Cheap Eats: Cheen Huaye, Southern Mexican Cuisine

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Where: Cheen Huaye, 15400 Biscayne Blvd. North Miami Beach, 305-956-2808

What $15 Gets You: Pollo a la Yucateaca, a side of rice, fried plantains and your choice of drinks (and complimentary chips and salsa).

My friend had recommended Cheen Huaye, which served Southern Mexican cuisine (not Mexican Southern, I mean food from Southern Mexico), and I expected a hole-in-the-wall place. But here I was surrounded by men and women in business suits.

Now, don’t get the wrong idea. I just happened to have caught the lunch crowd, which is made up of business folk. The place is casual, and it’s almost hidden at the end of a shopping plaza on Biscayne Boulevard.

The waitress brought over the complimentary salsa and chips. These chips could have been a meal in and of themselves. The portions are huge, more than enough for two people.

The corn tortilla chips had a distinct taste to them; I didn’t get the feeling that they just dumped a bag of chips on the plate. They weren’t greasy either, they tasted like steamed corn. The salsa was not spicy enough for my taste, which is good for those that don’t want to burn their tongues. It wasn’t very thick either, but then again this is a matter of taste. According to the chef, Marco Velasquez, the salsa and the chips are made fresh everyday.

“What I love abut this place is that every time you come here the salsa tastes different,” my friend Levi said.

The menu has your standard fare of chicken, steak and, yes, tacos, but each item is cooked in spices, and sauces that really do make the chicken, steak and, yes, even the tacos, taste different (in a good way).

I ordered the Pollo a la Yucateaca, a grilled chicken breast marinated with a sour orange sauce, covered in red onions and served with rice and fried plantains. Sounds good, doesn’t it? The red onions and sour orange gave the chicken a mild tangy taste. It was spiced just right so it didn’t overpower the chicken’s flavor.

This chicken breast wasn’t some I’m-going-to-be-hungry-15-minutes chicken breast - it was big.

The yellow rice portion was a small by comparison, but hey, the whole meal costs around eight dollars and I’m only complaining because I wanted more. Usually I don’t eat rice with peas and other things, but I’m willing to make an exception for this. It had a sweet taste that complimented the tangy chicken well.

The fried plantains were good, not soggy and not burned (you’d be surprised at how easy they are to mess up).

I ordered water but that’s just my custom. You could order a canned drink or a Dos Equis if you want and still not break $15. We stuck around after the meal, most of the lunch crowd had left. The place seems to invite you to stay long after you’re done eating.

Final Verdict: If you’re tired of the mundane everyday restaurant food, drive down Biscayne to Cheen Huaye. The atmosphere is laid back, the service is quick, and the place has classy atmosphere, but not so classy that you feel like a snob or are treated as such. Best of all, it’s good, it’s different, and it’s cheap. The whole meal shouldn’t run you more than $15, and that’s with tip. Even the steak is cheap, but way past $15. --Elvis Ramirez

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