Lower Fillmore Street is already a melting pot of cultures and flavors. Now mixing in is a bit of tropical flavor—with essences of Miami, Cuba, and Africa—thanks to the new fast-casual eatery Isla Vida.
Isla Vida is from the team behind Farmerbrown—chef Jay Foster, Matthew Washington, and Erin Traylor—and with this new Caribbean soul-food joint they aim to showcase the best of the tropics.
It would be tough not to smile while inside this sunny little space—its pink-and-green fern-patterned ceiling, hanging plants, and lively semi-open kitchen all signal a good time’s coming. And there’s nothing sad about the hearty plates of wood-fired jerk chicken, thick ham-and-pork Cubano sandwiches, and aromatic dishes of whole roasted red snapper either. Tostones (crispy plantains), maduras (sweet plantains), and congri (rice and black beans) are savory supporting sides.
The friendly trio at the helm also shares a passion for community, and it’s their hope that Isla Vida will enliven the neighborhood by providing a space for locals to gather; the group also intends to hire, train, and mentor people from within the community, and hopes to attract more black-owned businesses back to the Fillmore district.
On nice days, expect their outdoor patio to fill up quickly.
Inside Isla Vida
Bright colors send the sign that good times are ahead.
Order from the walk-up counter and then find yourself a seat. While you wait, take a peek into the kitchen for a look at their custom-built rotisserie grill.
If you’ve ordered right, you’ll be pairing your Caribbean eats with a deliciously fruity beverage—think the Mango Mateo (mango, pineapple, fresh-squeezed orange, and lime juice) or a sparkling guava limeade—that will transport you to white sand beaches.
Sure to become a crowd favorite, the Cubano sandwich is a mouthful with wood-fired and oven roasted layers of ham, manchego cheese, mustard, and pickles on a soft roll, accompanied by shoestring fries.
On the salad side of things, crunchy plantains and citrus vinaigrette brighten a plate of avocado, mango, mixed baby greens, pomegranates, watercress, red onions, and black beans.
I strongly suggest ordering one of Isla Vida’s chicken plates. Choose from either jerk chicken with Jamaican spices or Cuban chicken paired with a scoop of congri, pickled carrots and cauliflower, and tostones.
The barbecue guava spare ribs are tender and juicy with a blend of sweetness and spice.