6789 Biscayne Blvd., Miami; 305-400-8173. Reservations via Opentable.com
Puerto Rican-born chef Jose Mendin—two-time Cochon 555 champion, five-time James Beard nominee, and the driving force behind his ever-growing Pubbelly dynasty and Habitat in the 1 Hotel South Beach— is cooking the food of his homeland at La Placita, a new spot in MiMo that has garnered plenty of buzz due to its controversial mural of the Puerto Rican flag.
Will you wait for a table?
Most likely, yes. Remember, this place just opened New Year’s Day and people are excited about it. Be sure to make a reservation in advance because on a recent Sunday night the line of people waiting for tables did not dissipate from the afternoon into the evening. Also, be ready to weave through the folks taking selfie’s in front of the building.
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Housed in the former Balans restaurant on Biscayne, Mendin’s team has given the space the energy of an all-hours neighborhood hangout with a live DJ on the outdoor patio, and a bodega-like feel with products and knick-knacks from the island. The bathrooms include a whimsical touch – sounds from the El Yunque forest emanate from the doorway when you enter.
Be prepared to eat:
Puerto Rican classics with a gourmet spin. Prices for starters run $8-$14, but get more indulgent for the larger mains $17-$38.
Start off with alcapurrias topped with ropa vieja or the bacalaitos, salted cod fritters with coconut aioli.
Seafood dishes include a Key West conch salad, octopus escabeche and a whole fried snapper. The mofongo is a popular family-style platter of the mashed plantain dish topped with protein options, including the ropa vieja, camarones al ajillo, salmorejo de jueyes and pollo guisado.
Heartier mains can be had with “Platos de la Casa,” which translates to “house dishes,” and includes things like the Pastelón de Asado, sort of a Latin lasagna, with sweet plantain, short rib and Béchamel pie and Asopao de Mariscos, a Puerto Rican-Spanish seafood stew served with rice and vegetables and a special dish, Carne Guisada a la Zaydi,a recipe from Chef Mendin’s own mother.
Of course, there are plenty of pork dishes, such as the lechón asado and a pan con lechón made with house-roasted pork and mojo aioli.
Pastry chef Maria Orantes pays homage to roadside treats called “limbers” which are traditionally homemade frozen ices or smoothies. There’s also a signature bread pudding and an Arroz con Dulce, a sweet rice pudding.
You’ll have to navigate the crowds to get a table here, but if you’re looking for a taste of the island, keep in mind this is a chef’s interpretation of it, not your abuela’s.