Las Culebrinas is a family style Cuban – themed restaurant with locations in Coconut Grove and Little Havana.Visiting the Coconut Grove location, before entering the restaurant  on a Saturday afternoon the first observation is that even though Las Culebrinas has their own parking lot, there is an attendant in the empty lot wishing to charge you $4 for the privilege of parking and dining at the establishment even though Berrie’s next door has their own free parking.

Entering the establishment through a large, rustic door,  one is immediately greeted by a host and offered seating. The restaurant was largely empty this afternoon, though it was almost 2pm – not a peak hour.  The servers were very attentive and a delicious bread was immediately brought to the table along with water.  The decor was striking – The restaurant looks like a time capsule from 1974. It is obvious that a lot of money was spent on the original design but it has not been updated since then. Perhaps this is intentional, part of their motif?  Movie site scouts should know about this place for filming period pieces.

I sampled their tapas selection on two different occasions. They have reduced tapas prices during happy hour and their regular prices are not bad. Calamares Fritos ($7.95) were not good. For some reason, every Cuban restaurant seems to have fried calamari on the menu, but every one also seems to buy them pre-breaded and frozen and does a pretty awful job of them.  Their Camarón Ajillo ($7.95) or garlic shrimp was much better. This is also an authentic Spanish – style tapas dish. The large shrimp were properly seasoned and well presented in garlic, herbs and olive oil without the shrimp being overcooked or greasy.  The mejillones  al vapor ($7.50) or steamed mussels were surprisingly good. This is a dish many restaurants mess up, often due to inferior quality mussels, poor preparation or overcooking.  Las Culebrinas got it right.  The mussels were not at all bitter – which is a common shortcoming, and were hearty in flavor without being fishy or overpowering. The buttery sauce went well with the bread brought to the table, which also paired nicely with the manchego cheese plate ($7.95). The cheese was ample in quantity and perfectly acceptable – though not exceptional quality.  Ice tea was $2 per glass and there are no free refills.

Overall Las Culebrinas cooks passable food, the high point was certainly very polite, friendly and attentive – though somewhat formal service.  As the restaurant experience includes ambiance as well as food, though the food is decent I would not take a date to Las Culebrinas because the decor looks like an old funeral home or a haunted mansion. It’s the kind of place to stop into when you are in the neighborhood alone and have 40 minutes to kill, to take advantage of their happy hour prices.

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