Islas Canarias a true taste of Cuba

Posted Feb. 26, 2013


Nestled in the heart of southwest Miami-Dade sits a restaurant that offers all the dishes of traditional Cuban cuisine.

interior islas canarias

The interior of Islas Canarias.

To Cubans who drive by the pink-walled edifice, the restaurant may serve as a nostalgic reminder of aromas left behind. To others, it may simply serve as a fair representative of a culture’s cuisine.

The nearly 37-year-old fixture located on the corner of 137th Avenue and Coral Way, named Islas Canarias, is in the process of expanding its take-out services, with the implementation of a take out window that should be completed by the end of the week.

New visitors, though, be warned: the exterior of the restaurant is not remarkable and neither is the décor inside. Outside, the building stands with pink-colored walls that seem to blend in with the rest of the shopping center the individual restaurant is surrounded by, and the red roof tiles do not do much to enhance its appearance.

Take a step inside, though, and you’ll immediately notice the palm trees on the double doors and the owner’s apparent effort to make the place more inviting.

Sitting on booths you’ll find the traditional clientele, and you may speak to customers that have been visiting the establishment since the day its doors opened. Toward the back of the large restaurant you will find a more formal salon, decorated with a mural with all the notable faces in Cuban’s historical music scene.

Croquetas at Islas Canarias.

Croquetas at Islas Canarias.

If the place fills, which often occurs on weekdays and weekend nights, you may find yourself dining beneath Celia Cruz’s inviting and friendly smile.

The hostess or host, depending on who has the shift at the hour you visit, will always greet you with a warm smile. Visitors have the option of sitting at either a red-cushioned booth, a regular table or the counter top that opens toward the kitchen. Reservations are not needed at any time, despite this restaurant’s popularity for breakfast, lunch and dinner.

After being seated for lunch, I ordered two croquetas de jamon, or small fried rolls filled with minced ham ($1.07 each). A variation on the Cuban theme, the croquetas de jamon at this restaurant contain a surprise for both loyal croqueta fans and those trying them for the first time.

Take a bite into the “secret family recipe” for croquetas and you’ll find chives, which give the delicate snacks a lovely twist to its traditional taste. To go with my appetizer, I ordered a jugo de naranja natural, or a freshly squeezed orange juice. The juice, served in a tall glass, is so fresh the pulp floats to the top. Sit close enough to the kitchen and you can hear the waiter inserting the oranges into the machine that produces the pulpy liquid.

Vaca frita de pollo at Islas Canarias.

Vaca frita de pollo at Islas Canarias.

As an entrée, I selected a traditional Cuban staple with a twist – vaca frita de pollo ($10.79), or fried, boneless shredded chicken. But, a more traditional vaca frita ($12.79) would mean having fried shredded steak, which is equally delightful at this establishment. Both are served with sautéed onions. To accompany every main course, customers at this restaurant have the option of choosing two side dishes. Side dishes are included for the price of each main dish.

To accompany my dish, I selected arroz moro, a Cuban version of rice and beans, and maduros, which are sweet plantains. The chicken was fried to perfection, and had a lime-like taste to it, which made the side dishes much better when eating the three together in a spoonful.

During my visit to see the construction of the establishment’s new take out window, I did not choose to have dessert. But, I have had the tres leches ($4.09), or three milks cake on prior visits. It is a delectable sponge cake, bathed in sweet condensed milk and served with fluffy whipped cream and a maraschino cherry on top for garnish.

Arroz moro at Islas Canarias.

Arroz moro at Islas Canarias.

Though not all waiters speak English, the restaurant’s menu contains translations for all items listed. Their lack of bilingualism is made up for the location’s impeccable service. Waiters are attentive and prompt, rarely letting an empty glass of water sit for more than five minutes.

Prices are student-friendly, at about an average of $15, with smaller plates costing significantly less.

No specific dress code is required for the restaurant, whether you be visiting to have breakfast, lunch or dinner. A wine and beverage list is available upon request.

The restaurant is an ideal location for any meal of the day – and, its foods offered are an authentic representation of the typical Cuban cuisine.

WHAT: Islas Canarias Restaurant

WHERE: 13695 SW 26 St., Miami, Fla., 33175

HOURS: 7 a.m. to 11:30 p.m.

PHONE NUMBER: 305-559-6666

PRICE RANGE: Dishes range from $8 to $18

  • The location accepts credit cards.
  • Parking is free.

RATINGS (out of five stars):

  • SERVICE: 4.5