Little Havana Food & Drink

Cuban sandwich in Little Havana.
Cuban sandwich in Little Havana.

Little Havana boasts delicious Cuban cuisine. You know that.

But did you know that Little Havana is also home to some of the best Spanish, Honduran, Bolivian, Mexican and Columbian restaurants in Miami? Or that Miami’s best Thai restaurant can be found on Calle Ocho? We’re proud that many of our restaurants have earned four or five stars in Yelp and other rating directories, too.

In this section I’ll highlight some of the cuisine you can find in Little Havana. I also explain which types of places serve this cuisine.

Want to try our local food? Set aside time to eat lunch or dinner here. Prefer breakfast? Our Central and South American breakfasts are among the heartiest you can find in Miami.

Take one of our Little Havana tours and we’ll share our recommendations on the best places to find the cuisine and dishes we describe here. Plus, our tour guests get exclusive access to special off-the-menu “sampler” plates. Author Mandy Baca consulted Corinna Moebius (that’s me) for her book, “A Sizzling History of Miami Cuisine: Cortaditos, Stone Crabs, and Empanadas.”

Cuban Food

Cuban dishes are mostly Spanish in origin, but many reflect Cuba’s other diverse cultural roots: African, indigenous, Chinese, Arabic, Lebanese and Portuguese. Cuban food isn’t spicy, as some might assume.

Dishes are often seasoned with garlic, green peppers, onion and oregano; other common ingredients include black pepper and bay leaf. A favorite marinade for Cuban food is mojo, traditionally made from sour orange juice (or lime juice) and olive oil mixed with garlic that has been mashed or minced with oregano and/or cumin, salt and black pepper.

When looking for Cuban food, don’t just visit our restaurants: some very authentic (and mouthwatering) Cuban food can be found in our grocery store cafeterias and bakeries! Favorite traditional dishes include:

Cuban sandwiches: Popularly referred to as “sandweech Cubano”: a pressed sandwich made with ham, pork, dill pickles (okay, not every place includes the pickles), mustard, swiss cheese and Cuban bread, and usually sliced diagonally.

Media noche: The same as a Cuban sandwich except that it is made with a sweeter egg-based bread. It may have less ham, too.

Pan con bistec: A pressed sandwich made with a thin flank steak (with a bit of mojo sauce), onions and optional tomatoes, mayo and crispy shoestring potatoes.

Pan con lechon: This pressed sandwich is made with roasted pork (Cuban style) and grilled onions.

Pan con minuta: A fish sandwich served with chopped onions and a squeeze of lime. The fish fillet is coated in a batter of flour and egg (and other ingredients) and fried.

The frita: A Cuban variation on the hamburger. The ground beef in its thin patty is sometimes mixed with a mildly spicy red pork sausage (chorizo) that is marinated and grilled in a seasoned, tomato-based sauce. The frita is topped with crispy shoestring potatoes, onions and a special ketchup, and is served on a typical hamburger bun.
Lechon asado: Roasted pork marinated in a mojo sauce over a period of many hours, until the meat is very tender.

Ropa vieja: Shredded beef cooked in a tomato-based sauce.

Pollo asado al ajillo: Roast chicken marinated and cooked in a mojo sauce made with plenty of garlic and lime or sour orange.

Masitas de puerco: Fried pork chunks made of course with mojo sauce and served with onions.

The standard (tasty) side dishes for these meals include frijoles negros (black beans), maduros (sweet fried plantains), arroz blanco (white rice) or arroz moro (a mix of black beans and rice), and yuca (boiled cassava in a mojo sauce, topped with sauteed onions). Tasty snacks to try with mojo sauce include maraquitas (thinly sliced plantain chips) and yuca frita (fried cassava/yuca).

Wash down your meal with a Materva or Iron Beer soda, or a healthier batido (fruit milkshake) or jugo (juice), pronounced WHOO-go.

On our Little Havana tours, get exclusive access to plates offering you a sample of some of these classic dishes. We’ll also share our tips on restaurants we locals choose for our Cuban cuisine or specific dishes.

Central American Food

In Little Havana, you’ll find one of the best Central American food in Miami: cuisine from Nicaragua, Honduras, El Salvador,Guatemala and Belize. These food options are a reflection of the neighborhood’s ethnic diversity.

Central American dishes are a fusion of Spanish, indigenous and (especially along the coast) African cuisine. Some have other influences, too.

Savor delicious marinated meats, flavorful sauces, tropical fruit drinks, hearty soups and the classic staples of rice, beans and corn enhanced with unique blends of spices. Unlike Cuban food, dishes from Central America are usually accompanied by tortillas, and in our local restaurants, these tortillas are often handmade. We can tell you where to purchase fresh tortillas and see them being made by hand. You can also find hot and spicy dishes in these eateries.

Restaurant names hint at the type of cuisine they serve: a fritanga is a Nicaraguan restaurant. Catracho means the restaurant offers Honduran cuisine.

Some dishes to try in our Central American restaurants include:

Anafre: Honduran fondue made with warm, refried black beans and cheese and served with tortilla chips.

Baleada: A Honduran-style burrito made from a flour tortilla stuffed with scrambled eggs, refried beans and other ingredients.

Carne asada: Steak that is cut into strips, marinated in spices and grilled to mouth-watering perfection.

Ceibeños: An African-influenced Honduran “tower of flavor” that starts with a layer of fried green plantains topped with cabbage salad, tomato slices, a meat topping (e.g., chicken, beef, etc.), a tomato based sauce, pico de gallo made with diced onions and green peppers — and sometimes an avocado slice or two on top!

Chilaquilas: Lightly fried tortilla pieces simmered in salsa or mole sauce; typical of Guatemalan cuisine.

Gallo pinto: A classic Nicaraguan dish made from small red beans boiled with garlic and then added to rice fried with onion and sweet pepper.

Hilachas: A Guatemalan dish made with cooked, shredded beef simmered in a mildly spicy tomato and tomatillo sauce.

Pupusas: A favorite Salvadoran specialty made from thick corn tortillas stuffed with cheese, beans, vegetables or meat and topped with a cabbage salad and an optional tomato-based sauce.

Queso frito: Fried cheese, found on the menu of our Nicaraguan restaurants.

Sopas (Soups): Try sopa de concha (conch soup), sopa de mariscos (seafood stew) or sopa de res, a beef soup/stew made with big chunks of beef (on the bone), pieces corn on the cob, root vegetables like cassava (yuca, in Spanish) and carrots, and other vegetables.

Tamales: The tamal (also known as the tamale) originated in Mesoamerica as early as 8000 to 5000 BCE! A tamale is prepared with masa (a starchy dough, usually made from maize, a non-sweet corn) wrapped in a leaf (corn, banana or plantain) and then steamed or boiled. There are many variation of tamales. They can be filled with meats, vegetables, cheese, chilies or other preparations. Discard the wrapping before eating.

I also highly recommend the hearty breakfasts served at these eateries, as well as their unique varieties of tropical juices, empanadas and tamales, a dish eaten by Aztec warriors!

Mexican Cuisine

Little Havana is also the proud home to the best Mexican cuisine outside of Miami’s agricultural area of Homestead. A couple spots are open late at night when you’re craving an authentic taco and a cold Mexican beer or tropical soda.

Vegetarians will be happy to know that a majority of our Mexican restaurants have added new vegetarian options to their menus, like vegie quesadillas.

Each of our Mexican restaurants has its own ambience. Some are tiny places with outdoor seating, others are family-style restaurants.

We also have one of the only Mexican bakeries in Miami, with a famous elote (fresh corn) cheesecake and specialty breads (and drinks) during the holidays.

Seafood

If you love seafood, you’ll be very pleased to find a great variety of seafood dishes in our restaurants. In our Central American, Dominican and South American restaurants in particular, feast on seafood stews packed with fish, clams, shrimp, mussels and more.

We also have an excellent new seafood restaurant in the heart of Calle Ocho, specializing in oysters.

Most of our Latin American restaurants also sell whole fried fish, and some serve the fish in savory sauces. The pan de minuta (fried fish sandwich) is a favorite Cuban seafood option.

Every Peruvian restaurant serves ceviche: chilled, fresh raw fish marinated in lime or other citrus juices and flavored (very mildly) with chili peppers. Ceviche is often prepared and served with fresh slices of onion, salt, cilantro and pepper, and with side dishes such as corn (the big Peruvian kind), sweet potato or avocado. At Spanish restaurants, choose seafood-based tapas (small plates) or feast on a seafood paella.

Sadly, one of our longtime businesses, Miami River Lobster & Stone Crab, closed recently. A fishing operation along the Miami River, it sold stone crabs and lobster straight off the boat! It was one of the few remaining fishing businesses left along the Miami River. Fortunately, there are still many restaurants along the Miami River serving Miami’s famous stone crabs, in season from October 15 through May 31 is the season for stone crab.

South American Food

Besides having one of the most popular Colombian restaurants in Miami, Little Havana is also home to a number of Peruvian restaurants and Florida’s only Bolivian restaurant (so I hear). We even have restaurants that serve Argentinian and Uruguayan cuisine.

The menus at Argentinian and Uruguayan restaurants are similar — did you know that they also serve excellent pasta dishes, thanks to Italian immigrants who settled in both countries? In our Bolivian and Peruvian restaurants, try dishes with corn or potato. Did you know that Bolivia has eight varieties of corn and 185 varieties of potatoes?

Taste specialty drinks like the refreshing chicha morada (made with purple corn!) or the tastiest hot chocolate you can imagine. Each Latin American country has its own traditions in how it prepares and/or serves hot chocolate.

Dishes to try include:

Ají de Gallina: A Peruvian dish is made with shredded chicken in a sauce of cheese, garlic, nuts and Peruvian chili peppers.

Arepas: Although arepas are a Colombian snack (two sweet corn pancakes sandwiched around melted cheese or another filling), they can sometimes be found in other types of Latin American restaurants. They are also a popular snack sold at local festivals, like our annual Calle Ocho Festival.

Bandeja de Paisa: Try this hearty Colombian dish if you have a very big appetite. Traditionally, it is made with 13 key ingredients, and is so large it must be served on an oval-shaped tray!

Carne asada: As is the case with Central American cuisine, grilled steak/beef South American-style is very flavorful and delicious. At Argentinian restaurants in particular, you’ll be offered a chimichurri sauce to add to your meat dish: chimichurri is made with herbs, garlic and vinegar. Try cuts such as asado de tira (barbecued), bife de chorizo (sirloin strip steak), chorizo (sausage), entraña (skirt steak), morcilla (blood sausage), picaña (tri-tip) or vacio (flank steak).

Ceviche: A healthy Peruvian dish made with fresh raw fish marinated in fresh-squeezed lime juice and spiced with sliced onion, salt and chili peppers. Ceviche is sometimes served in Mexican restaurants and other South American and Central American restaurants.

Jalea: A Peruvian dish of fried, lightly breaded fish (jalea de pescado) or shellfish (jalea de mariscos). The seafood is cut into pieces and cooked with salt, pepper and corn.

Lomo Saltado: A Peruvian dish with Asian influences and made with marinated strips of sirloin stir fried with red onions, parsley and tomatoes. It’s usually served over white rice and adorned with fried potato wedges.

Papa a la Huacaína: A Peruvian dish of sliced potatos covered in a spicy cheese sauce and served cold.

Pastas: Thanks to the Italian influence on Argentinian and Uruguayan cuisine, the pastas served in these types of restaurants are often very good.

Silpancho: A Bolivian dish with five layers: rice; boiled, sliced potatoes; schnitzel-like meat; tomato, onion and parsley; and one or two fried eggs!

Soups & Stews: Choose from dishes like ajiaco, a traditional dish from the Andes made with chicken, corn, potatoes and avocado; sancocho, a Colombian soup made from beef, corn, yuca and plantains; sopa de maní, a Bolivian peanut soup; sopa de chocio, a Bolivian corn soup; and sopa de Chairo, a Bolivian soup made with wheat, maize/corn and chuña, a freeze-dried potato traditionally made by the Quechua and Aymara communities.

Looking for a snack?

South American empanadas (meat or sweet-filled pastries) are delicious and come in many different varieties; the Bolivian salteña is an especially juicy, savory version.

Colombian hot dogs (topped with tiny boiled quail eggs and lots of sauces) are legendary.

Argentinian facturas are completely different than flaky Cuban pastries and are more like danishes; toppings include flavors like membrillo (quince jam) or dulce de leche.

Find Colombian pandebono (cheese bread) in all kinds of local bakeries; always eat it fresh.

Specialty drinks to sample include chicha morada or mok’ochinchi (made with purple corn), hot chocolate and tropical juice drinks. In our local grocery stores, you can buy yerba maté to prepare at home; this hot tea is to Argentina what Cuban coffee is to Little Havana (but a lot healthier).

Spanish Food

Spanish paella.

We’re lucky to have top-rated Spanish restaurants in Little Havana, from spacious, traditional-style taverns to more intimate spaces where the chef greets you at your table. Nibble on tapas, feast on a hearty paella or sip on a favorite wine at our fine Spanish restaurants, each with its own ambience.

Paella is a rice dish and comes in three main types: Valencian paella, seafood paella (paella de marisco) and mixed paella (paella mixta). Valencian paella is made with white rice, green vegetables, meat (like chicken or duck), snails, beans and seasoning. A seafood paella is made with seafood instead of meat and snails, and omits the green vegetables and beans. A mixed paella is kind of an “anything goes” paella, in which ingredients can vary.

Tapas are small dishes that are perfect for sharing over a glass of red wine. Order several to share and savor the unique flavors of each one. Some favorite tapas dishes (among the many to choose from) include: (1) Jamón Iberico/Pata Negra: A renowned cured ham from Spain and Portugal; (2) Queso Manchego: thin slices of Manchego cheese, a hard and slightly salty cheese from Spain; (3) Garbanzos Fritos: Fried garbanzo beans (chick peas) (with other ingredients like onion, chorizo, red pepper, etc.; (4) Navajas a la Plancha: Grilled razor clams.

Tortilla Española/Spanish Omelette: Eaten hot or cold, this thick, heavy omelette is made with potatoes and onions, fried with olive oil, and sliced like a pie.

Asian Food

When newcomers to Little Havana learn about the quality Asian and Middle Eastern cuisine they can find in Little Havana, they almost always give a look of surprise. Huh? In Little Havana? Yes.

We have the top Thai restaurant in the city. Plus, the neighborhood has Chinese Cuban restaurants where you can order frijoles negros along with with your shrimp in garlic sauce. Of course, we also have more traditional-style Chinese (and Japanese) restaurants, too.

Vegetarian & Healthy Food

Little Havana may not seem at first to be vegetarian or vegan friendly, but we have far more options than you might expect, and the number of vegetarian and healthy choices on local menus continues to increase.

The best places to find vegetarian food is at our fruterias (fruit markets), Mexican restaurants and Asian restaurants. At our fruterias (fruit stands), order a guarapo (fresh-squeezed sugarcane juice), agua de coco (chilled coconut juice), jugo (fresh juice) or a batido (milkshake) made with local fruits like mamey, mango and papaya.

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