March Foodie Madness: Best Worldly Fare, La Isla

Photo: Jon Meyer
Photo: Jon Meyer

WHERE: La Isla | 2320 NW Market St., Ballard | (206) 789-0516

THE BUZZ:I can’t tell you how many times I’ve walked by La Isla, and completely written it off as one of those places — an ethnic restaurant with subpar cuisine. I am an idiot.

Ballard is killing me. Each visit, I can’t believe the quality of culinary products and atmospheres that I’ve been neglecting during my years living downtown. This goes beyond the yuppy swell swirling from Fremont. Good people are creating great places for the fisherman, the hippies, the yippies, the hipsters, the hapsters and everyone in between. But that’s another column; I’m hear to talk about my first go round with traditional Puerto Rican fair.

I dined with two friends who had experience with La Isla, and I followed them right down the menu. We started with empanadillas (a tongue twister even for a moderate-to-poor Spanish speaker like myself) and out of the many options, I choose to dance with the shrimp, pepper and onion option. The breading, for being fried, was the lightest I’ve experienced. Fully expecting a crunch to follow my knife’s entry, my own gasps were the only noise to be heard. The pepper and onions made each other sweet while the tomato sauce simmered shrimp spoke for themselves. All together they were lovely.

For entrees, I had to go with La Isla’s best seller — the pollo guisado bowl. Placed in front of me was a steaming bowl filled with tender chicken, roasted red pepper, capers (very light), scallions and rice that had to be cut with coconut milk. Mi amigos stuck together, going with the medley plate complete with maduros (fried sweet plantain) and tostones (fried plantains that resemble a potato chip). My plate also included tostones, which from my time in Panama (the two countries share similar cuisines) I knew as platanos. Perfectly salted, they reminded me of the stilted houses and open-ended laughter I found in the remote Darien province — a true testament to La Isla’s authenticity.

Not as important as the flavors, but still relevant, La Isla made us forget about the rain for 20 minutes. It was that good. Need to take something off your mind too?