The Best Cuban Barbecue In HialeahBecause Hialeah is to pork what Wisconsin is to cheese.
Noche buena is always a spectacle in Hialeah. Houses are lit up, inflatable Santas sway in the breeze, and the entire city smells like lechon. Thankfully for all of us, we don't have to wait for Santi Clo to visit Dade County to enjoy the wonders of Cuban barbecue. Especially if you live in Hialeah, where there are few places serving up that porky goodness all year.
Cuban barbecue isn’t like traditional American versions. It isn’t smoked, it mostly features pork, and there are no sweet sauces to slather on your meat. You may find the occasional churrasco or sausage on some menus, but traditional Cuban barbecue is all pork, all the time. It’s a mix of roasted and fried pork seasoned in intense garlic-citrus mojo, and served with some extra mojo on the side. You may ask, “Is it barbecue if it’s fried?”—but let’s not question a good thing. Here are Hialeah’s best Cuban barbecue joints.
Las Viñas Barbeque is a consistent favorite for all things pork. The building has a precarious parking situation—so careful backing out—but it’s worth any traffic-induced stress. They specialize in all varieties of Cuban barbecue pork, and also have great sides. Let’s start with the lechon. They roast the whole hog and you can ask for any cut you want (if they’re not sold out). It's cooked with a house mojo and perfectly tender. Whatever you get, add an order of barrigada, which is basically roasted pork belly cut into bites of pure bliss. And while chicharron is technically fried, you should get it here. The big chunks of pork are crisp and chopped up to order. Add some plantain chips too, which are fried daily and come in big bags you can devour on the way home as a reward for not hitting anyone in the parking lot.
Hialeah loves its local feuds and when it comes to barbecue, everyone has strong opinions. Mesa’s and Las Viñas have always been the top competitors. Luckily for us, competition breeds really good food. The pork here is fantastic, but go early (especially on the weekend) because they tend to run out of stuff by the end of the day. This pork shines thanks to the mojo full of that garlicky, acidic flavor. They also have pork ribs, which are not common in Cuban barbecue, so definitely try those too. And their homemade Cuban tamales are a perfect side to all that pork. They are thicker, made with fresh masa, and stuffed with (you guessed it) more pork.
Cuban barbecue spots are generally very casual takeout spots, but La Esquina Del Lechon is a sit-down restaurant serving up whole lechon asado every week, Wednesday through Saturday. And even though they aren’t technically in Hialeah, they deserve to be an honorary member because they’re close enough and the pork is so damn good. It’s roasted in the traditional Caja China, seasoned with homemade mojo, and served in a huge portion that comes fresh off the hog. The meat is juicy and tender but still has a layer of crispy skin. Pair it with some mojo-slathered yuca and platanos maduros.
Benni Jama is an outdoor barbecue joint that overwhelms the senses. Walking in, you are greeted by a life-size figure of Celia Cruz sitting on a rocking chair as her music blasts overhead. There is a bunch of outdoor seating, but we like the shaded church benches surrounded by caricatures of famous Cubans. As you’re waiting for your order, look up and appreciate the Sistine Chapel-esque mural featuring an impressive cast of political figures. The barbeque here is on par with its extravagant exterior, beautiful and full of flavor. Start with an order of the thick chicharrones. There’s a variety of grilled meats marinated in mojo, and the half chicken has a subtle smoke to it. Sit down, eat, and watch the old standups by Alvarez Guedes playing in the background—or just take in the hyper-muscular forms of Fidel Castro and Vladamir Putin.