Downtown Hoboken is home to several foodie luminaries: the renowned Carlo’s Bakery, Empanada Cafe, Rita’s (!!!), Charritos, and other local gourmand favorites. La Isla Restaurant is at the top of my list, after sampling their breakfast this morning. The funny thing is, most people would walk right by La Isla, given its low-brow neighbors (Cluck-U Chicken is nearby), and the washed out “Restaurant / Cafeteria” sign hung above its door.
The tiny Cuban restaurant has garnered many accolades over the years, which are all proudly displayed near the entrance. Its interior couldn’t be more than 20 x 10, and that’s a generous estimate. A long counter sits just beyond a refrigerator case when you walk in, and seats about 16. Several tables for four line the opposite wall, from entrance to rear, leaving a fraction of a walkway for servers and customers to navigate. Customers are encouraged to “sit wherever you like” even if you’re a party of two; during busy hours, I imagine the counter is the best you can do.
I had considered trying La Isla several times before today, but watching Triple-D on the Food Network gave me that extra push required to head over to 1st and Washington. And what an experience it was.
We started our meal with drinks. I ordered the “Cubaccino,” which is a cappuccino with a cinnamon flair and whipped cream on top, while MDP opted for a standard tea. Simple enough, and pleasing nonetheless.
To kick off our meal, we ordered Papa Rellena, which is the dish I saw on the TV. Are you sitting down? You need to be sitting down for me to explain what this is. OK. It’s basically a fried mashed potato ball with delicately seasoned ground beef in the middle. Right, a fried mashed potato ball. You read correctly. Could anything be as divine, I think not. Its exterior is fried just enough, to give it a mild crunch as you take your first bite. Then, the silky texture of the mashed potatoes prepares your palate for the ground beef, which is savory and robust in flavor. No wonder Guy Fieri went nuts for this one. You can order it with salsa, which we should have done–no doubt, we’ll return and get this fried ball of deliciousness again.
Famous food aside, everything else turned out spot on, as well. I got the chorizo, manchego, and onion omelette, with home fries and toasted Cuban bread. While the omelette was pretty good, the star of this entree was the Cuban bread. I cannot overstate how exceptional this bread is. Its crisp texture gives it bite, but its slender form factor leaves you wanting more instead of feeling overstuffed. Totally brilliant. I liked the home fries, and I found the true manchego flavor to be apparent in the omelette. Sometimes the cheese gets overpowered by other ingredients in this type of dish, but that wasn’t an issue here.
MDP got the Croqueta Preparada sandwich. It featured smoked ham, Swiss cheese, pickles, garlic “mojo,” and a surprise potato croquette creation all squeezed between Cuban bread on a griddle press. Looked great, but I’m no fan of ham, despite the name of this blog, so I passed. MDP kept saying,”This is really good.” This means it was.
Even if you think Cuban isn’t your thing, La Isla will charm you with its phenomenal food.
And, if you’re closer to uptown Hoboken, stop by the sibling restaurant, also called La Isla, there.
La Isla Restaurant
104 Washington Street (near 1st Street)
Take the PATH to Hoboken and walk a few blocks. Or, take the 126 to Washington and 2nd.