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Las Islas del Mar

Monona WI

5696 monona dr, monona WI 53716
sun-thurs 9:30am-10pm, fri-sat 9:30am-12am

Las Islas del Mar (Monona WI)

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Rating: 86
Price: $$

The To-Go

Top-notch ceviche with pretty good tacos. As you might have already guessed: go for the fish!

The Sit-Down

One recent Saturday, after a heavy day of finishing up a re-roofing project on our house, business associate Erin & I were desperate for some tacos. Having put off trying the new north side Habanero's for a couple months, we decided that post-roofing was the perfect time. We called up business associate Caroline (of AM Crunchwrap fame) and told her to meet us there, posthaste. We hopped on bikes and cruised up - only to find Habanero's empty and closed. A sign on the door said they were open every day of the week, and another sign said they were closed Monday for Memorial Day, but there was no explanation behind the current closure.

Unfazed, we looked deep into the memory banks. A couple years back, business associate Erin acquired a Las Islas del Mar coupon, presumably through some sort of shady backroom coupon laundering scheme. We never got around to trying Las Islas then, but it was a warm summer evening and we recalled seeing a patio the last time we went by, so we piled into the Ford Fiesta and drove on down to Monona. We snagged a seat on the patio with little difficulty, leaned back, and let our appetites take over.

Immediately upon arrival, the friendly folks at Las Islas del Mar brought out a large platter of goodies to set on our table: a rack with several hot sauces, a dish of jalapeno-based salsa, some tostadas, some crackers, and a dish of ceviche. Ceviche, for those of you not familiar, is raw fish, 'cooked' by marinating it in lime juice with various spices. As you might guess, it's totally delicious. We piled pieces of it on top of broken tostadas, topped them with salsas, and enjoyed thoroughly. Las Islas del Mar specializes in Mexican seafood, which explains the ceviche, so we also got some beach-themed drinks: pina coladas all around!

After browsing the menu for a while, I decided on the taco dinner, which was three tacos + rice & beans on the side. For my tacos, I chose fish (the house specialty), pastor, and carne asada. Business associate Caroline selected the same. Erin, fish-focused after the quality of the ceviche, ordered the tilapia al ajo - basically, an entire fried tilapia covered in garlic, with fries & rice on the side.

The food came out after a brief wait, and we dug in. I started with the fish taco, which was a lightly breaded tilapia. The fish was topped with cilantro, onions, tomatoes, and cheese, and served on double-corn tortillas. I gave it a squeeze of lime and piled on a bit of the jalapeƱo salsa, as well. The fish was very light and the breading had good, but not remarkable, flavor; I may be too used to parmesan-based breading that seems to be getting more and more popular for cheese curds around our neighborhood. The taco, like many fish tacos before it, was overall a mild experience. Next up I dug into the al pastor. It had a smokey-marinade-reddish tinge, but was not too spicy. The meat was pretty tender, though I did get a few gristly pieces which I had to chew through. The carne asada was fairly salty with a mild peppery aftertaste. Both of these non-seafood tacos were similar: good, but also fairly run of the mill.

While the tacos were excellent, really none of them lived up to the quality of the ceviche. This may be partially due to our extreme hunger upon arriving at Las Islas del Mar, but people on the internet seem to agree that the ceviche is just really good. I think the tacos could have benefited from a more varied selection of salsas, perhaps a nice tomato-y salsa roja. However, we should all keep in mind that Las Islas del Mar specializes in seafood, and they do that excellently - spring for one of the fish dishes, and you won't regret it.

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