Five Best Croquetas in Miami

At the risk of exposing my bad-Catholic tendencies, I'll admit that as a kid, I looked forward to Lent. All the Cuban restaurants in my neighborhood would roll out special seafood menus, and the coffee windows would beckon with extra shelves of bacalaitos, malanga fritters, and fish croquetas. And because this Friday will be the last meatless fritter extravaganza before the Easter lechón, there will be plenty of opportunities to indulge in croqueta nostalgia. There's some contentious debate about where to find the best ones in Miami, but these five places, from fancy five-stars to corner-shop bakeries, immediately spring to mind:

5. Sra. Martinez

The "croquetas of the day" ($9) at chef Michelle Bernstein's tapas spot

contain anything from wild mushrooms to squid ink to foie gras and are

usually paired with an equally enticing dipping sauce. Jamón serrano

with blue cheese croquetas served with sweet fig marmalade are a

favorite (and you can also find them at Bernstein's other restaurant,

Michy's). 4000 NE Second Ave., Miami; 305-573-5474

4. Ricky Bakery

No fancy fillings here -- just ham and chicken (and of course spinach and

cod during lent). This place has supplied bandejas ($7.50) of

the generously filled appetizers for many a back-yard family gathering. 12759 Bird Rd., Miami; 305-220-2026; and 3115 Coral Way, Miami; 786-552-9494

3. Soleá

Why don't more restaurants serve aioli with ham croquetas ($8)? The two seem a marriage made in oily, creamy heaven. 2201 Collins Ave., Miami Beach; 305-938-3111

2. Islas Canarias

For pure, greasy-fingered gratification, Isla's no-frills crisp

cylinders filled with heavy, smooth minced ham or olive oil-laden chunks

of fish (95 cents) do the trick. They are best served the old-school-Miami

way, atop a saltine cracker with a squeeze of lemon. 285 NW 27th Ave., Miami; 305-649-0440

1. Xixón

You can find all kinds of croquetas packed with cheese, codfish,

spinach, ham, and even paella (a popular next-day leftovers treat in

Spain) at this tapas joint. But the shining croquette is the one

generously stuffed with cocido -- chickpeas, pork belly, and morcilla --  stewed with heaps of vegetables and ground into filling. 2101 Miracle Mile, Coral Gables; 305-854-9350

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