Tapas aren’t just in Spanish restaurants anymore

My Spanish grandparents, who passed on the love of tapas style food to my Dad, have no idea what an influence they would eventually have on my affinity for the Spanish style small bites. And what’s great is that now the tapas style of eating has crossed over into other types of cuisine. Actually, Chinese dim sum is very similar to tapas, small bites meant for sharing and plenty of sampling.

So I decided this month I’d focus on the best restaurants around Miami to enjoy and feast on these little delicacies. I had a list of my own going and decided I should also enlist the advice and opinions of several “foodie” friends. Turns out many of their suggestions were similar to mine but there were a few great ones I hadn’t considered.

For sure there are several Spanish restaurants on this list and for me, first and foremost is Xixon Cafe at 2101 SW 22 St. (Coral Way) which when I first discovered was in a much smaller location. Now with larger digs, they’ve ample room to expand not only their wines offered but of course, their menu. Mushrooms are a big Spanish tapas staple and here they’ve got them sauteed in a sherry sauce, fried squid is another favorite as are their boiled potatoes in a creamy herb sauce. Their variety of croquettes is amazing too.

Casa Panza in Little Havana, located at 1620 SW Eighth St., has my favorite the appetizer sampler with Spanish “chorizo” sausage, manchego cheese, and Spanish serrano ham. A plate of delicious salty bites. The Galician white bean soup is a comforting Spanish style stew that may not necessarily fall under the tapas category but is still a don’t miss. And of course another one on the legendary Little Havana street, Las Tapas de Rosa at 449 SW Eighth St., where they’ve got shrimp in garlic or tasty tortillas, a dense Spanish omelette filled with either potato, onion and chorizo or just potato and onion.

Jamon Jamon Jamon at 10 SW South River Drive can be a little difficult to find but is worth the search. Obviously they like their ham here since it’s mentioned three times in the name. Even though it’s a relative newcomer their ham selection is already legendary since they’re serving up the traditional serrano along with the rare pata negra (black leg) and 15-month dry cured Campofrio serrano. The grilled shrimp are served Spanish style with the head on and are succulent and juicy.

The fancy, in a gas station, El CarajoThe last of the Spanish restaurants on my list, and probably one of the most unique is El Carajo located at 2465 SW 17th Avenue located inside…a gas station. Yes, this has got to be the nicest spot I’ve ever seen inside a gas station. The wine selection is unbelievable and the atmosphere well, just look at the pictures. Amazing that they could house such a cozy, European-inspired place inside a gas station! There’s a substantial sampler the Tabla de Carne (meat served on a wooden board) that includes chicken, pork chop, lamb chop, chorizo and more along with Spanish style potatoes and fried green plantains or tostones.

And now we travel to another area of Miami, mainly Wynwood and the Design District, to get a different take on tapas altogether. At Sra. Martinez, 4000 NE Second Avenue, Chef Michelle Bernstein, a star in Miami and in the chef circuit, is whipping up some goodies inspired by her Hispanic heritage (she’s half Cuban, half Jewish). The Mussel ceviche with tomato, lime and rocoto and her take on patatas bravas (angry potatoes) in typical Hispanic huancaina sauce topped with crispy ham makes these unique are just a couple of the many mentionables from her menu.

Bacon-wrapped dates at SugarcaneAt Sugarcane, 3240 NE First Avenue they’re all about the small bites and some of the best are the bacon wrapped dates have a creaminess from manchego and and the duck and waffles, an upscale take on a Southern classic with crispy leg confit and mustard maple is perfection. The goat cheese croquettes with membrillo marmalade are also nice.

And finally, over on Miami Beach, in the quieter side, is then newest kid to the tapas front Pubbelly at 1418 20 Street billed as an “Asian-inspired Gastropub,” but there are definite Latin American influences here. Sure the Guinness braised short ribs sound all-American however the mofongo with crispy pork belly features the classic green plantain puree that’s a staple in many Latin American countries. For the Asian flare there’s the Pubbelly Ramen (so much better than the styrofoam packaged grocery store kind) since this one’s got pork belly, lemograss broth and a poached egg. Or there’s the McBelly (not to be confused with anything the McD chain makes) with porkbelly, kimchee barbecue (there’s the Asian twist), pickles and shaved onions.

Mofongo at Pubbelly

By no means is this meant to be a comprehensive list, the list of tapas spots in Miami is ever-growing so rest assured, there’s another tapas-inspired blog in my future. Stay tuned…

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