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Dining Out with Hialeah Mayor Robaina and a Top 11

The "City of Progress" will finally live up to its moniker if Julio Robaina has anything to do with it.  But don't expect him to go behind the line if it involves more than a photo op!  Trust us; we tried to cajole him into an apron ourselves last week at Taberna de Ignacio on West 68th Street, his favorite Hialeah restaurant for a business lunch.

It's cool though. Maybe he was tired. After all, the Hialeah mayor is one busy hombre.  Only clocking an average five hours of sleep a night, he has the obligatory ribbon-cuttings and baby-kissing to contend with.  He's also CEO to 1700 employees and manager of Florida's fifth largest city, (the second largest in Miami-Dade County) with a population of 250,000. 

The salpicon de mariscos, under "Tapas Frias"
The salpicon de mariscos, under "Tapas Frias"
Jackie Sayet
Croquetas de bacalao (salt cod) y espinaca (spinach)
Croquetas de bacalao (salt cod) y espinaca (spinach)
Jackie Sayet

The table, including an entourage of two staff members and the mayor's wife Raiza, chowed on plates of salpicon de mariscos ($10.95,) calamari and shrimp in a citrus marinade with sliced white onions, and red and green peppers. Short Order wishes the crab hadn't been imitation, but the dish is quite good, not as acidic as ceviche and with a nice savory flavor reminiscent of adobo seasoning. Croquetas are very tasty, fried to perfection and not oily, with a creamy inside and crispy outside; however they seem too uniform to be house-made.

Garlicky, flaky and tender corvina
Garlicky, flaky and tender corvina
Jackie Sayet

Mains included zarzuela a la Catalana, seafood and fish stewed in tomato sauce ($20.95); langostinos al ajillo, jumbo shrimp with garlic sauce ($17.95); corvina a la Vasca, white sea bass "vazca style," seared with garlic and oil ($18.95); and medallones de res con salsa de champinones, beef medallions with mushroom sauce ($17.95.)  

Chipped fries, nice touch
Chipped fries, nice touch
Jackie Sayet

Robaina is daddy to five (boys from baby to teen) and loves to entertain at home, especially outdoors. He appears to have a profound respect for tradition both in his home and professional lives.  In August, he'll celebrate the second anniversary of his father's death by inviting his father's friends over to their lakeside home for a game of dominos.  And he will probably barbecue for the occasion, while admitting to catering support for larger parties -- as any smart host with the means should.  "And I don't want to make it difficult on her," he says, motioning to Raiza. 

Don Quixote and Sancho Panza oversee the dining room...
Don Quixote and Sancho Panza oversee the dining room...
Jackie Sayet

In addition to answering his residents' call for more national food chains including a new Applebee's (maybe not such a good thing for food culture, but arguably good for the local economy,) Robaina's also fought for the revitalization of historic Hialeah Park and the return of horse racing which shut down in 2001.  The first race is slated for December of this year under the tents, he mentions, adding, "I think you're the first to have this [information.]"  Nice.  We're hoping he reinstates the track's traditional Sunday brunch, too, a favorite over the years since the park first opened in 1924, one year before the city itself was formed.  This rebirth should do wonders for the city's image and hopefully take it off Forbes' Top 10 Most Boring Cities list.

"94 percent of the city is Hispanic and of those, 65 percent are of Cuban descent," he explains. "The unique thing about Hialeah is that we have a real melting pot.  You won't find separate neighborhoods with one nationality or another."  The result is a local restaurant scene that is the epitome of fusion cuisine. "If you go to a Cuban restaurant, you will find that other Latin cuisines influence the menu," he adds.  Purists might be up in arms at the thought, but this is authentic Hialeah at its best. 


Here's a slice of Mayor Robaina's Hialeah in food:

Favorite place to entertain dignitaries? 

At Mayor Robaina's residence.

Best politician hangout?  Casa Marin Restaurant.

Best timeless table, i.e. a place that's been around forever?  Chico's
Restaurant. 

Best diamond in the rough, i.e. a place that's overlooked by most, but a dedicated few know it's secretly amazing?  Los Peruanitos, a homegrown chain.

Best place to grab breakfast? Latin America.  What's your breakfast routine?  Mayor Robaina usually has breakfast at his residence. It usually consists of green tea, cottage cheese, and fruits.

Best place to run into everyone you know?  Molina's Restaurant. 

Place that satisfies your sweet tooth?  El Indio Bakery.  What dessert
specifically?
  Coconut Flan. 

Best dish in Hialeah?  Grilled fish. 

What do you like to cook at home?  Yuca frita and anything on the barbecue.

Taberna de Ignacio
1800 W 68th St # 123
Hialeah, FL 33014-4407
(305) 820-1091




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