Omnivore - Lunch and dinner at Cruzado

The new incarnation of Las Palmeras doesn't miss a beat


I’ve had lunch and dinner at the new Cruzado (368 Fifth St., 404-872-0846) in Midtown. It replaces Las Palmeras, widely regarded as the best Cuban restaurant in the city during its 20-year run. Grace Lee, the new owner, operates Atlanta G Spots, a popular restaurant review site.

For now, the restaurant, which has been painted and will receive further cosmetic improvements, is serving an abbreviated version of Las Palmeras' menu. Happily, Wayne and I found our longtime favorites still available: juicy, crispy chunks of pork (masitas de puerco) for me and the roasted, crispy chicken (pollo frito) for him. They were as good as they've ever been.

When I returned to lunch the next day, my friend Frank also ordered the pork and raved about it, as has everyone I've ever introduced to it. I hope it remains on the menu. My lunch dish was roasted chicken just pulled from the oven. My favorite sides here are the black beans and rice (mixed as "moros" or served separately), the sweet plantains and the yuca frita.

Grace has hired Patric Bell, longtime chef at the West Egg Cafe, as chef-consultant. Patric most recently consulted with the Fifth Ivory, a few blocks down Fifth Street from Cruzado.

The plan is to retain a mainly Cuban menu but to introduce dishes from other Latin American countries. That should be good news for anyone missing Tierra, the pan-Latin restaurant on Piedmont that closed a few months back.

An early move in that direction is the bottles of the Puerto Rican hot sauce, pique, on each table. I concur with Patric, who told me he could "drink the stuff."

It is basically vinegar with a variety of chilies and other seasonings. It blends almost magically with anything on your plate. It's actually mild except for the occasional spike of heat.

I've eaten at Las Palmeras literally since its opening 20 years ago. I was disappointed to say the least, when I learned the owner had sold it, but it looks like it will thrive in its new incarnation as Cruzado.