Travel to Cuba may now be accessible but why wait to experience the cuisine, when you can have authentic Cuban food at the newly opened La Isla in Hoboken? This is the second location; the original restaurant is at 104 Washington Street, Hoboken.
Full disclosure: I was a judge on Throwdown With Bobby Flay, which aired on March 17, 2010, where Bobby Flay went up against La Isla chef/co-owner Omar Giner. Giner won for his French toast filled with strawberry/guava cream cheese, dipped in cinnamon batter and coated with corn flakes and almonds. Lowell and I were recently invited for dinner at his new location. I judged him a winner in 2010 and judge him a winner again.
The 100-seat restaurant is open from 7 AM to 10 PM, Tuesday through Saturday and 10 AM to 9 PM on Sunday. Lunch is a bargain with daily specials that include two sides. For example, on Tuesday, a Cuban style pot roast stuffed with chorizo ($11), fried chicken chunks ($8), Havana-style ground beef ($11) or a half-roasted chicken ($10) is offered.
The dinner menu offers small plates, such as steamed pork and corn polenta served in a corn husk and topped with pickled red onion and fried pork; empanadas (we loved both the ground beef and the vegetable empanada filled with spinach, cremini mushrooms and manchego); panes such as the El Cubano with roasted pulled pork, ham, Swiss cheese, pickle and garlic mojo; salads (the La Isla was colorful with tomatoes, red onion, avocado and virgin olive oil); and entrees, which run the gamut from jumbo shrimp in a white-wine garlic sauce to marinated grilled skirt steak topped with chopped raw onions and served with chimichurri sauce. We opted for the grilled pork chops topped with caramelized onions and sides of tostones and black beans and rice and a special of perfectly cooked moist halibut topped with pineapple salsa sitting atop malanga, which is a root vegetable resembling a yam but with a white interior, whose taste and texture reminded us of mashed potatoes.
Desserts also gave us the homey feeling of dining with an “acere,” a good friend. Tart key-lime pie with an innovative cilantro syrup and a sprinkling of Marcona Spanish almonds was gobbled up, as was the thick and creamy Cuban-style flan. Of course, Cuban-style coffee is available.
The wine list with options from Spain, Chile and Argentina is pocket friendly with bottle prices ranging from $24 to $49. A red, white or sparkling sangria is also offered and on Sundays, chef de Cuisine David Montanez, offers a special sangria that takes a week and a half to mull and has a hint of cinnamon. We were given a taste and found it to be refreshingly different. Cocktails such as a Mojito Classico and craft beers and bottled beers are also available.
Along with vibrant Cuban cuisine, there are eye-catching paintings by Humberto Benitez, a Cuban artist living in Coral Gables; a blue, yellow, maroon and white tiled floor, similar to what you would see in a Cuban restaurant; and Cuban music all add to the ambiance.
La Isla reminds us that life is good, “la vida es buena,” and that we should try to get to Hoboken more often.
La Isla Restaurant
25 12th Street
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