What She's Craving: La Granja Brasas Grille

A mere 15 minutes from the UCF campus on the corners of N Semoran and Aloma stands La Granja Brasas Grille, a restaurant that conforms to the age-old saying your mother taught you: never judge a book by its cover. Set amidst a seemingly average plaza with a dumpy outer appearance, this easy to miss eatery is much more than meets the eye.

As a friend and I entered the restaurant, I was not surprised to see that the inner décor was just as minimal as the outside, but that did not waver my desire to give the place a chance, nor my craving for a heaping pile of black beans and rice. The first good sign was that it was nearing closing time on a random Thursday night and people were still filing in for dinner.

La Granja is set up as a fast-casual establishment, with walk-up counter service, and as a drive-thru. Set specials make decision-making easier, which I always appreciate because I’m, admittedly, an extremely indecisive person when it comes to choosing my meals. The menu also features platters, sandwiches, and fajitas. Boasting chicken, steak, pork and seafood, La Granja is not a place to take your beloved vegetarians. Wanting to go classic, I chose a combo #3 consisting of half a rotisserie chicken, rice, beans, fried bananas and a soda for just $7.95. I completed my meal with a Tres Leches cake for $3.29 from their case of traditional Peruvian desserts.

Combo #3 - 1/2 chicken, rice, beans and fried bananas

My first impression as I gazed at the trays of food before us was that the portions are more than worth the price. My eyes were definitely bigger than my stomach on this one, but I was ready – fork in left hand, knife in right. As I tasted my first bite of the chicken, flavorful was the first thought to fill my head. The meat was tender and juicy and so much more than I expected from a place classified as fast food. Moving on to the rice, I dug a hole in the pile with the back of my spoon as I was taught to do long ago, and poured on the black beans. The rice was a bit dry but the beans had a great spice to them, which made up for it. The fried bananas were sweet and sticky and the perfect compliment to round out the meal.

On to dessert! The Tres Leches cake was topped with a thick layer of Dulce de Leche that I could not wait to delve into. For those of you that don't know, Tres Leches is not your typical, spongy cake, but instead is soaked in three milks (tres leches) which makes it extremely moist. This particular cake though, was more than damp, it was almost pudding like and had an unappealing texture. For me, the saving grace of this dessert was the sweet, rich Dulce de Leche.

For those carnivores out there, the steak platter is also a great choice. The meat was filling and savory, but if you like yours rare and mooing off the plate, you’re out of luck. Steak comes pounded thin and well done only. I also recommended taking a visit to their onion bar or trying one of their three housemade sauces to maximize flavor!

Combo #5 - 1/2 lb. grilled steak, rice, beans and fried bananas

Housemade sauces (L to R): Vinaigarette, garlic, spicy pepper

So next time you drive past La Granja, don’t make the same mistake I did time and time again by passing it by. Step out of your comfort zone and routine to try a meal that will satisfy both your taste buds and your bank account!

The damage (what I paid): $11.97

Best bite for your budget: #1 – ¼ chicken with rice and beans (only Monday – Friday until 4 pm) or #2 – ¼ chicken with rice, beans, fried bananas and a soda

The splurge: Add a dessert like Flan or Arroz con Leche, Peruvian rice pudding. Desserts range from $2 - $3.29. An employee also shared with me that La Granja has its own bakery that distributes to all its locations.

For a full menu visit http://www.lagranjarestaurants.com/menu.php

Two Central Florida addresses:

490 N Semoran Blvd., Winter Park, FL 32792

7699 S Orange Blossom Trail, Orlando, FL 32809