Miami is 70 percent Hispanic and of that percentage, half of the population is made up of Cubans! It’s no wonder, then, that the city has such incredible and authentic Cuban restaurants, where everyone (Cuban or otherwise) is made to feel at home. Cafecito, anyone? A tradition Cuban Americans are most proud of is the act of drinking coffee; no matter the time of day or night it’s a quick little pick-me-up and an accompaniment to any snack, meal or conversation. Below, nine of our favorite places to nosh on Cuban cuisine and, yes, every restaurant listed makes a mean (and perfectly sweet) cafe con leche in addition to delectable dishes.
With various locations around Miami, our favorite is the Espanola Way outpost on South Beach. Opt for some sizzling juicy steak and tostones almost bigger than your head. The mojo — a limey, garlicky, olive oily dipping sauce — at Havana 1957 is so good you’ll want to drink it. The house specialty (Pollo 1957) made up of a whole roasted chicken dripping in Cuban gravy with white rice, black beans and sweet plantains may just be the best roast chicken dish you’ll ever have. There is live music and dancing on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays and the mojito bar is out of this world. With over 120 different types of rum to choose from, you’re sure to get the perfect cocktail made just how you like it.
Inside the new Hyatt Centric Brickell Miami, Caña is helmed by Executive Chef William Milian and serves up Miami-inspired versions of traditional Cuban cuisine. As of publication, it’s the only fine dining Cuban restaurant in Brickell and welcomes both locals and visitors with open arms. Among the restaurants signature dishes are puffed chicharrón, pork skins dehydrated for 24 hours with the fat removed; pulpo crujiente, crispy octopus sautéed in olives and Peruvian peppers served over yucca mofongo; camarones al ajillo, shrimp sautéed in garlic and extra-virgin olive oil served on bread from Zak the Baker; vaca frita, pescado a la plancha, avocado and burrata salad, and more. The cocktails here are not to be missed and the ambiance is warm, inviting and conducive to dancing.
Contrary to what the name states, El Palacio de los Jugos isn’t just known for its fresh juices. They are good and by good we mean you’ll probably gulp them down without taking a breath in between sips, but the food here is excellent and authentic, too. With various locations throughout the city, El Palacio de los Jugos has been feeding Miami’s Latin American community for over 20 years. The restaurant prides itself in having strong Spanish roots. From the service to the flavors, this place gets it right every time. At El Palacio you can enjoy a whole cooked pig, paella, oxtail, chicken dishes or go a little lighter with pastries and a Cuban breakfast. All juices and milkshakes are made to order and inspired by fresh, tropical fruits of the Caribbean.
Likely the oldest and most famous Cuban dining establishment in Miami (and maybe the entire country), Versailles isn’t just a place to get great arroz con frijoles and pan con bistec. It’s also a place where old Cubans meet to talk politics, where families go after baptisms, milestone celebrations and funerals and where the everyday Miamian ventures for a late-night Cuban comfort dinner. Open since the early 1970s, Versailles has a full-blown sit down restaurant, where you could lounge for hours, ordering anything and everything your heart desires (more bread, please?), but also features a ventanita, which is a little takeout window where you can grab coffee and pastries to go. There’s also an in-between at this massive establishment; if you want to sit with your pastelitos and cafe con leche, enter through the bakery side and order away. Stay for as long or as little as you want — you’re bound to encounter some pretty interesting characters along the way.
Pack a beach bag and head on down to Puerto Sagua. Mere steps from the ocean, this is a Cuban spot we traditionally visit before or after taking a dip in the sea and air-drying in that scorching Miami heat. Cool off with a mamey milkshake and get some sustenance in the form of a Cuban sandwich. This Cuban diner-style restaurant serves up pure comfort in the form of Cuban sandwiches and ropa vieja. Also, it’s been around even longer than Versailles. Puerto Sagua opened on the beach in 1962 and has been a South Beach staple to both locals and tourists ever since.
Similar to Versailles, there’s a ventanita for quick takeout at Enriqueta’s Sandwich Shop in Wynwood and it’s a well-known and much-discussed Miami establishment, too. But what makes this place different is its intimate, laid-back vibe and its focus on breakfast. Everything here is delicious, not to mention inexpensive, and you can never go wrong with the classic special: eggs, bacon, Cuban toast, Cuban coffee and a freshly-squeezed OJ. It may put you to sleep, but more likely than that, it’ll be just the fuel you need to go, go, go on a busy weekday in the Magic City.
You know El Exquisito’s going to be good, based solely on its location. The Calle Ocho eatery in the heart of Little Havana offers a traditional Cuban menu inspired by everything you might eat at abuela’s house. What started as a tiny restaurant in the ‘70s with seats for just 20 guests has expanded since then and now holds 100 diners, at capacity. Try the vaca frita, a crispy beef dish, or the encendido (Cuban oxtail stew) and we can promise you won’t be disappointed. Desserts are great here, but if you’re craving something sweet, cold and creamy, head down the street to Azucar, the neighborhood’s Cuban-inspired ice cream spot, with flavors that are sourced locally and are reminiscent, again, of something scrumptious you’d find at Grandma’s.
Islas Canarias Restaurant & Bakery
For over 30 years, this restaurant and bakery has been serving the Miami community Cuban and Spanish-inspired dishes for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Craving steak and eggs in the morning? Islas Canarias has got you covered with a savory meal that includes breakfast potatoes and a cafe con leche, of course. Using family recipes and the finest ingredients, it’s no wonder this place is alive and well. Two-person paella is a must here during dinnertime, as is almost every option on the appetizer list. Choose from homemade malanga, plantain or potato chips and don’t skip out on the fried yuca or stuffed plantains.
A family owned restaurant since 1975, Sergio’s serves traditional Cuban food with a twist. The emphasis here is on making healthier choices, with a menu that includes dishes under 500 calories and with less than 500mg of sodium. More good news here: the restaurant has two locations (North Miami and Brickell) with four more locations across town, including Hialeah, Doral and Pembroke Pines (which isn’t technically Miami) and it’s a good place to grab a late-night bite on the weekends. The Coral Way location closes at 1 a.m. Fridays and Saturdays, and 11 p.m. the rest of the week — perfect for the late night party crowd or even just a group of friends who want to catch up over a drink, before the night is over.