Cheap Eats

Delicias de España's $8 Lunch Special Delivers ... Sometimes

I drove past the Delicias de España on the corner of Bird Road and 57th Avenue in Coral Gables for more than three years without even noticing it. Yet a nearby job forced me onto that awful stretch of road almost daily and not long after I wanted to know what I was passing each day.

The most enticing bit of the menu, for me anyway, was the $8 lunch special. The offerings never repeat in the same week. For little more than the price of a McNugget meal you'll get an appetizer, which could be soup or some combination of ham or codfish croquettes and a piece of Spanish tortilla, a main course and a dessert.

Walking into Delicias, which is split into a market and restaurant, is similar to stepping into an Asian market. You're excited, curious, possibly overwhelmed by row after row unfamiliar products. The only difference is Delicias lacks the mandatory funk of dried seafood and the shouting of ornery shopkeepers.

Soon after ordering the especial almuerzo on a first visit I heard the unmistakable pop of a microwave door slamming shut. Moments later my waiter, who obviously held me in contempt for ordering an $8 meal rather than a $20 plate of paella, appeared with two half-heated croquetas de jamon and a limp piece of Spanish tortilla.

A separate visit offered a far superior bowl of crema de patatas con queso. Though heavy on the cream, the richness of the dairy and pureed potatoes is cut with nutty, salty Swiss cheese. What stuck to the bottom of the bowl was sopped up with one of their homemade rolls.

I tried to remain positive after the croquet-and-tortilla incident. Next came a red bean stew with potatoes and bits of ham and sausage. Though fully warmed and hearty enough to be a meal, it looked suspiciously like something cobbled together from what was in the walk-in fridge and had to be sold. Dessert was a rubbery flan, served in the foil cup with the burnt sugar topping often found on a crème brulee.

A far superior escalope de res emerged on a second visit. Beef came pounded thin, breaded and fried a la Milanese alongside potatoes sliced into thick disks and fried. No complaints about meat and potatoes, however the spuds were saturated with frying oil, greasy on the inside and without any salt went mostly untouched.

Dessert was also far superior the second time around. A thin layer of cake topped with a layer of chocolate cream and a thicker layer of almond mousse disappeared in a few bites.

I wouldn't steer you away from any of Delicias' three locations. I've spent hours in the market convincing myself not to buy a $750 jamón ibérico while trying to identify the myriad canned seafood. However I make no promise the day's special will compare to the squid stuffed and cooked in its own ink, or the grilled octopus sprinkled with lemon and paprika making their way past you and on to other tables.

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Zachary Fagenson became the New Times Broward-Palm Beach restaurant critic in 2012 before taking up the post for Miami in 2014. He also works as a correspondent for Reuters.
Contact: Zachary Fagenson