Taking visitors to incredible Spanish tapas in a gas station makes me feel like such a Miami veteran- El Carajo (Coconut Grove, Restaurants)

I get really really competitive and almost obsessed with making sure that friends and family that visit me fall in love with Miami. I love this city and I think it has so much to offer and is a place that is what you make it. One way I try and get people to rave about Miami is through the food. Some of my go-tos include Venezulean arepas at La Latina, Puerto Rican mofongo and jibaritos at El Bajareque, Peruvian lomo saltado at CVI.CHE 105, of course Cuban food at a number of different places, the Toston burger at Pincho Factory… Certainly I focus more on Latin food since it’s something my visitors might not have been exposed to as much. More strategically this food is also likely to be far better than anything they can get back home if they come from big foodie cities. (Don’t get me wrong though. There are tons of delicious non-Latin food here like Blue Collar, Ironside Pizza, and Yardbird to name a few). I am excited to now have a new go-to on the list for Spanish tapas at El Carajo on US-1 near Coconut Grove!

Returning from my recent trip to Chicago my brother was in South Florida. Him and a friend stayed at my apartment a few days while I was gone and then he was up in Delray Beach at my family’s. They came down the night after I was back for dinner and I tried to figure out where to take them. I hadn’t been to El Carajo, but Miami-native friends had raved. Given how amazing Spanish tapas are in general and the multiple times I’ve heard El Carajo mentioned, I felt comfortable taking visitors there on my own first trip.

One of the more interesting things about El Carajo (besides the delicious food) is that it’s technically in a gas station. I was trying to think of creative ways to spring this on my family. The ideal situation would have been if I could have gotten them to somehow “stop” and then convinced all of them to “run in” with my really quick. And then been like surprise! I had to settle for me telling them where to park and them being like “it’s a gas station?” Yes. Yes it is. And that’s what’s so great about it!

While it’s technically inside a gas station, this isn’t the type of restaurant like in the South where an actual gas station has the best BBQ you’ve ever had. Most of the inside is dedicated to the restaurant and the bakery. There is a small counter for the gas station at the front and maybe 1/5 to 1/6 is convenience store-like. Otherwise there is a gigantic bakery counter with tons of delicious desserts and a lot of wine and gourmet products up front. You then head towards the back and behind a partial divider is a very beautiful and decorated restaurant.

After being seated we looked over the menu (which come rolled up by some twine) and I suggested some of my favorite Spanish tapas dishes. My family was willing to take my suggestions so we went for some of my old favorites- Tortilla Espanola, Tortilla de Chorizo, and Patatas Bravas. They also had bacon wrapped dates, which I like to get no matter what kind of restaurant I’m at. I also was reading about the world famous Jamon Bellota, which is acorn-fed Spanish ham that’s been cured for 36 months. That looked like quite the treat. My family also got an order of the cod fritters. Finally to cap off the meal (well unless we went for dessert) we went for Tabla de Carne (the meat platter) for our “entree.”

There isn’t one thing we didn’t enjoy and I’m worried this will turn into a 2,000 word blog post if I just let my thoughts all come out on the page. I’ll stick to the highlight of each dish:

The Jamon ham was very good. It was very thin, like a prosciutto or a carpaccio. For $35 for a plate it was definitely a delicacy, but I was glad to have tried it.

The bacon wrapped dates were excellent. It’s tough for bacon wrapped dates, because I always compare them to Sugarcane’s bacon wrapped dates, which will be a part of my final meal in Miami no question. There’s some similarity between the two in that they both are stuffed with sausage. Sugarcane’s however has manchego cheese inside. These bacon wrapped dates had the same fulfilling and hearty umph to it, but were slightly more sweet than Sugarcane’s. I did like that these dates seemed to feel a little lighter. I don’t want to keep comparing the two of them. These were excellent and a high to-do for visitors to El Carajo. I will certainly enjoy going back for more.

The Tortilla Espanola and Tortilla de Chorizo met all of my expectations, which were high! This is one of my favorite Spanish dishes. Tortillas are like Spanish omelettes with potato in them. Some Tortillas I’ve had are very eggy and more similar to an omelette. Others are more quiche-y/casserole-y due to its layers and being heavy on the potato. These Tortillas at El Carajo are the latter, which I love the most. Some Tortillas are served chilled and others are served warm. These were served warm and were delicious and savory layers of egg, potato, and aioli sauce. Of course I loved the chorizo added (big meat eater here), but the original was top notch and I was surprised at how much I enjoyed just the “basic” (but excellent) flavors relative to the chorizo. Take a look at the pictures below to get an idea of the layers of different flavors and textures.

I wasn’t able to have the cod fritters being gluten-free, but my family enjoyed them.

The Patatas Bravas came out a little differently than other experiences. At other restaurants they have been drenched in a tomato sauce with an aioli drizzled over it. Here the crispy potato chunks come with an aioli dipping sauce on the side. I missed the flavor of the spicy tomato sauce on other versions, but this was a nice “snack/appetizer” to dip the potatoes in the aioli sauce (we were already getting full from a lot of the food).

Last, but not least, was the meat platter! It was a good sampler of different kinds of meats and other food like tostones. There was ribs, churrasco, sausage, chicken, pork loin, chicken wings, potatoes & fresh tostones. I think I was able to try everything but the ribs (I let my brother have more of those). Favorites were the churrasco (as expected), a few of the sausages, and the chicken wings. I was glad the tostones were there for my family to try. I could eat those for days (and do actually eat a lot of them every week at home). This was a great sampler of different meats for a family meal and excellent for visitors.

We were very stuffed afterwards, but El Carajo does a great job of having you walk in the front past that bakery counter with all the desserts… I noticed Creama Catalana on the menu, which is a Spanish version of Creme Brulee. That’s a favorite dessert, so that caught my attention, while my family focuses on some cake pieces. I did go for the Creama Catalana, while they went for a piece of guava cheesecake, chocolate cheesecake, and a piece of chocolate cake covered in chocolate ganache. We then also got a few macarons for us to share.

It was a big meal and these desserts were all very rich, but the coma afterwards was worth it. The Creama Catalana was very good as expected. I really like the macarons. We went for a variety of flavors. Dulce de leche is always my favorite macaron flavor and that was the case here, although I did also like a raspberry and vanilla one (two different halves) that they had. My family really enjoyed the guava cheesecake and that it was more light and not as rich as the chocolate one (which had a lot of chocolate!). I had a bit of the top of the chocolate cheesecake (filling doesn’t have flour in it) and then also had a bite of the chocolate ganace on top of my brother’s chocolate cake. Both were very very rich. Quite chocolately and delicious, but I was glad I was only having a few bites.

This was an incredible meal at El Carajo! Everything was delicious. There are so many choices to pick from (the great thing about Spanish tapas). It really is also a beautiful space inside this gas station. I’m glad that I’ve finally visited and can now bring more visitors there for Spanish tapas. I’ll also take a little bit of pride that I can take my out-of-town visitors to a delicious restaurant hidden inside a gas station. Makes me feel like a real local and that I know so much stuff… (just let me have that fantasy okay!). There are several delicious Spanish tapas restaurants around the city. Given the quality of El Carajo and its unique space I am definitely rating this a worth-the-drive restaurant though. Going to be one of my top recommendations for restaurants for locals and visitors alike. You’re truly in for a treat if you visit. Scroll through all the pictures of our great food a few weeks ago! And yes for Spanish speakers carajo does have some interesting connotations. I’ll leave it to Google if others want to look it up…

El Carajo- 2465 SW 17th Ave, Miami, FL 33145

http://el-carajo.com/

The menu when you arrive

The Jamon ham

Bacon wrapped dates

Cod fritters

Patatas Bravas

Tortilla Espanola and Tortilla de Chorizo

Tortilla de Chorizo

Tortilla Espanola

The meat platter

Meat platter

Close up of the churrasco

Guava cheesecake, chocolate cheesecake, macarons, and Creama Catalana

Chocolate cake with chocolate ganace

Part of the bakery counter filled with delicious macarons

The decor inside the restaurant (definitely does not look like a gas station!)

Tons of wine bottles to choose from!

More of the bakery counter

Looking back towards the restaurant portion of the restaurant

 

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