An undeniable buzz greets you when you step into Finka Table and Tap, the 6-month-old gastropub in west Miami-Dade with a menu that fuses Korean, Cuban and Peruvian influences.
Finka is huge, and it’s packed. Bartenders pour craft beers into Mason jars under Edison bulbs. Friends and families and first-daters carry on, snacking on hot, housemade potato chips (free) while they wait for tables.
For those of us who live east of Florida’s Turnpike, Finka can feel like it’s a world away. For the substantial and growing population on Finka’s side of the tollway, the restaurant’s creative food, fair prices and hip vibe are welcome amid strip-mall chains and other less-ambitious establishments.
Finka is most successful when it puts a twist or two on the comfort-food classics of Cuba, Korea and Peru.
A shareable portion of tostones, well-seasoned and crispy and topped with tender strands of ropa vieja and crunchy chicharrón crumbles, is a terrific dish that I would order on every visit. Another winner: Finka’s tamal en cazuela — a warm, polenta-like pool of cornmeal, just thick enough to hold up a pile of earthy, braised lamb meat.
Meaty chicken drumsticks (pictured) are perfectly crispy and juicy under a slathering of the Korean fermented chile paste gochujang. And wok-fried rice picks up all the flavors and textures of Peruvian lomo saltado, with its marinated strips of beef and mixed-in shoestring fries.
Next to all that action and spice, some of Finka’s simpler dishes disappoint. A Cuban Caesar is just a sad plate of romaine and ho-hum dressing with an afterthought scoop of pulled pork in the middle. Croquetas — the same ham, cod or chicken fritters from Islas Canarias, the Miami restaurant chain started by the grandparents of Finka’s owner — were nowhere near hot when they arrived at our table, and the ham and chicken ones tasted interchangeable.
But other straightforward dishes work, like masitas de puerco, one of two Cuban-style plates under the Abuelita’s Kitchen menu heading. Oversize cubes of pork have an all-over crust from a long roast and a quick sear, and the meat has an abundance of citrusy-garlicky mojo flavor. Served with buttery white rice, black beans and yuca, it’s a steal at $13. A side of brussels sprouts features a heady soy-ginger broth surrounding well-charred sprouts and fried wonton chips.
With kimchi shoestring fries, Finka’s kitchen falters by trying to force too much onto one plate. It’s a heavy skillet of the crispy fries and very, very little of the funky fermented vegetables, mixed with vaca frita and mayo, all blanketed under melted queso fresco. Alfalfa sprouts (??) serve as garnish. The first bite is promising; subsequent ones get increasingly mushy and muddled.
I haven’t figured out why pizzas are on Finka’s menu (my head might explode if I try to wrap it around four cuisines in one place), but I ordered one anyway, a chorizo-manchego-olive salt bomb, and regretted the decision.
Desserts are of the creamy or fried varieties, and they go well with a cortado to end a meal. Sweet, custardy, cinnamon-scented natilla felt seasonally appropriate just before Christmas.
Chef Lazaro Sifuentes Jr. runs the kitchen, while proprietor Eileen Andrade, 26, can be seen working the expansive front of the house.
Andrade’s floor team, from hostesses to bartenders to servers, is well-trained and exudes hospitality and knowledge.
But at times, the staff acts as if it’s the restaurant’s first week and they had no clue they’d be so busy. Runners brought another table’s food to ours on three occasions. A bartender lost my credit card, promised to find it “in two minutes,” then never brought it to me (I retrieved it later, and the gracious barkeep comped our two drinks).
Another bartender, alone behind the stick and oblivious to the fact that 20-plus people were waiting to order or to pay, preciously slapped herbs for a single craft cocktail that took him an eternity to construct. When someone managed to hand him a credit card, he put it in his mouth — gross — while he finished making a drink.
Finka’s melding of Cuban, Korean and Peruvian flavors is unique anywhere in South Florida, and the independent, chef-driven gastropub is the only of its kind in far west Miami-Dade.
The word is out in that area that Finka is something special. It is, and it could be even better.
Finka’s been around long enough to realize the crowds are here to stay. A few food and service tweaks could lift it from a good spot for those who live nearby to a destination for all of South Florida.
Critics dine anonymously at the Miami Herald’s expense. Follow Evan S. Benn on Twitter: @EvanBenn.