Where to Find the Best Cuban Food in Miami

Because nothing hits the spot like melty cubano sandwiches, stewed black beans, and caramel-drenched flan for dessert.


By Jen Karetnick

Published on February 27, 2024

Ever since Cuban exilios began arriving in Miami in 1959, the city has been synonymous with the island’s cuisine. In fact, Cuban food is so ubiquitous here—there are more than 700 restaurants to choose from—that I often struggle to answer the simple question: “Where can I get the best Cuban food?”

Thirty years ago, when I began critiquing restaurants for Miami New Times, writing a list of the city’s essential Cuban restaurants would have required categories: cafeterías (diners), bakeries, takeout spots, by-the-pound steam tables, ventanitas (coffee “windows”), juice bars, white-tablecloth restaurants, and more. Cuban food was everywhere. Even my local hardware store was dishing out ropa vieja, the saucy stew of shredded beef and tomatoes flavored with a base of sofrito (sauteed pepper, onions, and garlic). 

But as rents rise along with the sea level, many of those mom-and-pop places have shuttered. I can’t recall, for instance, the last time I walked by an inexpensive food-by-the-pound place. Even so, every visitor to Miami should seek out the survivors. In Cuban neighborhoods like Westchester and the (more touristy) Little Havana, you can find a variety of reasonably priced, swear-by eateries including La Carreta, El Pub Restaurant, El Palacio de los Jugos, and, of course, the slightly more elevated Versailles, as famous for its conservative political leanings as for its daily specials (go on Sunday for the braised goat). Scattered around the city, other venerated businesses endure despite gentrification, such as Enriqueta’s Sandwich Shop in Edgewater and Puerto Sagua on South Beach.

Yet Miami’s Cuban food scene isn’t all decades-old hangers-on. Second- and third-generation chefs, raised in their predecessors’ kitchens, learned the classic recipes—and then went their own way. The result is a rarefied mix of traditional Cuban and fusion food that can only be discovered here. Cuban ice cream flavors such as caramel flan or plátano maduro (sweet plantain), scooped at Azucar Ice Cream, are but one example. What follows is a list of my favorite Cuban dining spots, whether you’re looking for conventional Cuban sandwiches, Japanese-Venezuelan-Cuban dishes, or anything in between.

13601 SW 26 St.

Christian Gonzalez

Amelia’s 1931 is a family affair: Chef-Owner Eileen Andrade named it after her grandmother. Located in the same shopping plaza as her grandfather’s famous Cuban restaurant, Islas Canarias (est. 1977), Amelia’s imbues homestyle Cuban dishes with Asian, South American, and French savoir-faire. I’m eager to return for the pork belly with homemade sweet chili sauce and fried queso and for another plate of escargot dressed with umami butter and served with Cuban toast points for dipping.

971 SW 8th St.

Courtesy 52 Chefs

Chef Michelle Bernstein, who won a James Beard award in 2008, runs this Little Havana gem where reimagined classics reign. There are pumpkin-filled empanadas, Maine lobster croquetas, and skirt steak ropa vieja with avocado cream. Café La Trova often graces lists like “The World’s 50 Best Bars,” both for its cocktails, shaken by the city’s best cantineros (professional bartenders), and for its namesake “trova” music (a style that originated in the 19th century), which gets everybody up on the dance floor. Don’t be surprised when the cantineros whip out brass and percussion instruments from behind the bar and play along.

Don’t let the Pepto Bismol-hued walls and run-of-the-mill high-top tables fool you: There is a great vibe at this inconspicuous neighborhood joint. It’s all thanks to Chef-Owner Monica “Mika” Leon and her Cuban-Mexican tacos, burritos, and nachos, which amp up those Mexican staples with Cuba’s most famous roasted, stewed, and pan-fried proteins. To me, there’s nothing better—or maybe bigger—than a platter of Caja Caliente’s nachos: plantain chips topped with black beans, tomatoes, pickled red onions, black olives, cheddar cheese, jalapeños, chipotle crema, and vaca frita (fried pulled skirt steak). In close second is the enormous tamal cubano, whose sweet corn body is blanketed with crisp fried pork nuggets, pico de gallo, avocado, and swirls of house aioli.

Courtesy Ariete Hospitality Group

If Miami-style Spanglish–a distinctive mix of English and Cuban Spanish–were a diner, it would be Chug’s. Named for the childhood moniker of Chef-Owner Michael Beltran (of Ariete fame), this breezy indoor-outdoor eatery offers whimsical dishes like arroz con leche blintzes (yup, that’s rice pudding in there), mango milkshakes, and Pop’s Frita, a Cuban patty melt leveled up with blue cheese salsa, mojo ketchup, and papitas (shoestring potatoes). Insider tip: There are no reservations, so get there early to avoid the crowds. 

Courtesy 52 Chefs

When I don’t feel like battling tourists at Café La Trova, I head to its suburban sibling. Here, you get the same live Cuban music and Julio Cabrera cocktails, but it all comes with an intriguingly different menu. Part of the reason for this is the pizza oven left by the former owners, which delivers crunchy, rustic bread that the restaurant serves with olive oil and three types of salt (white, black, and pink). Many regulars come for the pizza, but I’m all about the Cuban favorites such as seafood empanadas, arroz con pollo, and a pork chop that gets the vaca frita treatment (read: braised, shredded, and pan-fried). Whatever main you land on, save room for the roasted Manchego flan.

541 SW 12th Ave.

Courtesy Doce Provisions

This Little Havana eatery adds local and seasonal twists to Cuban American dishes. The goat cheese croquettes, for instance, are garnished with sweet-tart marmalade made with guavas picked only 45 minutes away. I recommend following those up with birria de res “quesatacos,” made with short rib meat for fatty richness. The homey gastropub interior leads to a colorful outdoor patio featuring walls painted by artist Krave. Outside is ideal for sharing a mixed grill or another staple, the fried chicken, served with a sweet plantain waffle, pickled peppers, and Sriracha honey. A quaff of a hometown craft beer, such as the J Wakefield El Jefe Hefeweizen or the Wynwood La Rubia, rounds out the experience. Keep in mind that the space is small, so if you’re one in a crowd, check out the second location in Doral. 

You’d be forgiven for thinking this metropolitan neighborhood favorite is all about trendiness—what with the build-your-own lunch bowls, flamboyant cocktails, and 40-item dessert list—but make no mistake: Havana Harry’s also delivers on classics such as Imperial rice, braised oxtail, and shrimp in zesty Creole sauce. A community staple since 1995, the neon sign-lighted Harry’s serves local office workers and University of Miami students alike. 

Courtesy Munch Miami

Filled with decorative, jewel-toned flamboyance (including a classic car parked right outside the entrance!), Kuba Cabana transports guests to Cuba’s heyday. Live music and dance performances elevate dinner to a foot-stomping spectacle. Fusion dishes like “Yuca-lote”—fried yuca topped with mojo crema, cotija cheese, and chile-lime seasoning—and smoked half-chicken, swimming in spiced guava jus, exemplify its Old World-meets-New ethos. Despite opening during the pandemic, Kuba Cabana is thriving and recently debuted a second location in Bayside.

Born and raised in Miami, my kids judge every Cuban restaurant by its black beans. Little Havana—which is neither little nor in Havana—makes their (and my) favorite rendition, spiced with cumin and bay leaves. We gobble down our frijoles while suited waiters dash around the dining room, swiping Cuban roll crumbs off the tablecloths between courses. Be prepared for extra-large portions of strictly old-school fare. We favor the pounded chicken breasts or steak, which you can enjoy simply grilled and garnished with onions or breaded and covered with ham and melted cheese. Either way, you’ll be presented with proteins that practically drape over the edges of the dinner plates. Enjoy them with separate side dishes of buttery white rice, sweet ripe plantains, soft boiled yuca, and—of course—those beans.

1442 SW 8th St.

If it’s a classic mojito you’re after, Old’s is the place: The mint is abundant, fresh, and bruised just enough to let the flavor seep out into a tall glass filled with white rum, soda water, and lime juice. The red banquettes match the servers’ ties; outside on the terrace, the greenery looks like larger versions of what’s garnishing your drink. As you wait for your pork ribs glazed with sour orange sauce, groove to the live salsa music and peruse the vintage advertisements and antique car parts that comprise the decor. Later on, spring for a torreja, or Spanish ‘French’ toast, for dessert, or go all-out with a cigar when the cigar roller is on the clock.

9872 SW 40th St.

One word: retro. Or 15 words: “The Famous Original Steak and Black Beans from a Small Town in Cuba Called Güines.” This down-to-earth diner was established in 1974, and it looks it—in the best way—with Formica booths and a terra cotta tile floor that have been the same since I can remember. But in addition to stews like the shredded ropa vieja (so-named for its resemblance to “old clothes”), the dish to order here is the “Super Bistec,” fried steak smothered with onions and a pile of thin french fries served with an overflowing bowl of black beans. Don’t worry, the waiters have already marked you as a regular and will remember your order for next time.

2057 SW 8th St.
(305)-539 0969

Courtesy Sanguich Miami

The age-old Miami questions: Who makes the best Cuban sandwich, and can the classic be improved upon? Sanguich, conceived and operated by husband-and-wife team Daniel Figueredo and Rosa Romero, answers both by making most of the sandwich fillings themselves. They sous vide the meats, pickle the cucumbers and onions, make their own mustard and aioli … you get the picture. Don’t sleep on the trademarked Sanguich de Miami, stacked with turkey, hand-cut bacon, and Swiss cheese. The green-walled, mosaic-tiled space is handsome but narrow, with a counter on one side where you can watch the staff press sandwiches and whir batidos, and tables for two on the other. If you have limited time or the line is long, try ordering at the ventanita (window).  

Sure, there’s “café” in the name, but this isn’t a spot for digital nomads: There’s a strict “no laptops” policy to discourage lingering. You can see why. The suburban space has just a few oval wooden tables. You can eke out a few more spots in front of the window and at a free-standing counter, which gives off thrift store-meets-bookstore cafe vibes. There’s almost always a snaking line of work-from-home professionals, yoga moms, and the post-pickleball crowd grabbing breakfast and lunch. But the pressed sandwiches and overflowing salads are worth the wait. Tinta’s take on the Cuban sandwich, called the Patria, adds mortadella to the usual ham, pork, Swiss cheese, pickles, and mustard. It’s divine, as is the Francesita if you like a salty-sweet combo (ham, cream cheese, and strawberry preserves on media noche bread). In total, there are 20 sandwiches, and it’s impossible to go wrong—unless you bring your laptop.


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