For nearly 40 years, Islas Canarias has been supplying Miami with the best croquetas north of Cuba. But now, the landmark Little Havana location that started the wave of Cuban restaurants circa 1977 has been sold to the owner of Caribe Café Restaurant.
You know what they say: If you can't beat 'em, join 'em. Which is exactly what Caribe's chef and owner, Juan Alvarado, has done by buying into his competition. "Luck put this in my path," he says. "I have no idea how."
See also: Miami's Ten Best Cuban Restaurants
Alvarado opened the first Caribe Café Restaurant in 2005 after helming the kitchen at Sergio's for some time. Since then, Caribe has grown to four locations, all of which emphasize traditional Cuban plates such as lechón, masas de puerco, and a bevy of Cuban sandwiches (think pan con bistec, Elena Ruiz, and medianoche).
With the addition of Islas Canarias' flagship location, Alvarado's restaurant portfolio continues to expand. "Plans are to keep functioning under the same name for one year, and then I don't know. It might become another Caribe or a totally different concept." So there you have it: In 365 days, the historic Islas Canarias sign will be no more.
As for the menu, Alvarado assures he won't change a single thing. "I bought it because it's a great business that has functioned very well for 40 years and without a doubt works. Why would I change anything?
"Employees are the same; recipes and quality of the food are the same. Only thing that's changed is the owners left, but everything is going to work the same until the name change takes effect," he explains. "I don't want to change something because it's established for 40 years and people love it."
How did Alvarado meet Santiago Garcia, the previous owner of the original Islas Canarias? He can't exactly recall. "I don't know how we know each other, but from one moment to another, we got to talking about business and it came up." The rest, as they say, is historia de la Pequeña Havana.
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Santiago Garcia is the son of Raul and Amelia Garcia, who established Islas Canarias in 1977 after emigrating from Cuba. His sister, Nancy Andrade, went on to open the other two Islas Canarias locations in West Dade, one in 1987 and another in 2007. Neither has anything to do with Caribe Café Restaurants. New Times was unable to reach Santiago Garcia for comment, but a trusted source told us that contrary to what Alvarado says, the quality has in fact changed.
Should that be the case, good thing you can still get your croqueta fix at the remaining Islas Canarias locations and even at the related Finka Table & Tap.
Follow Carla on Twitter @ohcarlucha