Molina’s Ranch Restaurant

I’ve been going to Hialeah since before I can remember. My mom used to take me there once a month to visit tenants and collect rents at a strip mall. It was another world – one in which my mother, la dueña (the owner), magically spoke Spanish, or some odd mixture of Italian and Spanish that everyone seemed to understand. She was a queen there, and I, in my plaid Catholic school skirt, a princess. The bakery girls would let me pick anything I liked from the glass case, the Sedano’s manager would give me candy and the jeweler would try to push a pair of earrings or a charm on my mother for me. In later years, a mother myself, I took over managing the property and used as a landmark a tiny stump of a building on Le Jeune called Molina’s Ranch. It was painted carnation pink, a color I came to think of as Cuban.

The new spot, opened in 2006, is fancier than Adolfo Molina’s 1982 original, but owners Mildred “Mimi” and Jose “Orlando” Jorge have made sure it stays just as friendly. A recent visit to the neighborhood found the old building a shell but Molina’s more than triple its original size in its new location at the southwest corner of East 41st Street and Eighth Avenue.

Ambience: With its highly glossed dark wood tables and deep green booths, flat-screen TVs and pendant lighting, Molina’s looks as generic as a Bennigan’s, but it has the warmth of a family-run family restaurant. Though it has been upgraded, prices remain reasonable, and the wait staff is accustomed to dragging three or more tables together to accommodate groups of abuelos, padres y hijos that can number in the dozens. Waiters, dressed in black bow ties and tightly fitted vests, are super-friendly, though on one visit ours kept bringing dishes without clearing any.

What Worked

  • Kid-friendly baby palomilla steak served with French fries
  • Fried calamari
  • Pollo ala plancha, a well-pounded chicken breast that somehow remains moist though it is as thin as a fried egg
  • Moist, meaty and perfectly blended moros y cristianos
  • Mariquitas – warm, see-through strips of golden plantain, fried and served with a garlicky mojo
  • Whole fried snapper – big as book and scored to make it easier to pick at the juicy white chunks of flesh
  • Lechon asado – a big platter of tender, flavorful roast pork topped with a crispy, nicely scorched slab of skin as dark as well-tanned leather
  • Soft & shredded ropa vieja with bits of red and green bell pepper
  • An impressive selection of French, Italian and especially Spanish wine
  • Sweet-as-sugar-cane tres leches

What Didn’t Work

  • Run of the mill sweet, greasy plantains
  • Dy and pasty ham croquetas
  • Blah shrimp in tomato sauce
  • Uninspired avocado salad and chopped iceberg with pallid tomato slabs