Restaurant News & Reviews

As debate rages over giant mural of Puerto Rican flag, Miami restaurant is still opening

La Placita Puerto Rican restaurant will open New Year’s Day under a controversy. A massive mural covering the three-story building was commissioned without going through a historic board that governs the MiMo area in which it resides.
La Placita Puerto Rican restaurant will open New Year’s Day under a controversy. A massive mural covering the three-story building was commissioned without going through a historic board that governs the MiMo area in which it resides.

Whether a massive, artistic mural on the side of a new Puerto Rican restaurant in Miami will have to be painted over may be open for debate. But as of New Year’s Day, the restaurant itself will be open for business.

La Placita, the joint passion project between Spanish television celebrity Julián Gil and decorated Puerto Rican-born chef José Mendín, will open at 3 p.m. Jan. 1, the restaurant’s spokesperson said Monday. The restaurant was waiting on the city of Miami to sign off on a certificate of use its owners originally hoped to have on Dec. 28.

But the restaurant will open with a controversy hanging over its head.

La Placita’s restaurateurs commissioned renowned Puerto Rican artist Hector Collazo Hernández to paint the three-story building at 6789 Biscayne Blvd. to look like the Puerto Rican flag. He painted around the clock on Dec. 27 and the restaurant hoped to debut the bold red, white and blue painting the next day.

But there was a problem. The owners failed to get their mural approved by the historic board that oversees the area.

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The building lies in the MiMo Biscayne Boulevard Historic District, the only commercial district in Miami to receive a historic designation. Changes to any buildings on Biscayne Boulevard within the district must go through the city of Miami’s historic preservation board to receive a Special Certificate of Appropriateness from the city’s planning department.

La Placita’s owners applied for a special-event permit from the Miami Police Department to hold the event, but they say they weren’t aware they needed to apply to the historic preservation board before commissioning the $25,000 mural. The building shouldn’t be considered historic, they say, because it was built in 2009, the former home of Balans restaurant.

Now, city planners said last week, they may be asked to paint the building back to its original color as area residents have objected to the mural.

“I’m a huge fan of murals, and street art is awesome. But there’s a place for that and this is not a place for that,” Alisa Cepeda, homeowner and president of the volunteer MiMo Biscayne Association, told the Miami Herald last week.

La Placita wide shot interior.jpg
La Placita, a new Puerto Rican restaurant on Biscayne Boulevard in the MiMo District, opens on New Year’s Day amid controversy over the flag mural painted on the outside of the building. @ChatChowTv

This group of neighborhood home and business owners has shaped MiMo from a haven for rundown hotels and crime into one of the city’s most sought-after areas. And, Cepeda said, the historic designation has helped preserve the MiMo architecture, a unique mix of Mediterranean Revival and Art Deco, sparking a rise in boutique hotels and restored, period-correct homes.

Gil, with his 2.8 million Instagram followers, has rallied support for the mural.

A petition, aimed at the city of Miami, outgoing Florida governor Rick Scott, Gov.-elect Rick DeSantis and Miami Mayor Francis Suarez, has raised more than 72,000 signatures.

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Supporters have taken to social media with the hashtag #NoBorresMiBandera (Don’t erase my flag) to raise awareness. Hernández’s mural, “Plantando Bandera (Staking Your Flag)” grew out of his project, “78 Pueblos y Una Bandera,” where he painted a large outdoor mural in each of Puerto Rico’s 78 municipalities in 2018. The flags became a symbol of unity and resilience after the destruction from Hurricane Maria.

A city spokesperson said that, for now, the restaurant has 30 days to comply with the city code. La Placita’s owners have said they hope to meet with the city’s planning board about a compromise.

“If we were able to overcome the hardships that left our people all but homeless, we will certainly persevere over any hardships that present themselves as it relates to our beloved Puerto Rican flag and painting by Hector Collazo,” Mendín wrote in a statement to the Herald. “They say the way to a person’s heart is through their stomach and we invite you to fall in love and taste our food.”

Miami Herald food editor Carlos Frías won the 2018 James Beard award for excellence in covering the food industry. A Miami native, he’s also the author of “Take Me With You: A Secret Search for Family in a Forbidden Cuba.”