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Spanish Fly: Tapas at Julie's Cuban Restaurant

Posted by Frank / Reviewed on May 23, 2007 / review policy

20070522_juliescuban.jpgThoughts turn to smoochin' once Toronto escapes the clutches of its winter prison. The newly summer-skinned brothers showing off tats and sisters in sundresses come charging through TTC turnstiles like glittering clouds of tropical fish into afternoons that wear the sun fiercely like a giant gold pendant. The heartbreak and heatstroke of August dog days still months away, now's the time to find that special sweetie 'n' head for the patios and there's no patio more likely to get you laid (patience, there'll be plenty of time for that) than the one in front of Julie's Cuban.

Sinking quietly back from Queen Street's bustle, on a residential stretch of Dovercourt (across the street from Luna), Julie's dwells in the shell of, and retains the erstwhile charm of a five and dime as fifties as any car roaming Havana streets and the patio feels more like having dinner in a friend's garden than sharing a stretch of sidewalk with pedestrian and automobile traffic.
Romance hangs in the air heavy and still as the scent of lilacs and these nights sharing plates is less a culinary trend than like the company you keep: simply 'what's in season'. Besides it's getting way too sweaty and swoonsome to eat an entire meal without a little help. Beware though, as the worst kept romantic secret downtown, Julie's attracts a crowd of like minded doe-eyed soulgazers so if you haven't got reservations you and your honey should be prepared to dine elsewhere, Jackson.

Since 'Cuban' is actually in the name, expect Julie's menu to offer a rich variety of Castro-less caribbean-inluenced tapas to suit any taste and easily squeeze out an evening's worth of dining. It doesn't matter where you start since its all yummy and the friendly wait-staff will happily stagger your selections, stretching out snacks well after the daylight dims and you've downed that third excellent mojito or split that second pitcher of above average sangria.

Raw like a dirty weekend and equally yummy and over way too soon, the fleeting citrus-y ceviche arrives a small but lively mix of the day's freshest catch soaked in lime juice sprinkled with onion, colourfully crunchy bell peppers and coriander and sweet corn kernels on a leafy bed of lettuce that'll have you hesitant to share no matter how fond you are of you company.

Expecting the Frituras de Mais (or Hush Puppies in the local currency) to sit in your gut and have you clambering for the nearest siesta cot would be a mistake as these mildly spiced, deep fried fritters are actually impossibly light pillows of corn batter served with a tangy hit of sour cream on the side. 20070614_jc3.jpg
Papa Rellenas, a re-imagined Latin take on shepherd's pie are actually a variety of stuffings ranging from outstanding (peppery and tomatoe-y ground beef) to merely adequate (mushrooms and onions, cheese) engulfed in fluffy potato mash, then battered and deep fried and tabled as a crispy, golden, baseball-size (c'mon, it's their national sport) dumpling.

A serving of sweet, garlic and wine soaked shrimp seems like the attire of Julie's patio patrons: slightly skimpy; and the guac merely takes up table space that could be better suited to the superior chorizo, braised with onion strings and red wine--soaking up that excess sauce is a cinch with a filling order of moros (the traditional Cuban side of black beans and rice). But the menu standout is definitely the Plantanos Especial. A sweet, soft plantain, halved and fried and stuffed with more succulent picadillo served in a banana split dish cheekily topped with a cherry tomato will delight more than anything on the desert menu. 20070614_jc4.jpg
While nothing on the menu by itself will blow you away there's a strange alchemy at work at Julie's, where the bamboo and umbrellas, the twinkling Christmas lights and the quiet neighbourhoodly vibe conspire to fill your belly and your heart and make Julie's almost a perfect place to negotiate the deal. Let's face it amigo, if you don't get laid after a romantic patio-side dinner at Julie's you never stood a chance.

Photos Courtesy of Anna Cook and Tim Shore



Tim / June 15, 2007 at 12:49 am
Some great dishes you missed include the tostones with avocado and ropa vieja. The fish special (with a side of beans and plantains) is also a good bet. For appetizers, the calamari is pretty good. The hush puppies are amazing. While the shrimp and ceviche are fine, there are a lot better options on the menu.
sookie / June 15, 2007 at 03:52 am
user-pic've revealed my little getaway... shame on you...but since you've come...sweet yucca, ceviche and a few mojitos do the trick for me.
brokenengine / June 15, 2007 at 03:30 pm
Hey guys, D-court and WHERE?
brokenengine / June 15, 2007 at 03:36 pm
Never mind, I missed the info at the top
Tanja / June 15, 2007 at 06:46 pm
You already got your answer, brokenengine, but do try out the sweet new map tool. ;) (At the top!)
brokenengine / June 15, 2007 at 11:41 pm
Nice one! Thats handy!
senorita / June 21, 2007 at 05:56 pm
Although the ambiance was great, we found the portions to be very small for the price. The sweet potato fries, for example, were barely enough to serve one. The food was also lacking spice and was a bit bland. Save your money and go to El Bodegon on College!
Jen / September 16, 2007 at 10:12 pm
I went there for my friend's birthday. The food was good but they wouldn't bring my friend a complimentary birthday dessert (like most restaurants do when you tell them it's a birthday party) - even though we spent $440 there! They told us that if we wanted a dessert with a sparkler in it, we had to order it. That's pretty cheap if you ask me!
The Wife / June 26, 2008 at 12:55 pm
This place is a real shame. From the outside it looks incredibly charming and cozy and BUSY.
But once you get inside it's one disappointment after another. We were there last night, a group of 9, for a special occasion.
The server was cute and friendly and nice, but seemed to be run ragged between all the other tables. He wasn't all that attentive to our group and we waited almost 45 minutes before we even ordered. Plus we had to literally flag him down just to order drinks.
The food is okay. And for just okay food, it's crazy expensive. The topline on this site is a bit misleading because the mains are more in the 20-25 range, with tapas items in the 8-15 range.
I had called before to see if there would be a cutting fee if I brought some cupcakes for our friend. The guy on the phone told me he didn't think so but would check and I ensure him that these were CUPCAKES, not a slab cake, not some huge concoction of a dessert...Cupcakes.
I asked him again when I got there and he said that the owner insisted on charging us, which was understandable, but a bit tight.. But at no point did he say the charge would be $18 added on top of our bill. More than the cost of the cupcakes themselves. Ridiculous. (and we gave one to our waiter because he was salivating over them!)
When the bill came, our waiter was nowhere to be seen to answer all the questions we had about what each item was, or even to explain the $18 OPEN FOOD item on our bill. There is nothing worse than 9 adults having to spend a half hour with our cell phones out trying to divide up a bill that ended up to be almost $500.
All in all, we had a good night, but I don't think any of us will be back there. Such a shame, since it's such a great location.
PS: Don't get the Sangria. It's not worth it.
Wayne / August 10, 2008 at 06:41 pm
This place is a total rip-off with outrageously skimpy portions for the price. On advice of our waiter, our group of 5 very light eaters ordered a wide variety tapas to experience the full range of the menu. A total of 15 tapa dishes later, we were still hungry. Tapa dishes averaging about $8 to $10 each consisted of 6 small shrimp, or 6 small slices of sausage, or about one tablespoon of food (plantain, for example) for each person in our group. Our bill for the meager fare which tasted no better than OK (including one bottle of wine, one mojito, and a bottle of beer) was almost $250. Ridiculous to say the least ... just not worth the price!!!
Kristen / July 29, 2009 at 02:54 pm
This place is great. Fantastic ambiance, and the food is very good. The food isn't that expensive. Its going to cost you a few pennies if you get tapas anywhere. The mains are large portioned, and reasonably priced. The drinks however, are a bit on the high mark. Its a chilled, relaxed place. Sit back, relax and enjoy the company. If you're looking for a rushed, uptight dinner with the wait staff waiting on you hand and good, go elsewhere. If you are after a Cuban vibe, great food, and a relaxing dinner that this is the place.
jj replying to a comment from Tim / August 9, 2009 at 07:25 pm
regretful choice considering the cheap quality of ingredients. It was also extremely over priced. Who puts processed cheddar cheese in latin american dishes...???? The food was horrendous! The sweet plantains were bland...the picadillo like sloppy joe...won't return here. & the mojitos with only a tiny drop of rum were served in a small thin glass. I want to forget this bad restaurant experience. Highly NOT RECOMMENDED.
Marlon / October 4, 2009 at 12:55 am
This place's survival is based on its cute location and atmosphere. I agree completely with the complaints listed above but there are a few that have been unmentioned.

THERE IS AN %18 SERVICE CHARGE. So no matter how poor the service is (It is poor) you are forced to tip generously. Likely, a result of people tipping poorly in the past to reflect the service received.

Most drinks are $10 after tax and served in tiny glasses. the cocktails contain little to no alcohol.

Nachos, something, that should be complimentary are brought to the table with out questions along with guac and salsa. 8 for the guac 7 for the salsa. didn't even ask just brought it out like it was a compliment.

I'm not the type to complain and would not have bothered writing this if it weren't for the fact that on top of all this I had made a reservation for 6 for my mothers birthday. they waited until we all showed up were seated and then told us that we had an hour and 15 minutes to order our food, drinks and dessert, eat it, and be out. When I am being rushed out the door on celebratory occasion the least I would ask is the decision on how much I'd like to tip.
jennie / October 4, 2009 at 01:15 pm
For the amount you will spend here you can do soooo much better five minutes away in any direction.
Jeremy / November 9, 2009 at 11:58 am
I guess experiences vary, but I really enjoyed my meal here and found the service to be especially excellent despite a busy Friday crowd. Ordered 4 tapas dishes and one main to share with my date and everything was as good as I expected it to be. Throw in the stylish inside and awesome location and Julie's Cuban was one of the better dining experiences I've had in a while.

And Marlon, you'll find most places have the 15-20% gratuity rule when dealing with parties of 5+. You should be thankful a place such as this one actually tells you about it, rather than hoping you won't notice and double tip instead.
L Fuentes / March 13, 2010 at 06:19 pm
This is a great place in the summertime, eating nachos and guac on the patio. Everything seems afforable but the bill always adds up to something expensive somehow. I wish some of the dishes were more flavourful but overall this is a nice and refreshing trip to another place -- relaxing and filled with sunshine. The atmosphere can also be quite romantic, though Julie's is not necessarily a culinary coup de grace.
marty / March 19, 2010 at 08:36 am
my brothers and I just went there last night. The dishes were just ok the best thing we had were the fried corn bread but the rest was un- filling. we shared six dishes and left hungry. and the mojitosI think they forgot the rum. I had six and still felt ok
marty / March 19, 2010 at 08:38 am
after eating at julie's we had to go to terronies for dinner. julie's is very expensive and not very filling
Cristina / August 17, 2010 at 10:54 am
The atmosphere is fantastic. When my husband and I were waiting for our meal to come we were planning our next trip to the restaurant and who we would bring...... until the food came.

Expensive for what seems like cheap ingredients, bland where you expect flavour. Very disappointed given our extremely positive first impression.

Also - we were seated and told we had an hour and a half before they needed the table. Classy.

Great atmosphere, not-great everything else.
Karis Rodgers / September 19, 2010 at 11:38 am
Watch out for food poisoning. I had a few tapas dishes and consequently I was up all night vomiting it back out of my system. Aside from that it is really overpriced.
TOchef / September 19, 2010 at 04:23 pm
As a chef I was sorely disappointed with the food - Julie's is a mis-respresentation of great Cuban food. Let's not even speak about the portions - after dropping $506 (divided by 10) I still had to grab a slice of pizza on the way home. It's a shame that ambience cant fill one's belly as the place is really charming. But listen to me people, skip Julie's and fly to Cuba, the hotel food there is much better. Rate 1/5
IanCustomerService / August 7, 2011 at 01:51 pm
Last night I finally made it to Julies: Why I ask myself. Salad-OK...Tilapia, tasty cooked nice and moist, but uneventful. My companion had Ropa Vieja, the pulled flank steak was very dry, obviously overcooked and when I told 2 of the very pleasant serving staff, it was obvious that they had no training re-complaints; They were oblivious, and no Cuban beer. There are better and more reasonable restaurants.
As a Customer Service Specialist, I am dissappointed.
krs replying to a comment from Karis Rodgers / March 5, 2012 at 01:24 pm
was just there on friday, and had food poisoning all night as well. vomiting and diarrhea for 2 days. I used to like this cute place, but I'II never be back again.
Natasha / May 8, 2012 at 11:58 am

When you walk into Julies you would think it would be amazing. The decor is so kitchy and homey and reminiscent of a 60's take out shop. That is probably the only good thing about the restaurant.
The food hits the ceiling in OVERPRICED.

an average main is 16+ $$
Appetizers are dripping in grease
Salsa and Chips- They charge you for a bowl of Tostitos and give you a small handful if you ask for more-- don't expect them for free
The owner is a crotchety old woman who wreaks of smoke and yells at her staff

The service was great-- apart from the owner who clearly did not know how to to talk to ... pretty much anyone
We did not approach her.. yet the way she spoke to the staff it was as if she likened them to dogs

our bill was for 3 ppl and amounted to 160$
I would have faired better going to a taco bell (which I haven't been to in almost a decade)
Downtown Jersey Brown / July 3, 2012 at 02:40 pm
Twee ambiance, pleasant service, less-than-mediocre food. A place this easy on the eyes should have the grub to match.

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