Let me tell you about the chimi burrito ($12.99) at Latin House Grill.
An oversize flour tortilla is filled with yellow rice, three kinds of cheese, sweet plantains and a choice of meat. I ordered roast pork. The entire burrito is then thrown in the deep fryer until the tortilla is golden-crisp and the contents are hot.
The result is an only-in-South-Florida-multicultural masterpiece, the product of a Cuban-American chef, Michell Sanchez, whose wife and business partner, Bella Sanchez, is Mexican-American. Michell's mom, Teresa "Chuchi" Perez, is the third co-owner and an important piece of Latin House Grill's success. She spent 28 years as a manager at Versailles, Miami's iconic Cuban restaurant.
"My mother is the heart and soul," Michell says. "Bella is the brains, and I'm the grunt. I'm the one who does everything."
Latin House began as a food truck in 2010. Michell very well remembers making $27 on his first day on the road. By 2012, they had two trucks running, which they sold to finance the opening of their first restaurant off Sunset Drive in Miami. Pembroke Pines opened last month, and the already crowded restaurant tells the story. People love what Latin House serves.
For three consecutive years, Michell won the Burgie Award for best burger from Miami's Burger Beast blogger Sef Gonzalez. It's on the menu as the Champ, which starts with a blend of ground brisket, chuck and sirloin. The patty is placed on a sweet brioche bun and topped with three kinds of cheese, bacon, avocado, crema Mexicana, avocado lime-sauce and candied jalapeno.
We ordered the Original, which is topped with three kinds of cheese, bacon, butter-grilled onions, mushrooms, avocado-lime sauce and crema. Delicious. Unlike so many other restaurants, Latin House takes temperature seriously. The burger was spot-on medium rare. I only wish the burger had a garnish that took it out of the not so visually appealing white-food category.
Burgers come in three sizes: quarter-pound Muffin Top ($7.99); half-pound Madlove ($12.99); and the Burger Beast ($18.99), which is two half-pound patties.
This is bar food at its very best. Pig wings ($13.99), made from trimmed shanks, are tender and meaty 4-ouncers, which you can have with a choice of three sauces, tangy Asian, sweet glaze or barbecue. There are three "wings" per order. Make sure everyone has their own.
A simple quesadilla, here called a chilanga quesadilla ($11.99), can be had with a choice of meat. The chicken we ordered was not only plentiful, but tender, and clearly not purchased precooked, as happens at so many other restaurants.
Chuchi bowl of rice ($11.99), named after Michell's mother, who won't reveal her yellow rice recipe, combines her coveted grains with a choice of meat, pico de gallo, avocado-lime sauce and crema Mexicana sauce. It's another hit.
Most dishes are served with fries that have been cut into thin, circular ribbons. We quickly christened them crazy fries, in part because they are crazy delicious, a crispy cross between a potato chip and a french fry.
There are nachos ($12.99-$15.99); tacos ($11.99); and a traditional carne asada ($17.99), three 4-ounce strips of prime flap steak that's marinated, grilled and served with the addicting Chuchi rice.
Michell's menu is best when there is cross-pollination, such as Chunks and Butterflies ($12.99): chunks of citrus carne asada and four fried butterflied shrimp that are tossed in the house Thai sauce.
A small section of the menu features light fare such as tacos served in hydroponic-organic-butter-lettuce shells ($13.99) instead of corn tortillas, and my beloved chimi burrito ($12.99), prepared without deep frying.
Without that deep fryer, however, you wouldn't have Timba ($6.99) for dessert. Cubes of queso blanco are fried and served with guava marmalade. Balls to the Wall ($9.99) features brownie balls tossed in funnel cake batter and then fried. They're served with sweetened condensed milk and powdered sugar.
Any of the 24 beers on draft are a perfect match for the food served here. So is a glass of house-made red or white sangria ($6.50), which is not too sweet.
Latin House's space was once home to a Caribbean restaurant and a Chinese place before that. A very cool mural by artist Lynn Garcia covers one wall. On the other is an oversize light fixture that spells "madlove." Michell says it comes from a '90s rap song by Method Man, but it also sums up the gratitude he has for having met his wife at a time in his life when things weren't going so well. He's a former gold broker who traveled the world. The bottom fell out of the business when gold prices rose and big companies came in. He lost his car and his Aventura apartment, and was living in an efficiency attached to his mom's house.
A little more than four years later, he has two successful restaurants and another 3,500-square-foot preparation facility. His goal is 10 locations.
I predict he'll succeed.
9976 Pines Blvd., Pembroke Pines
Cuisine: Pan-Latin mixed with American
Hours: Lunch and dinner Tuesday-Sunday
Credit cards: All major
Bar: Full service
Sound level: Very noisy when full
Outside smoking: Yes
For kids: Highchairs, menu
Wheelchair accessible: Yes
Parking: Free lot