If you travel to Miami, Florida, you will be hard-pressed to ignore the abundance of Cuban restaurants; there are hundreds. With a large exiled Cuban population that has been in place since the 1950s and ’60s, the flavors and ingredients of the island of Cuba found their way into Miami and put down roots.
Consequently, Cuban food is vastly popular and reputably really well-done in Florida’s southernmost city. Additionally, like most food traditions that find their way to this country, Cuban food has also undergone additional changes as chefs and restaurants experiment with American flavors or those from other regions.
The Tastes and Flavors of Cuba
Cuban food has been greatly influenced by the island’s important position in the Caribbean. As an island, seafood—such as shrimp, crab, and fish—obviously plays a significant role in Cuban food. Cuban food also shares many similarities with foods from other countries in the region.
Correspondingly, Cuba’s position in the Caribbean made it a common port for ships sailing between the Old World and the New, and the island was eventually colonized by Spain. Thus, Cuba’s food has influences from Spanish, Portuguese, French, the Caribbean, and African cuisine through the motley crew of voyagers who traveled through the tropical island.
Cuban cuisine utilizes beans and rice as a staple of many dishes. For protein, it is common to find seafood, poultry, eggs, pork, and beef; common vegetables and starches used include onions, tomatoes, avocados, corn, and tubers like potato, yucca, and malanga; and plantains—a fruit similar to bananas—are also really popular ingredients in desserts, sides, appetizers, main dishes, and even fried up like potato chips. Spices and other ingredients that are commonly used to flavor Cuban food include olives and olive oil, bay leaves, oregano, citrus juices like lemon and orange, garlic, vinegar, alcohols, and salt.
Soups and stews are very common in Cuban cuisine, as are meat-based dishes that incorporate beans or rice. There is also the Cuban sandwich, which is offered on distinct Cuban bread; it usually consists of pork, ham, cheese like Swiss, and mustard. Furthermore, Cubans are also known as great coffee lovers, and various coffee drinks—such as café con leche (coffee with milk)—is a staple in Cuban communities and restaurants.
The Best Casual Miami Cuban Restaurants
They say that if a visitor only has time to see one Cuban restaurant, it should be the Versailles Restaurant on Eighth St. SW in Little Havana. The restaurant positions itself as the ‘world’s most famous Cuban restaurant’ and has even trademarked the slogan. Open since 1971, this casual restaurant is known for being the go-to hangout of exiled Cubans, a place to get the pulse on the Cuban community, and a spot to order traditional Cuban fare.
Another casual place also on Eighth Street that is often compared to Versailles is La Caretta, or Miami’s Original Cuban Kitchen. There are nine more locations around South Florida in addition to the original Little Havana location opened in 1976. They have a reputation for authentic Cuban cuisine ‘abuela style’—i.e., food made by grandma—and authentic espresso, Cuban-style. Known for their sandwiches and low prices, a review of La Caretta on Frommers.com also recommends the authentic sopa de pollo or ropa vieja.
According to a piece naming the Top 10 Cuban restaurants on the Miami New Times blog, it’s not always about the price. Their recommendations for truly good, but cheap Cuban eats include the Villa Habana on Coral Way for a great mom-and-pop experience, the truly low prices at Chico’s Restaurant, or the spot-on creations at the understated Enriqueta’s Sandwich Shop on 29th.
Great Upscale Cuban Restaurants in Miami
While good Cuban food doesn’t have to be pricy, Miami is definitely a city that loves and embraces the glitz and glamour of night life, and many Cuban restaurants embrace it too. Two not too expensive options are Islas Canarias with old school flair and scrumptious fare or the white tablecloths and live piano music at La Rosa Restaurant in Doral.
For really high-style fare, try Casablanca Seafood Bar & Grill in Miami; you can expect succulent seafood dishes like Signature Stuffed Lobster and Whole Snapper in an upscale setting on the banks of the Miami River. Another high-end option is the ultra-hip Fifi’s Place Seafood Restaurant in Miami Beach for seafood fusion using lobster, shrimp, and scallops done Cuban and Spanish style.
According to a rave review on Miami.com, the seafood is brought in locally; some of it—like hog snapper, grouper, and lobster—is caught by Cuban free-diving champ Yunieski Gonzalez through spear-diving a mile off the coast, on a daily basis.
Of course, which Cuban restaurant is the best is a point of pride and contention for many in the community. You might find a spirited debate is served up alongside your food, but its all part of the ambiance and tradition of the best Cuban restaurants.