To the Cubano, meals are a rich and exuberant affair: Plates heaping with fragrant rice and oven-baked beans; coffee that is equal parts brew and sugar; frothy shakes known as batidos made with exotic fruits such as mamey, sapote, and soursop. Both hearty and abundantly flavorful, Cuban cuisine is irresistible.
A good Cuban joint isn’t your grandma’s kitchen, but it could very well be. With the Caribbean island just 90 miles off the coast of Florida, generations of Cubans have voyaged to the southernmost city and made tropical flavors and gargantuan portions an integral part of Miami ‘s culinary landscape. Some boast timeless family recipes for deep-fried croquetas bursting with jamon and béchamel, while others are massive operations that pump out lechon by the pound and turn fruits into nectar in mere seconds. Some still are unassuming windows that are the passage to the city’s best pan con bistec sandwiches. Miami has the largest population of Cuban restaurants stateside. Buen provecho!
Not even an electrical fire can keep this beloved Cuban diner from burning bright. Last year, the 50-year-old eatery reopened with a fresh new look and additional seating. What didn’t change is the city’s best pan con bistec, or the roadside order-out window crowded by locals every day at 3:05 p.m.—the 305 area code’s official cafecito time.
Palacio de los Jugos
In this Cuban castle, nectar is king. Papaya, mango, passion fruit, and mamey shakes are cult favorites. Order traditional items (chickpea stew with sausage; flaky pastries filled with guava jam) from the cafeteria-style counters that boast more sides than seats. If you don’t understand what anyone is saying, it’s because you’re the only one without a Cuban accent.
The croquetas here are so popular, there’s a drive-through so you can get your fix without even having to park. Every night, families gather for a home-cooked Cuban supper. Highlights include classic bone-in chicken soup and picadillo with ground beef prepared by the restaurant’s in-house butcher. Both will warm your soul. There’s a reason this family-run joint has been in business for 30 years.
Here, you’ll find couples dancing to live music while diners in guayaberas tuck napkins in their shirts to keep the vaca frita from splashing their collars. This crispy, shredded beef dish isn’t on the menu, but it’s the best and most popular dish at Casa Larios. For a crash course in definitive Cuban cooking, order arroz con pollo (chicken and rice) and one of the city’s five varieties of award-winning flan.
Just like abuela’s kitchen, Rio Cristal is outfitted with authentic vintage décor. Order your meal cafeteria-style, and wait for your number to be called. No frills, no thrills—just meat and potatoes, literally. Order the bistec empanizado—a thin, breaded steak large enough to hang off the plate on both sides. The perfectly seasoned cut of meat comes buried beneath a mass of house-made French fries.