Columbia, Tampa, Florida

Cuban food is SOOOO GOOD in Florida! And cheap! In Tampa, where the Cuban sandwich as we know it (aka the Cubano) was invented, there are plenty of options to choose from for Cuban food. Brocato’s has been making great sandwiches since 1948, and their Cuban is one of the best in the Tampa Bay area. I had a great Cuban media noche sandwich (midnight sandwich, a Cubano on egg bread) in downtown St. Petersburg at the award-winning Bodega. And if you are on a layover and short on time there are two casual restaurants not far from the airport which I was able to try on a recent visit and recommend highly for Cuban food: Arco-Iris and La Teresita (even if you are not in a hurry they are both well worth seeking out). But for the best atmosphere with your Cuban (and Spanish) food Columbia is the place!



photo by Dean Curtis, 2016


Established in Ybor City in 1905, Columbia is the oldest restaurant in Florida (they also claim to be the largest Spanish restaurant in the world, taking up an entire city block!). Cuban immigrant Casimiro Hernandez, Sr. opened the bar and café to serve the Cuban and Spanish cigar workers in the neighborhood (at its manufacturing peak in 1929 Ybor City’s cigar factories produced 500 million cigars!).


Columbia entrance - photo by Dean Curtis, 2016

Columbia entrance – photo by Dean Curtis, 2016


Original bar and cafe - photo by Dean Curtis, 2016

Original 1905 bar and café – photo by Dean Curtis, 2016


In 1930 Casimiro Hernandez, Sr. passed away and his son Casimiro Hernandez, Jr. took over running Columbia. In 1935 the Don Quixote Room was added, which was the first air-conditioned dining room in Tampa. It has Moorish doorways, a 19th-century chandelier, and a balcony with additional seating.


doorway into Don Quixote Room - photo by Dean Curtis, 2016

doorway into Don Quixote Room – photo by Dean Curtis, 2016


chandelier in the Don Quixote Room - photo by Dean Curtis, 2016

chandelier in the Don Quixote Room – photo by Dean Curtis, 2016


In 1937 Casimiro Hernandez, Jr. added the Patio Room, an Andalusia style dining area.


patio room - photo by Dean Curtis, 2016

patio room – photo by Dean Curtis, 2016


Casimiro and his wife Carmen had a daughter, Adele, a Julliard-trained concert pianist, who married Cesar Gonzmart, a concert violinist, in 1946. Cesar is hired to help run the restaurant. He expands further, adding the Siboney Room, a 300-seat showroom with top Latin entertainers, to help attract customers to the declining neighborhood.


The Red Room, which I believe dates back to the 1950s - photo by Dean Curtis, 2016

The Red Room, which I believe dates back to the 1950s – photo by Dean Curtis, 2016


The Red Room - photo by Dean Curtis, 2016

The Red Room – photo by Dean Curtis, 2016


In 1959 the Columbia Restaurant opened in Sarasota, which is now Sarasota’s oldest restaurant. In 1962 Casimiro Hernandez, Jr. passed away. Cesar and Adela Gonzmart run the restaurant until 1970, when their sons Richard and Casey join them in operations. In the 1980s locations are added in St. Augustine and Clearwater Beach at Sand Key and in 1997 a fifth location is opened in Celebration, Florida. Columbia cafes have also opened recently at the Tampa History Center and the Tampa Airport. In 1992 Cesar passed away and his sons Richard and Casey, the 4th generation, run the restaurant today with many family members also in the restaurant’s employ. In 2004 much of the restaurant was renovated, with new dining rooms and a new kitchen added, but the older dining rooms thankfully remain.


photo by Dean Curtis, 2016

photo by Dean Curtis, 2016


The menu, which has a beautiful cover portraying Columbus’ voyage, is loaded with Spanish and Cuban dishes. There are too many to list, but they are famous for their “1905 Salad”, a basic chef salad made into something special by their signature garlic dressing prepared tableside. The salad was tempting, but I opted for a starter of a deviled crab croquette (croqueta de alba) because I was excited to try it. A Tampa specialty since the Great Depression, it is blue crab meat with garlic and paprika rolled into an elongated ball, coated in bread crumbs and fried. The weather outside was hot so I ordered a large bowl of gazpacho, a chilled tomato-based Spanish soup served with fresh chopped vegetables and croutons, which are added by the server tableside (I appreciated the use of tableside flourishes by the classic waiters in dinner jackets and bow ties). Very delicious and refreshing! My friend loved his Salteado, a stir-fry type dish credited to Chinese immigrants in Cuba made with olive oil, garlic, onions, green peppers, mushrooms, potatoes, chorizo, red wine, and your choice of chicken beef or shrimp (served with yellow rice). His wife enjoyed the roast pork, which is marinated in citrus juice and roasted, then sliced and cooked some more in gravy until very tender. Their Cuban sandwich is made with Cuban bread from La Segunda Central Bakery, in Ybor City since 1915! Cuban bread is also served warm with every meal. For dessert their flan (from a 1933 family recipe) and their white chocolate bread pudding are legendary.


sangria pitchers - photo by Dean Curtis, 2016

sangria pitchers – photo by Dean Curtis, 2016


They serve mojitos and sangria, by the pitcher or glass, as well as cocktails. And they have a giant wine list of 234 pages, featuring many fine Spanish and California wines.


some of the press on Columbia restaurant is displayed in the original cafe dining room - photo by Dean Curtis, 2016

some of the press about Columbia restaurant is displayed in the original café dining room – photo by Dean Curtis, 2016


Take your time and explore this enormous restaurant complex. There are historical photos and documents in the halls, and multiple dining rooms, some for private functions. Even the dining rooms added in 2004 are beautiful.


new dining room added in 2004 - photo by Dean Curtis, 2016

new dining room added in 2004 – photo by Dean Curtis, 2016


And there is magnificent tile work on the outside of the building.


one of the tile murals on the building's facade - photo by Dean Curtis, 2016

one of the tile murals on the building’s façade – photo by Dean Curtis, 2016


The Columbia restaurant is a true gem in Florida that is a must-visit dining experience!


2117 E 7th Ave, Tampa, FL 33605
(813) 248-4961
Open Mon-Thu 11:00am-10:00pm, Fri-Sat 11:00am-11:00pm, Sun 10:30am-9:00pm

[mappress width=”100%” height=”400″ mapid=”152″]


Los Caracoles, Barcelona, Spain

Last year I returned to Barcelona for the first time since 2004. The city I loved then has gotten better and better, with more dining and drinking options and more sights to see. I especially loved seeing some Modernist architectural wonders that I missed in 2004 as I concentrated on the most famous Gaudi sights on my first visit (I’m glad I did then because the lines were much, much longer this time). Highlights this time for me were Lluís Domènech i Montaner‘s astounding Palau de la Música Catalana and Hospital de Sant Pau (just opened to the public in 2014), both UNESCO World Heritage Sites. And I braved the crowds to see the awesome interior of Gaudi’s Sagrada Familia, which is getting close to completion (due in 2026).



photo by Dean Curtis, 2015


One of Barcelona’s oldest restaurants, Los Caracoles (aka Casa Bofarull) was opened in 1835 by the Bofarull family. Today fifth generation family member Aurora Bofarull runs the restaurant. Over the 180 years since it was founded, Los Caracoles (the snails) has attracted many celebrities, presidents, and other notables.



old postcard


Los Caracoles is located in the Gothic Quarter just off Las Ramblas. The outside corner of the restaurant features a chicken broiler visible through glass doors. If you stand there long enough you may see a chef come outside to baste the chickens. Once inside the door you enter the atmospheric bar with high ceilings, wooden cabinets and barrels, and a huge wrought iron chandelier.



bar – photo by Dean Curtis, 2015


After passing through the bar you walk right through the kitchen!



kitchen – photo by Dean Curtis, 2015


At the end of the kitchen the host escorts you to your table through a warren of dining rooms, each with their own historical charms. Photos are everywhere of famous Spaniards and people from around the world who have dined at the restaurant.



photo by Dean Curtis, 2015



photo by Dean Curtis, 2015


The menu is traditional Catalan/Mediterranean. Their specialties are snails, mussels, garlic prawns, beans Catalan style, butifarra sausage with beans and mushrooms, roasted chicken, steaks and chops, paella, and a large seafood platter. I opted for the snails, which are served in sauce and with toothpicks to dig out the morsels. Note these are not like the escargot you may have had in the US or France. These snails are smaller and the meat is dark brown to black and slightly chewy but tender. Not for the squeamish about snails!



photo by Dean Curtis, 2015


Note the cute snail shaped crispy bread!



photo by Dean Curtis, 2015


For my main dish I had delicious butifarra sausage with beans. And for dessert some crema Catalana, which is a must when in Catalonia! Bon profit! (Bon appetit in Catalan)


Los Caracoles
Carrer dels Escudellers, 14, 08002 Barcelona, Spain
Phone: +34 933 01 20 41
Open daily 1:00PM – 12:00 midnight

[mappress width=”100%” height=”400″ mapid=”140″]


Casa Ciriaco, Madrid, Spain

It’s been a while since I posted because I was in Spain for a vacation, but I’m back! While I was gone Le Continental turned four!

When I was in Madrid last year I visited three historic restaurants (and posted about them here, here, and here) but I didn’t have time for one of the oldest ones on my list: Casa Ciriaco. So on my recent trip I had a one day layover in Madrid and I made time to have lunch at Casa Ciriaco.


photo by Dean Curtis, 2015

photo by Dean Curtis, 2015


Casa Ciriaco opened as a tavern in 1897 (under a different name). In 1923 it was purchased by Pablo Muñoz Sanz and his brother Ciriaco Muñoz, who started the restaurant named Casa Ciriaco in 1929. The building was infamous for being the site of an anarchist bombing against King Alfonso XIII and his bride on their wedding day. The royal bridal carriage escaped harm but 15 innocent bystanders were killed and many injured.


photo by Dean Curtis, 2015

photo by Dean Curtis, 2015


The restaurant also became famous for its clientele in the 1930s preceding the Civil War, including journalist Julio Camba, artist Ignacio Zuloaga, matadors Domingo Ortega and Juan Belmonte, writer José Ortega y Gasset, and scholar of Basque culture, Julio Caro Baroja. Portraits of some of the famous people who have dined at Casa Ciriaco can be found on the walls of the homey comedor (dining room), which you enter through the swinging doors from the front bar.


photo by Dean Curtis, 2015

photo by Dean Curtis, 2015


The waiters are all veterans; fast and efficient but friendly. They reminded me of the waiters at Tadich Grill or Sam’s Grill in San Francisco.


photo by Dean Curtis, 2015

photo by Dean Curtis, 2015


The menu is classic Madrid cuisine. Specialties include perdiz con judiones (partridge with broad beans, seasonal), cocido (Madrid-style meat and chickpea stew) served on Tuesdays, cochinillo (suckling pig), and pepitoria de gallina (chicken fricassee in a sauce made with almonds and eggs), which dates back over 100-years and is the main dish that I chose for my menu del dia prix fixe lunch (always a good deal in Spain so I try to make it my main meal of the day). For a starter I had pisto manchego, a delicious vegetable stew similar to ratatouille.


pisto - photo by Dean Curtis, 2015

pisto – photo by Dean Curtis, 2015


pepitoria de gallina - from Wikimedia Commons

pepitoria de gallina – from Wikimedia Commons


For dessert I had arroz con leche (rice pudding).


arroz con leche - photo by Dean Curtis, 2015

arroz con leche – photo by Dean Curtis, 2015


Reportedly Casa Ciriaco has an outstanding wine cellar with wines dating back to 1917 and cognacs as old as 1892!


Casa Ciriaco
Calle Mayor, 84, 28013 Madrid, Spain
Phone +34 915 48 06 20
Open daily 1:00pm-4:00pm, 8:00pm-11:30pm


[mappress width=”100%” height=”400″ mapid=”136″]


Casa Duque, Segovia, Spain

A while back Le Continental visited Mesón de Cándido in the beautiful city of Segovia, Spain. While it is a classic that dates back to 1931, Casa Duque is the oldest restaurant in the city offering cochinillo asado, roasted suckling pig, which the city of Segovia is famous for. Le Continental has discovered that Casa Duque and Mesón de Cándido are linked somehow, though it isn’t mentioned on the restaurants’ web sites.


image by Wikimedia Commons

image by Wikimedia Commons


Casa Duque was opened in 1895 by Feliciana Mate and Dionisio Duque and is still owned by the Duque family. Today Marisa Duque, great-granddaughter of the original founders, runs the restaurant with her family. In looking at historic photos of Casa Duque on their web site, one photo of the restaurant, then located on Plaza de Azoquejo next to the Roman aqueduct, looked familiar to me (the following photo).


historic photo by Casa Duque's web site

historic photo by Casa Duque’s web site


As you can see the building on the right has a sign stating “Duque de Gran Casa de Comidas”. The same building in fact now houses Mesón de Cándido! On that restaurant’s web site there is a similar historic photo of the same building which has signage that states “Mesón Casa Cándido” (I couldn’t download the photo but you can see it here in the center of second row). In examining the two photos, especially the cars, it seems to me that the photo above dates from the 1920s, while the photo of Mesón de Cándido dates from the 1930s or 1940s, which makes sense since Mesón de Cándido didn’t open until 1931. So, some time after 1895 Casa Duque must have moved from the plaza to its current location. (Little of this information is mentioned on the restaurants’ web sites.)


doorway from bar into Sepulveda dining room - photo by Dean Curtis, 2014

doorway from bar into Sepulveda dining room – photo by Dean Curtis, 2014


After entering Casa Duque one passes the bar and enters the Sepulveda dining room, which is the original dining room in the restaurant, through a beautiful carved wood doorway. I was seated in this dining room for my dinner. It was almost empty at the time (around 9:00 pm) as most locals eat their large daily meal in the early afternoon.


Sepulveda dining room - photo by Dean Curtis, 2014

Sepulveda dining room – photo by Dean Curtis, 2014


The walls at Casa Duque are covered with awards, medals, historic photos, and bric-à-brac and the wood ceilings are magnificent. There are several dining rooms in this large restaurant. I took a couple more photos before my phone’s battery died (so I didn’t get any photos of my food. Note to self: bring a backup digital camera next time.). You can see more photos of the gorgeous dining rooms here.


photo by Dean Curtis, 2014

Sepulveda dining room – photo by Dean Curtis, 2014


photo by Dean Curtis, 2014

San Millán dining room, a portion of the parish house of San Millán acquired and installed in 1995, the centenary of Casa Duque – photo by Dean Curtis, 2014


Casa Duque’s specialties are Segovian roasted meats, such as cochinillo asado and lechal asado (roasted lamb), both cooked in the wood fired oven. Another specialty is Judiones de La Granja Gran Duque, giant white beans grown on the family farm in La Granja stewed with partridge.


first course - photo by

first course – photo by

I went for the menú gastronómico, which was three courses: the first course was a sampler of chorizo (sausage), morcilla (blood sausage), judiones (huge white beans), sopita castellana (Castilian soup), and a pork loin picadillo (a hash of chopped meat), followed by a large portion of cochinillo, and for dessert a piece of the Segovian specialty ponche Segoviano (layer cake).


I couldn’t possibly finish the first course because I had to save room for the suckling pig, which is roasted very simply so it had a pure pork flavor with juicy meat that melted in my mouth and a salty, crispy skin. Delicious.


Explore the inside of the restaurant:


Casa Duque
Calle de Cervantes, 12, 40001 Segovia, Spain
Phone: +34 921 46 24 87
Open daily 12:00pm – 5:30pm, 8:30pm – 11:30pm


[mappress width=”100%” height=”400″ mapid=”128″]


Le Chalet Basque, San Rafael, California

A quick post today because I have to pack for a trip to Austin and San Antonio!

Recently a friend suggested we meet for dinner at Le Chalet Basque in San Rafael. I had no idea this restaurant existed (or it was so long ago when I visited that I forgot)! I’m a big fan of western U.S. style Basque restaurants (and Picon punch) and I work in San Rafael, so I have a new favorite local spot!


photo by Dean Curtis, 2015

photo by Dean Curtis, 2015


Hidden away between the Marin Civic Center and China Camp State Park, Le Chalet Basque opened in 1962 and is now owned by Roger Minhondo from Irissary, France, who was chef at the restaurant in the 1970s and previously owned The Normandy and Guernica restaurants in Marin. The menu includes many beef, lamb, chicken, seafood, and veal dishes, and French and Spanish Basque specialties such as Rabbit Chasseur, Tripes a La Mode, Sweet Breads Financiere, Lamb Shank with Beans, and Frogs Legs. You will even find some Italian dishes if you’re in the mood for that. Dinners come with homemade soup or salad and for a little extra you can get a family style dinner that includes pâté and delicious rice pudding or ice cream.


Sirloin of Lamb Bordelaise - photo by Dean Curtis

Sirloin of Lamb Bordelaise – photo by Dean Curtis


There’s a full bar with vintage bar stools, lots of outdoor seating on a lovely patio, and the classically simple dining rooms in white and burgundy linens with mid-century stained wood, open-beamed ceilings and many windows throughout.


Le Chalet Basque
405 N San Pedro Rd, San Rafael, CA 94903
(415) 479-1070
Open Tue-Fri 11:30am-10:30pm, lunch served 11:30-2:00, dinner 5:00-9:00pm
Sat-Sun 4:00pm-10:30pm, dinner 4:00-9:00pm


[mappress width=”100%” height=”400″ mapid=”125″]