La Playa Spicing up SoWal with Caribbean Flavor and Flare

June 12, 2013 by Jill Tanner

La Playa means "the beach" in Spanish, and its also the name of a new restaurant that rolled in to Gulf Place recently, bringing us a spicy new eatery just in time for season. It's in the spaces previously occupied by longtime favorite, Smiling Fish Café, and the Naked Grape Wine Station.

Café Tango owner Joe Morris had one foot out the door toward retirement and was about to buy a boat in St. Croix. He got a phone call out of the blue with a request to move Café Tango to Gulf Place. Joe knew he could never move Café Tango. The old beach cottage on Scenic 30A that houses the restaurant is integral to its charm and success. 

He also knew the location at Gulf Place was too good to pass up. He talked with his two sons, Andrew Morris, operations manager, and Patrick Morris, executive chef, about opening and running La Playa. Andrew, already the operations manager of Café Tango, and Patrick, a trained chef, had no doubt it was meant to be. Once they put their heads together, the idea of La Playa manifested quickly. They signed on the dotted line and began renovation.

La Playa took over both vacant spots in Gulf Place and created a space that feels inviting and casual. The idea was to create a seamless flow around and through the four different areas of the restaurant to give guests an opportunity to sit where they like and still be a part of the action.

Sit on the patio or along the sidewalk of La Playa and admire the gulf while you enjoy cocktails and Caribbean fare, or choose a seat inside and take in the newly remodeled and restyled dining room, or chill at the bar while watching your favorite game. Whichever you choose, you won’t be disappointed by the atmosphere, service, or quality of the food and drink. My favorite spot is outside of the bar at the large table with a built-in fire pit; so cool...

After living in the Caribbean for many years, Joe brought some recipes back to the mainland for all of us to enjoy. Patrick, the executive chef, worked with the recipes and came up with creations of his own to set the menu apart from the norm.

The authentic Cuban sandwich, with pork belly, ham, horseradish-grain mustard, and dill pickles is one for the books. I personally tried the Filet Mignon with fresh chimichurri and was simply blown away. This dish is unlike anything around. The flavor was so fresh and delicious, that I guarded my plate from onlookers. But, all I really needed to hear was that they had hand-cut French fries and sweet potato fries. The fries put La Playa on another level.

Crust Artisan Bakery makes all of La Playa’s bread, fresh daily, ensuring your sandwich tastes fresh. La Playa is open seven days a week for lunch and dinner and will take reservations for dinner. Live music is a frequent affair on the patio and became an instant hit. Eventually, La Playa will have roasted pig nights, chimineas around the porch, and an herb garden to support the kitchen. La Playa has really nailed down a concept and plans to stick to it.

Meeting with Joe, Patrick, and Andrew was a pleasure. They make a perfect team. Joe even told me, “this is more of a joy than a labor.” 


Jill Tanner's picture

Jill is a long-time SoWal local transplanted from Georgia. Jill enjoys writing movie scripts in her bit of spare time.

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