La Isla Restaurant (Downtown)

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.

la isla restaurant papa rellena

Papa Rellena

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.

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Omelette

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.

la isla restaurant hoboken croqueta preparada

Croqueta Preparada

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)
Hoboken

Take the PATH to Hoboken and walk a few blocks. Or, take the 126 to Washington and 2nd.

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Matt & Meera

Hoboken is kind of like New York City, except smaller. At just about one square mile, the birthplace of baseball and Frank Sinatra has an “uptown,” a “midtown,” and a “downtown,” just like the Big Apple across the Hudson. It has a main artery — Washington Street — like Broadway, and finding a parking spot is just as challenging.

One of the things I like best about Hoboken is the availability of many different types of cuisine, just like New York. But where New York City has a lot of duds among the diamonds in the rough, Hoboken has a smaller sample size, making it easier to find what you like and what you don’t. More often than not, you like what you come across.

Last night, MDP and I went to Matt & Meera, an Indian restaurant on Washington Street. I had been looking for a good Indian restaurant for some time. When we walked by Matt & Meera on New Year’s Eve, we vowed to try it, without knowing we’d end up there the following evening.

There’s something about frogs that Matt & Meera holds dear. Don’t worry, they aren’t on the menu, but they figure prominently on the restaurant’s website and frog figurines make for unique decorations within the darkly lit space.

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Potato and pea samosa

Frog love notwithstanding, the food is, in short, phenomenal. We started with the potato and pea samosa, which was accompanied by a mint chutney and a tomato-based chutney. The samosa was perfectly fried, with a crisp exterior that, when punctured, lay bare to a plethora of delicious potato filling. But the mint chutney is the real star of this dish. Packing the heat yet ending with a cool sensation, the condiment paired perfectly with the samosa. Highly recommend this dish.

For entrees, we sampled two of their “classic dishes” from the back of the menu, and an order of garlic naan, which was supple and garlicky and warm.

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Madras chicken

MDP had the madras chicken, which featured a nuanced flavor of mixed spices, coconut, and a lingering heat that wasn’t overpowering. The madras chicken was delicious. If you like spicy food but want to actually taste something, this dish is for you.

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Paneer makhni

I ordered the paneer makhni. Diced paneer sits in a bath of creamy tomato sauce, with a slight spiciness that delights the palette. The sauce was more tomato than cream, unlike the butter paneer I’ve had elsewhere, which emphasizes the cream in “creamy.” I cherished each bite of garlic naan with paneer makhni as though it were my last. This is a great vegetarian option, if you aren’t into meat.

Aside from these dishes, Matt & Meera has a host of other delectable foods on their menu, including kati rolls (one of my favorite foods ever) and naan pizza. I encourage you to sample their innovative menu next time you’re in the Mile Square City.

Matt & Meera
618 Washington St. (between 6th and 7th streets)
Hoboken, NJ
If you’re traveling from New York City, take the PATH to Hoboken and walk about seven blocks on Washington. Take the 126 to 6th Street.