Goodbye mural. Puerto Rican restaurant La Placita is closing

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The mural of a Puerto Rican flag covering a four-story building in the MiMo neighborhood has been a constant source of controversy for restaurant La Placita.

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A Puerto Rican flag mural covering a four-story building has been the focus of a year-long battle between the restaurant that painted it and residents of its Miami neighborhood. Now the mural and restaurant may soon be gone.

Puerto Rican restaurant La Placita, a passion project between award-winning Miami chef José Mendín and actor Julián Gil, is closing after endless controversy over the flag mural, Mendín said. It’s the culmination of nearly four years of code violations, fines, disagreements with residents and litigation with the City of Miami, which said the mural was painted without proper permission.

Mendín, a five-time James Beard Award nominee for Best Chef in the South, said the restaurant wanted to move to a new location but wouldn’t go into detail about why he ultimately decided to paint over the mural, citing pending legal issues problems . A final date for the closure of La Placita has not yet been set, he said.

Gil, a Spanish-speaking TV star, recently posted an old photo of the empty building with a broken heart emoji to his 3.8 million followers.

The project tired both men.

In December 2018, Mendín and financier Gil opened a restaurant to honor their love of Puerto Rican food, with Mendín’s special gift for elevating the cuisine. They commissioned Puerto Rican-born artist Hector Collazo Hernández to create the mural, titled Plantando Bandera (Staking Your Flag).

The flag was an instant hit with visitors who lined up daily to take selfies in front of the red, white and blue mural.

But it was also an immediate nuisance for some MiMo neighborhood residents, who complained about noise and traffic and said the towering painting violated the strict historical code that doesn’t allow murals.

The city fined La Placita more than $60,000, $250 a day for each day the mural was not painted over.

After more than two years of failed compromises to replace the flag mural with something appropriate to the neighborhood, like a neon outline of the flag, the Miami City Commission finally ruled in January 2020 that La Placita should keep its mural — with a snag. It had to paint over its mural when a neighboring shop that the commission had allowed a mural to close or had its mural painted over.

This compromise lasted a year.

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Chef José Mendín at his La Placita restaurant in Miami’s MiMo District.

Neighboring company Organic Bites was shut down and in February 2021 La Placita received a violation report and the process started all over again.

“This is ridiculous. Maybe MiMo don’t deserve my flag here,” Mendín wrote in an Instagram post in February 2021. “Tired of being targeted by code compliance every day, police every day for minimal and normal restaurant music. We don’t give up that easily, but that’s just stupid.”

Mendín, who was born in Puerto Rico but has made his career in Miami with popular restaurants like Pubbelly, Pubbelly Sushi and Casa Isola restaurants, said he doesn’t give up preparing his native island’s food.

This story was originally published May 17, 2022 12:32 p.m.

The Miami Herald’s Food Editor, Carlos Frías, won the 2018 James Beard Award for Excellence in Reporting on the Food Industry. A Miami native, he is the author of the memoir Take Me With You: A Secret Search for Family in a Forbidden Cuba.

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