New York, New York
October 8, 2005
Las Iguanas is located right around the corner from Birmingham’s main shopping corridor, in a courtyard adjacent to more restaurants, movie theaters, and shops. When we stepped inside, I was surprised to find a modern, breezy interior with rich woods, artistic light fixtures, and cozy, plush booths that belied its chain-restaurant façade. In front of the bar, island-inspired wooden chairs flowed out onto a balcony overlooking the courtyard. We snagged a booth directly off the bar area, which gave us a great view of the action on both sides of the spacious dining area.
We wasted no time in choosing our beverages: mine an Ipanema Breeze (vodka and cranberry juice with fresh orange and watermelon), Kieran’s a raspberry martini. Both our two-for-one drinks arrived at the same time, which was convenient, but I would have loved to try something else from the extensive cocktail menu. Regardless, both were refreshing and flavorful—the raspberry martini was the winner, with pureed fresh raspberries and precisely the right measure of vodka "bite."
My regret over not ordering one was quickly forgotten, however, when our appetizer arrived: a combination platter including freshly fried calamares with spicy chili aioli, Brazilian-style peri-peri chicken, mushroom-and-brie quesadillas, chile con carne with chips, and perfectly tender, subtly spiced mussels. Absolutely everything was fantastic. Even the chile con carne had the perfect texture and amount of heat—and being from Texas, I’m a hard sell on that. A drink and this platter, shared between two people, would make a perfect light meal and allow room for dessert.
My main course was excellent as well. The traditional Brazilian moqueca, a bouillabaisse-style dish, was filled with a variety of fresh seafood, vegetables, and saffron rice, all smothered in a lip-smacking coconut curry sauce. My only complaint was that the shrimp were served whole; considering I’m not known for being coordinated with my food, it wasn’t surprising that I left Las Iguanas covered in coconut curry splatter. Kieran chose an 8oz. Argentinean sirloin with cassava fries and a spicy sauce—also a delicious and unique combination. After that, not even our uncomfortable fullness could stop us from sharing dessert—a silky chocolate Banoffi pie with a crumbly crust.
I had arrived a skeptic, but I have to admit, Las Iguanas served up some of the best Latin American food I’ve ever tasted in a hip, yet relaxed, environment. Our bill came to £55, or $120—not cheap, but well worth it. The trick to enjoying Las Iguanas on a budget? Come before 6:30pm to enjoy three courses from a select menu for £7.
From journal The Other Birmingham