3 stars for Spanish eats at Pubbelly's Barceloneta Sunset in South Miami

Pubbelly’s sizeable paunch already has a hold on South Beach, with its sushi, steak, tacos, tapas, Italian and gastropub restaurants consistently packing them in. But can a Pubbelly concept play off the beach? An hourlong wait at the no-reservations Barceloneta in South Miami on a recent Saturday night says “Yes.” Chef and co-owner Juliana Gonzalez opened Barceloneta’s Sunset Drive outpost in January, about a year and a half into the original location’s successful run on 20th Street in Miami Beach, aka Pubbelly Row. The two menus are identical.

Like its South Beach sibling, the newer Barceloneta fills up quickly on weekend nights. The placement of the host stand and bar immediately inside the front door creates somewhat of a logjam as people wait for a table. Still, service is efficient, and plates come out quickly once you order. If you’re less into a scene and more into the food, go for a weekend brunch. You’ll get the same menu, with a few eggy additions, and the same attention to quality. Case in point: Gonzalez was in the kitchen, and running dishes out to tables, on a Sunday afternoon.

Ambience: The smells of sizzling garlic and gambas that greet your entrance, and the sips of cava and Spanish draft beer that temper that extended wait, send immediate signals of comfort: This is where you want to eat tonight, and where you’ll be talking about tomorrow. No-reservations annoyances aside — we were quoted 30 minutes for a table — Barceloneta excels at delivering a tapas experience that’s equal parts classic and modern. There’s sangria and high-quality cured meats for those seeking the former, shrimp with chocolate and a salad named for Spanish avant-garde chef Ferran Adria for those with a hankering for the latter.

What Worked

  • Chorizo flatbread: four squares of hauntingly smoky spiced pork topped with creamy burrata to cut the spice and peppery arugula to keep things bright
  • Tostas that are ideal to share with tablemates
  • Fresh, simply grilled snapper, octopus and skirt steak
  • Garlicky aioli that’s a tangy complement to seafood hot off the plancha
  • A roasted-pepper romesco that matches up with meat
  • Creamy, crispy and piping hot cod fritters with a distinct lemony kick
  • Tender & meaty grilled octopus
  • Ridiculously good baked eggs flamenco – crisp nibs of fried squid atop two soft-baked eggs in a cast-iron dish
  • Elevated humble shrimp tacos garnished with a light, zippy avocado mousse, crunchy red cabbage and baby cilantro with coriander seeds that popped with citrus freshness
  • Spanish wines by the glass and bottle that represent a number of the country’s top growing regions and varietals
  • A gin-and-tonic program should keep cocktail drinkers happy
  • Barceloneta salad – fresh frisee layerd with shaved Manchego cheese, Serrano ham, sweet little wheatberries, top-shelf balsamic vinegar and a little truffle oil

What Didn’t Work

  • Spicy tomato sauce that lacked heat
  • Soggy fried potato cubes
  • Slices of octopus that get lost under a salty blanket of potato cream (the menu kindly calls it foam) and chorizo oil in pulpo a feira