop by; but remember, if there are only a couple of croquetas left, you just might want to rethink getting them, because I'm probably on my way. For more information, visit them online at or call them at 305-559-6666.


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