• Greg McNeil

A Taste of Havana

Today in Cuisine Corner, I continued my journey off of Washington Street and ventured to 926 Castle Point Terrace. What was I doing there? Ordering takeout! I wanted to try ordering takeout from a restaurant to provide my readers with a perspective they are probably more familiar with, ordering takeout from their sofa. Additionally, I wanted to try a reputably good restaurant and see if their takeout was up to the standard I was used to. I decided that I would order from La Isla – the notorious Cuban restaurant that recently launched their expansion into uptown Hoboken. That said, I would not be reviewing La Isla.

For this review, I would be tag teaming the Hoboken favorite La Isla, Uptown, with my partner in crime, Dr. Bryan Charalambous (PhD). A seasoned (pun intended) food connoisseur, Bryan was as eager as I was to have some delicious Cuban food.

We started off with a google search which led us to “”. The first thing I noticed was that the search results were mixed between the uptown and downtown location. While I am sure the differences were not significant, be wary when ordering online to select the correct location. Bryan and I perused the menu online and were generally pleased with what we saw. The menu was well rounded in terms of price – that is to say, there were expensive entrees and reasonable priced sandwiches. To get a good sample of what a typical plate might look like, we ordered two appetizers, one sandwich and one entree. One thing that Dr. Charalambous was quick to point out was that there was no roasted pork entrée on the menu. While I will concede that there were several sandwiches that contained roasted pork, one would expect that a restaurant specializing in Cuban food would have a featured pork dish. Overall, I was satisfied by the menu.

The next step was to give them a call and place my order. I did this instead of ordering online to better review them on service. I was greeted by a very friendly hostess who was extremely patient as I butchered the pronunciation of the nuanced Cuban dish on the menu. She was extremely patient as I explained my credit card situation and offered solutions to help. Overall, it left me even more excited for some Cuban food!

In around twenty minutes, La Isla had arrived and I was ready to dive in! We ordered a Croqueta (ham stuffed twinkie-like object), El Cubano (roasted pork panini), Cama Ajillo (shrimp in a cream sauce) and Tasajo (shredded beef with rice). We started with the Croqueta, which for three dollars was a “get what you pay for” portion size. We split it in half and dug in. We were met with an unbelievably delicious crunch and a nice sweetness from the ham. Even though the portion was small, the value that was packed into a Croqueta was fantastic! Next we moved on to the El Cubano, which contained the roasted pork. Something Bryan and I both noticed immediately was that the pork was dry – extremely disappointing for something that we were looking forward to. Continuing, we moved to the Cama Ajillo, which had a delicious cream sauce. The shrimp was perfectly cooked, which pleased Bryan, someone who “has a lot of respect for restaurants that can perfectly cook a shrimp”. Finally, we arrived at the dish we were most excited for, the Tasajo, which was strongly recommend by La Isla’s online menu. The dish was expensive at $19 but provided the largest plate of the day. Bryan and I dug in. The first thing that hit me was the fried onion bits that were placed on the top of the shredded beef. While I understood the purpose of the fried onions, by the time they reached me they were soggy and did not provide the needed variance in texture. The rice was perfectly seasoned and lifted the dish up, but the beef, which was the supposed star of the dish, was underwhelming. It lacked seasoning which I found unacceptable for a signature dish.

Overall, La Isla provided an acceptable quality for reasonable prices. The major point that I want to bring up is how the normally high quality dropped off when ordering takeout.

Quality: ★★★

Service: ★★★★★

Budget: ★★★

A note about ratings:

Much like the great film reviewer, Robert Ebert, the ratings are relative, not absolute. The rating must be taken in context with the types of restaurant that I am reviewing. For example, I may give a fast casual restaurant “5 out of 5” stars for quality of food and a fine dining restaurant “2 out of 5 stars”. Does that mean the fast casual place has better food? No, of course not! It just means that in the context of fast casual restaurants, the restaurant is pretty good!

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