Caldo de bola
Caldo de bola

Family-Run Mi Lindo Ecuador Serves Ecuadorian Specialties

It begins with inky slugs of homemade blood sausage. They're filled with pork blood, rice, onion, and smoky pimiento, then plunked into a boil with hunks of heart, tongue, and feet. Over time, the bubbling chocolate-colored broth leeches out the best of each ingredient and becomes rich, porky, and free of the offal's funk. Finally, the massive bowl of caldo de salchicha is spiked with plantain slices and a generous handful of green onion rings.

Find it on the weekends at Doral's Mi Lindo Ecuador. The pale-yellow space on NW 25th Street is adorned with illustrations of the Virgin Mary and the Last Supper. Pictures of the menu's offerings cover an entire wall. Telemundo blares on a flat-screen TV set. The 34-seater is within earshot of the throaty rumble of tractor-trailers venturing into Miami International Airport. Three generations of the Castro family run the place, and you can find them taking orders, clearing tables, and rolling silverware into paper napkins while grabbing a quick bite between the lunch and dinner rush.

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Gilberto Castro, age 68, is the patriarch. He began shuttling between the family's home in Guayaquil — Ecuador's largest city — and Miami in the late 1980s. He sold Avon products, clothes, and other wares to support the family back home. He and his wife Mercedes, now 65 and still the family cook, moved to a small home in Sweetwater in the mid-1990s. It wasn't long before they began selling food in nearby parks out of their home to earn extra money. In 2004, they opened the original Mi Lindo Ecuador just south of the airport on NW Seventh Street. That same year, Gilberto was joined by his son Octavio, now 42, who arrived with his young family. "I didn't have a steady job back in Ecuador," Octavio says. "I was more nervous staying there than coming here."

These days, the family does what it knows best: serve a broad swath of Ecuadorian cuisine that is as widely varied as the country that includes the Andes, the Amazon jungle, and Pacific beaches.

The massive menu is broken down by proteins — chicken, pork, fish, and shrimp. There are ceviches, traditional dishes like the tripe stew guatita, and samplers called triples y cuádruples. There are also seafood-studded casseroles thickened with mashed plantains.

The most common refrains are the soups, stews, and starch-heavy dishes that compose the bulk of the Ecuadorian diet. Alongside the weekend specials like that caldo de salchicha is a list of nearly a dozen seafood-centered sopas, chupes, and encebollados. The last is pitched as a hangover cure and an aphrodisiac in the same bowl. It's also the most popular thanks to the red and white onion curls that seem to make their way into almost every dish. They're most pronounced in the ochre-hued hot sauce perched on each table and which should be spooned onto every bite. The vinegary concoction is punched up with red pepper and Scotch bonnets that set mouths aflame. Green onions offer nostrils a sharp tingle. Both are complemented by a touch of sweet earthiness from the ground-up carrots that provide the striking color.

Despite the sweltering heat, it's hard to resist dousing it onto a platter heaped with steaming yellow rice. The grains are boiled in the appropriate seafood stock, depending upon the order. The one with briny shreds of crab is tossed with the perfunctory onions, red pepper, queso crema, and a hefty dose of butter to create a kind of oceanic, starchy frosting. A pair of fried sweet plantains rides shotgun for good measure.

Other starch-centric dishes are good for any time of day. Bolones — fist-size spheres of fried, mashed green plantains studded with a perverse array of fillings — are as appropriate at 8 a.m. as they might be at 8 p.m. In the morning, find them in a breakfast that includes a salty white cheese and crisp shards of chicharrón alongside a fried egg and chopped flat steak. At night, order them as an appetizer or side dish with an empanada de verde con queso. For this four-biter, a single unripened plantain is pounded as thin as dough and wrapped around a sturdy rectangle of salty white cheese. It's closed, fried, and presented unadorned on a teal plate. This is crisper than any Cuban or Argentine empanada, and the filling serves as a seasoning for the shell. It's also gluten-free, but that's not why you came, is it?

Indeed, the vast majority of Mi Lindo's menu is a delightful change from the offerings at the fritangas, cafeterias, and Spanish tapas spots that fill so many Miami roads like crazed drivers. From the carrot-infused hot sauce to the deeply flavored meat and seafood soups and stews, Mi Lindo is there when you can't look at another medianoche or plate of carne asada. Just be forewarned: If you don't live nearby, you'll have to fight West Dade traffic to get your fill.

Mi Lindo Ecuador
8726 NW 26th St., Doral; 305-718-8577; milindoecuador.us. Tuesday 9 a.m. to 6 p.m., Wednesday and Thursday 9 a.m. to 7 p.m., Friday through Sunday 9 a.m. to 8 p.m.

  • Bolones mixtos $6
  • Empanadas de verde con queso $6
  • Encebollado de pescado $11
  • Caldo de salchicha $9
  • Arroz con cangrejos $13.50

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