Ramses Garcia, the owner/chef at Las Palmas Latin Grill off County Line Rd., just south of the Pasco County line (near Five Guys Burgers & Fries), is a pretty confident guy — confident about his food and his restaurant’s entrenched position in our community — and that confidence has been boosted in recent years, as Las Palmas has won a couple of impressive titles.

After being named as the purveyor of the “World’s Best Cuban Sandwich (Tampa historic style)” at the Cuban Sandwich Festival held in Ybor City the last two years, and with the shocked reaction he received from the community when he closed his former Las Palmas location (in the Pebble Creek Collection, a little further south on Bruce B. Downs Blvd.) nearly two years ago — as well as the overjoyed reaction he and his wife Ana got when Las Palmas resurfaced in its new location earlier this year — it’s easy to understand why he feels so strongly about what he does.

But, even the big man with the bigger personality couldn’t possibly have expected to win the title bestowed upon him recently by another well-known (even though I’d never heard of it before…just kidding) local publication — Best of the Bay Cuban Restaurant, by Creative Loafing. 

Or did he?

“Hell yes, we deserve it,” Ramses says proudly. There were at least 75 other Cuban restaurants throughout the Tampa Bay area that received votes, so that’s not something you can win by accident. You and the Mrs. love my food, don’t you?”

Heck yes, we do. I’ve enjoyed so many dishes over the years at both of Ramses’ Las Palmas locations — from the ropa vieja (shredded beef) to the breaded palomillo steak to the lechon asado (roasted pork) and the crispy beef, aka vaca frita (which is marinated in garlic-lemon mojo sauce sautéed to a delicious crisp), to the deep fried pork chunks drizzled with garlic mojo (masitas). 

But, the dish that hooked Jannah on Las Palmas that also has been my long-time favorite is the merluza a la Russe (whitefish with Russian sauce, made with chopped eggs, parsley and spices; left photo on next page). Well, maybe it used to be my favorite.

New Favorites?

The reason is not because I don’t still love this flaky, white fish (also known as hake), lightly breaded, flash-fried and topped with chopped egg and delicious spices. It’s because Ramses recently added a few new menu items that are now vying for attention as my favorite. 

Ramses has a unique take on the traditional Peruvian-style fish ceviche tapas. Not only does he marinate raw whitefish in lime juice and spices, he places chunky pieces of it into edible cups made out of plantains and tops this tapas with onions and red and yellow peppers. Other favorite starters/tapas on the menu include yuca fries, empanadas, deviled crabs, stuffed potatoes and croquettes.

Las Palmas also has a great café salad, topped with smoked ham, Genoa salami, Swiss cheese, green olives and banana peppers and his creamy herb dressing is outstanding, although he also has great balsamic vinaigrette and ranch dressings, too.

Ramses also recently added thick-cut loin pork chops (costillas de puerco; photo above) that are available breaded and deep fried or marinated and grilled (as in the picture) and are tender and super-tasty.

But, my favorite of the new menu items is an amazing churrasco steak (above), topped with one of the best homemade chimichurri (green) sauces I’ve ever tasted. And, even though the churrasco is flank steak, it is amazingly tender and cooked to perfection.

“Of course it’s tender,” Ramses says proudly. “That’s prime flank steak — the best you can buy. It costs a little more, but I want people to know that when they eat here, they get top quality at great prices.”

For those looking for a quick and delicious lunch (served 11 a.m.-3 p.m., Monday-Friday only), many of Las Palmas’ Cuban favorites are available with one side dish for $8.49 to no more than $9.49, including the roasted pork, ropa vieja, picadillo (minced beef), fried butterfly shrimp and the chef’s selection “Tour of Havana,” a classic sampler trio of ropa vieja, roasted pork and picadillo.

Available lunch sides include black beans, boiled yuca, sweet or green fried plantains, green beans, peas, a side house salad and even French fries. 

And, of course, Ramses sells a lot of his “World’s Best” Cuban sandwiches at lunch, too. He also serves a Miami-style Cuban (without salami), a roasted pork sandwich, breaded or grilled palomillo steak and a breaded basa (freshwater fish) sandwich, all served on artisanal Cuban bread. 

At dinner time, you can have your choice of yellow or white rice and black or red beans, in addition to the lunch sides mentioned above. You also can substitute a cup of one of Las Palmas’ premium soups — black bean, white bean and collared greens, garbanzo beans or black beans and rice soups — for only 45 cents additional. Other dinner entrées not mentioned earlier include chicken and yellow rice, grilled chicken breast and two shrimp dishes I sadly can’t sample — breaded, fried shrimp and shrimp in garlic sauce. 

What About Dessert?

You definitely should save room for dessert at Las Palmas.

The sampler pic above features items that are available every day in the beautiful display case at the front of the restaurant, including (l.-r.) the tres lechés (sponge cake soaked in three kinds of milk, including evaporated, condensed and heavy cream), a traditional chocolate layer cake, Cuban-style flan and a light and delicious creme brulée, which has that perfectly crisp topping even though it’s not flambéed tableside. A second display case located near the cash register offers a variety of perfect pastries, all with flaky crusts and delicious fillings like guava and (I believe) some kind of berry. 

And of course, there’s amazing espresso (aka café Cubano) and some of the best café con leché in town.

Las Palmas’ catering menu is extensive but never expensive, with corporate events and large parties a specialty, and Ramses says beer and wine is definitely in the restaurant’s future. 

Las Palmas Latin Grill is located at 6431 E. County Line Rd., New Tampa. It is open Monday-Wednesday, 11 a.m.-8 p.m., and Thursday-Saturday, 11 a.m.-9 p.m. It is closed on Sundays. Reservations are never required. For more information, call (813) 803-3903 or visit LasPalmasLatinGrill.com.   

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