Cuba’s influence in Miami dates back to the 1950s and ’60s, when Fidel Castro came to power and Cubans started fleeing to South Florida for a better life. Fast-forward to 2018, and it’s so ingrained in our city that it feels like it’s been there since the beginning.
From our food and music, what we wear, our buildings, and even how we drink our coffee, Cuba’s history touches every part of Magic City. Here are some of the best places to find it.
BEST CROQUETAS: ISLAS CANARIAS
It’s pronounced croh-ket-tah and they are the pastries that give Miami life. We love them so much that we will wake up at 5:30am and brave West Kendall traffic to buy a box of 25 of them to butter up our coworkers -- because you can’t hate the person who brings croquetas from Islas Canarias. Since the early ’70s, this bakery-restaurant has been famous for its deep-fried béchamel and smoked ham treats, which cost just over $1 each. Beef, chicken, and fish croquetas are also available, but the real Miamians know it’s all about the jamón.
BEST CUBANO: ENRIQUETAS SANDWICH SHOP
Cuban culture in Miami isn’t restricted to Little Havana. In fact, you can find Cuban restaurants, and their traditional “Cubano” sandwiches, in almost every neighborhood. The one with the best is actually Enriquetas, a hole-in-the-wall diner/cafeteria in Wynwood that you’d probably miss, if not for the throngs of people clamoring to get to its lunch counter for a cafecito. Cubanos typically consist of two pieces of flaky Cuban bread stuffed with roast pork, ham, Swiss cheese, pickles, and mustard, but at Enriquetas, they give it a “preparada” twist and throw croquetas inside the sandwich, too.
BEST CUBAN CHAIN(S): SERGIO'S, VERSAILLES & LA CARRETA
The beautiful thing about chain restaurants is that they’re reliable, and here in Miami, we have a handful of Cuban chains that are reliably worth revisiting time and again. The top three are definitely La Carreta, Sergio’s, and Versailles. Start your weekend with a Cuban breakfast and a morning cafecito for under $7 at any of La Carreta’s nine Miami-area locations, and hit one of eight Sergio’s restaurants for everything from vaca frita empanadas and flan to “Skinny Menu” ropa vieja and pan con bistec. Versailles is both a Calle Ocho landmark and (according to its slogan, Jeb Bush, and every Miami-set reality show, ever) “The World’s Most Famous Cuban Restaurant.” In true Miami fashion, it’s an over-the-top experience: Expect authentic Cuban food in huge portions; decor comprised of golden chandeliers, a wall of mirrors, and a colorful rooster statue; and if there’s breaking news in Cuba, TV crews gathering locals’ reactions. The Calle Ocho location is the original, but you’ll find smaller Cafe Versailles locations in airports and sports arenas around South Florida -- the same goes for Sergio’s and La Carreta, too.
BEST CUBAN PASTIME: PLAYING DOMINOES AT DOMINO PARK
Domino games at Maximo Gomez Park (or “Domino Park,” as the locals know it) are no joke. The viejos who frequent it are masters of their craft, and they will spend an entire Saturday there playing dominoes, smoking Cuban cigars, and talking about life and politics. The park itself, which sits on Calle Ocho (8th Street) and is named for the Cuban revolutionary commander, is a popular hangout for Cuban veterans and families. While prospective domino players can try to break into the lineup, be forewarned -- you’ll be hard-pressed to convince these experts to call it quits.
BEST FRITAS: EL MAGO DE LAS FRITAS
Americans may have burgers, but the Cuban people have fritas. And nine times out of 10, fritas always win. Family-owned El Mago de las Fritas, which literally translates to “the fritas magician,” serves the best in town. These Cuban-style burgers usually come on a Cuban roll and are stuffed with ground beef-and-chorizo patties, fried potato sticks, onions, and ketchup. Go to El Mago and you can get it three different ways: traditional, with double meat, or with a fried egg on top. The best part? They start at just $3.50 and are topped with the restaurant’s famous potato “heavenly wisps.”