Overall impression: Hidden behind a thicket of palm trees and tucked behind a Dunkin Donuts off U.S. 441 is a gem of a Colombian restaurant that offers a more-upscale experience than most of the small, lunch-counter-style rinconcitos littered throughout South Florida. At the family-owned Medellin Restaurant, you'll find a mostly traditional Colombian menu with the occasional tweak to blend in a different Latin American cuisine or to make the dish a bit more accessible.
Ambience: The dining room is bathed in warm colors thanks to the golden glass lamps and burnt-yellow walls. Two-story-high ceilings trick the eye into making the 60-seat restaurant seem larger than it is. On the northern wall, you'll find a series of prints of paintings by Fernando Botero, Colombia's most-celebrated painter. To the east is a slick wooden bar with stools and shelves stacked with wine. It all combines to turn what would be a casual eatery into a slick yet inviting place.
Starters: At a Colombian restaurant (and South American restaurants in general), you'll seldom go wrong ordering obscenely large platters of meat. So at Medellin, go straight for the picada ($8), an enormous, mouth-watering platter of chorizo, delicious chunks of pork rind, little yellow potatoes, white-corn cakes and slices of beef. You'll also not want to miss out on an arepa ($3), a semisweet yellow-corn cake stuffed with cheese that is as good as you'll find from the best street vendors (yes, that's a compliment).
You'll want to skip the fried green plantains (i.e., tostones) with guacamole ($7), as they arrived mushy from being oversize and underfried. In one of the restaurant's twists, a trio of empanadas ($6) boasts an Argentinean-style crust, made from dough rather than yellow cornmeal, as is the Colombian way. While we weren't in love with the bland ground chicken and beef stuffings, we adored the one stuffed with white cheese, especially with the accompanying spicy aji sauce. A visit to a Colombian restaurant wouldn't be complete without a bowl of ajiaco ($5), a mild, earthy stew with shreds of chicken and vegetables that will soothe you after eating all that spicy sauce.
Entree excellence: Carnivores are going to have a tough time picking from the many delicious meat dishes on this menu. Whatever you order, be sure to ask for the excellent chimichurri sauce, which perfectly balances olive oil, red vinegar and garlic.
If you want to experience a fun yet traditional dish, order the mojarra ($15.95), a whole tilapia deep-fried to give the exterior a satisfying crunch your friends will hear as you bite into it. Do this fish justice by squirting it generously with lime.
Pollo borracho (drunk chicken, $12) is a solid bet, especially at the price, with tender cuts of chicken sautéed in cognac, garlic and butter.
Of course, the table was in love with the bandeja paisa ($11), a protein bomb of flank steak, chorizo or pork rinds, red beans, rice, white corn cakes, guacamole and — for good measure — an egg. While it's unsubtle and cholesterol-laden, you'll get over it as soon this tantalizing pile of meat arrives.
Another meat platter, the parillada ($32 for two) is also a good bet for big appetites, though we got more value out of the less-expensive bandeja. Nevertheless, this giant bowl of chicken, steak, pork, chorizo and shrimp served with three sides is a go-to dish for a large group due to its variety and shareability.
For sides, try a fried batch of yuca fries ($3) or sample the rice with coconut ($3), a version that's lighter on the coconut than usual but pleasant, nonetheless.
Sweet! Dessert here got the table talking — in a good way. The most-unusual dessert was a custard labeled "tres leches" ($4) that isn't the milky cake one would expect. It's sort of a flan with little egg and no caramel. Instead, it's generously topped with cinnamon, making it taste more like Latin-American-style pudding. While it perplexed us, it was tasty. More conventional is the rice pudding ($4), beautifully presented with sprinkles of cinnamon and a small pile of raisins on top. Guava cheesecake ($4, and no mention of guava on the menu) has a chunky texture with the right amount of guava to accent the dessert. Chocolate stout cake ($5) has some wonderful textures, with a smooth, rich center and a crunchy top — all punctuated by the taste of the Modelo beer with which it's made.
Insider tip: Get 15 percent off your bill by texting "MEDELLIN" to 305954, which will add you to the restaurant's mailing list.
4631 N. State Road 7, Suite 26, Coral Springs
Cuisine: Colombian, Latin American
Hours: 11 a.m.-9 p.m. Sunday-Thursday, 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Friday-Saturday
Bar: Full service
Sound level: Quiet
Outside smoking: No
For kids: Highchairs, kids' menu
Wheelchair accessible: Yes