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The Best Cuban Restaurants In Miami

No one does it better than Miami.
The Best Cuban Restaurants In Miami image

photo credit: Tasty Planet

Cuban culture and restaurants are essential to Miami. It’s the coladas and pastelitos that get our office workers through mind-numbing meetings, the lechon at our Christmas parties, and the ventanitas where you can find the best Cuban sandwiches in the world (pipe down, Tampa). And Miami is just as essential to the evolution of Cuban cuisine. There are over one million Cuban descendants currently living in Miami-Dade County, and it feels like we have just as many Cuban restaurants to choose from. So here are the ones you should be prioritizing. 

THE SPOTS

photo credit: Tasty Planet

Sandwiches

Little Havana

$$$$Perfect For:Classic EstablishmentDining SoloImpressing Out of TownersLiterally EveryoneLunch
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If Miami made its own version of The Brave Little Toaster, the star of the movie would definitely be a planchita with a mapo as its sidekick. And if you want to see the hardest working planchita in the city, go to Little Havana and pop your head into Sanguich. As a small shop dedicated exclusively to sandwiches, they know how to use a sandwich press. And they always brush their bread with lard before pressing layers of pork, pickles, mustard, and swiss cheese between them. The result is perfectly crunchy bread that sounds like a hollow wall when you tap it. They make an excellent pan con bistec, but there’s a reason why this is our undisputed favorite Cuban sandwich in Miami (and why there’s often a line out the door). 

You need two very important things to eat at this Cuban restaurant in Hialeah. First, cash—they don’t accept cards. Second, bring a monstrous appetite. Portions here feed you for days. We really love the pollo empanizado. The breading on this chicken is so crispy it crackles like a campfire. But our favorite dish is the vaca frita. The first bite feels like a hug from your favorite grandmother (we all have one). La Viña is also great for breakfast. We love the fritos and revueltos with grits. You’ll notice a giant bottle of vinegar and peppers on your table—pour it on your eggs (or anything). The wood paneling and small counter remind us of the Miami we grew up in. And in a city full of good Cuban spots with bad service, La Viña stands out for its attention to detail and warm hospitality.

Why are we telling you to drive to Redland? Because it’s where the best pan con minuta we’ve ever eaten is. Reyes is a big open-air straw hut that sells local produce, honey, and fresh juice. But you’re coming here for Cuban food. Everything is hyper-local. The minuta is from a nearby fish farm, and you can thank Redland pigs for your lechon. Plus, portions are huge. They give you so much shredded vaca frita, it’s hard to close the styrofoam box it comes in. But we’re willing to make the drive again for that pan con minuta. The minuta is meaty, the onions are vinegary, and the potato sticks are crunchy. End your meal with the dulce de leche cortada with sugary milk curds that squeak when you bite them. 

photo credit: Emily Schindler

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Cafe La Trova is many things. It’s a Little Havana bar with excellent cocktails, a venue for live music, and one of Miami’s best Cuban restaurants. It's also always one of the most fun dinner spots in Miami, which is why you'll find people here celebrating a birthday or tourists (some come straight from the airport with rolling bags) looking to drink mojitos and dance. We don’t blame them. The drinks are cold and the arroz con pollo is one of the city's best. The bartenders sporadically whip out instruments to play along with the band, and dancing in the dining room is encouraged. It’s a rare party restaurant that cares as much about the food and cocktails as it does about the scene.

Don’t let the name fool you—this Cuban restaurant is actually in North Miami, not Little Havana. If you have a big family, bring them here. It has multiple dining rooms and the kind of heavy wooden chairs you might find in a Viking mess hall. The menu is big and filled with classic Cuban dishes. But the vaca frita is not a boring choice here. The juicy meat comes in a little metal plate that collects all the mojo at the bottom and is topped with wide, translucent onion strips. The arroz con frijoles is our favorite in town, and the pork chunks are garlicky and tender. Little Havana is here to prove that North Miami has great Cuban food too, and you can find it (ironically) in a place called Little Havana.

If you’re from Miami, there’s a good chance you formed core memories here, sucking down cold batidos through narrow straws, pressing your face against the steam counter to get a better look at the lechon’s pig head, and finding a picnic table by the fans while your parents ordered. Since then, a lot has changed in Miami, but not at the Palacio De Los Jugos on West Flagler. There are just a lot more locations now—and with good reason. The skin surrounding Palacio’s chicharrones is bubbly and crunchy, and their arroz con pollo is fluffy. But you have to get a batido—thick milkshakes made with local tropical fruits—and order the batido de mamey. 

The service isn’t perfect, but Habana Vieja nails classic Cuban dishes like few others in town, including the city’s most mouth-puckering vaca frita. If guavas are in season, order the guava shells with cream cheese for dessert. It’s an old school Cuban dessert with pieces of guava simmered in sugar next to a triangular chunk of cream cheese—the epitome of Cuban cuisine’s love of sweet and salty combinations—and the great grandfather of all those pastelitos de guayaba y queso we love. Grab a seat at the bar with the regulars and you’ll feel like you’re on the porch of a Cuban farmhouse.

For as much as the Cuban diaspora changed Miami, its descendants are now transforming Cuban food. Chug’s is an excellent example of the sort of Cuban-American restaurant that could only exist in Miami. The pop’s frita comes with a tangy blue cheese salsa, the latkes are made with malanga, and their mariquitas are served with a French onion dip. But they win us over with a peeled banana. If you’re in any way Cuban, you’ve probably seen a relative slap an entire ripe banana onto a plate full of meat. And that’s exactly what their abuelas plate is—the kind of Cuban food you can usually only find at home. We order ours with lechon. It comes with black beans, rice, and of course a banana. Our only complaint is that we want a full banana (they only give you half) so we can combine every bite with that sweet fruit and salty lechon. 

Islas Canarias has the best croquetas in town. Unlike a lot of ham croquetas we’ve eaten, Islas' aren’t a mixture of ground mystery meat. Biting through their crispy outer layer reveals thin pieces of fresh chives, a sight you almost never see in any other croqueta. Their vaca frita is also seasoned perfectly—citrusy, salty, and so juicy. Plus, their moros come with chunks of fatty pork. The dining room is always packed, and the walls are lined with bottles of Spanish anise as if they were crown molding. But they also have the most Miami (it’s an adjective too) drive-thru, with a long line of idling cars who are all probably going to loudly order those croquetas.

Like so many Cuban restaurants in Miami, El Rey De Las Fritas has the look and feel of an American diner—like Miami’s version of Johnny Rockets. But instead of a jukebox, there’s a coin-operated mechanical horse in the corner. And their version of a burger is a Cuban frita—the best in town. These patties are rusted red with a smoky chorizo and beef blend that’s topped with crunchy potato sticks and placed between two Cuban bread buns. We like to order ours a caballo, which means “with an egg” and directly translates to “on horseback.” And, boy, do those eggs run, unlike their mechanical namesake in the corner, which we’ve never actually seen anyone use. 

Yes, El Rinconcito Super Latino III is a mouthful, and there are a confusing amount of rinconcitos in Miami. But when it comes to Cuban rinconcitos, this is our favorite. It’s a small spot with a few tables that serves one of the best pan con bistecs in the city. The meat is cooked perfectly, the bread is toasted and springy, and the vinegar and onions tie it all together. Their vaca frita is also tender and comes with a ton of limes, which you won’t actually need because the mojo onions mixed with the crispy beef provide more than enough flavor. If you’re in a rush, you can also order all of the above at the ventanita. 

Cubans are known for many things, and bread is undeniably one of them. Cuban bread has a thin crust, but it’s also soft in the middle. There’s no other bread like it, and this Hialeah bakery specializes in everything bread-related. Their Cuban sandwich is the size of your forearm, and it doesn’t just crunch when you bite into it. It plays your molars like a piano yet somehow manages to remain soft and fluffy beneath the surface. The croquetas are so good too. They even make cakes out of them—sweet vanilla frosted cakes surrounded by salty ham croquetas that look like a log cabin. If that sounds a bit extreme, just get the pastelitos de guayaba, which are the best in the county.   

It’s not usually a good sign when you see tourists wearing Panama hats and awkwardly wielding cigars outside a Cuban restaurant. Expectations are even lower when that restaurant is in South Beach. But it turns out that Havana 1957 isn’t just popular because of its location on Española Way—the food here is very good. Service is fast and personable (unlike nearby tourist traps) and the mojitos are refreshing. You’ll find some other creative takes on Cuban food, like ropa vieja empanadas served with a sweet pepper sauce on the side. And although the vaca frita looks like the sad tourist-trap variety that would startle an abuelita, its taste would certainly make her happy. Just make sure to mix it up so it gets to know the vinegary onions. 

Lots of people come to Enriquetas for their Cuban sandwiches. But it’s a solid spot for more than just one sandwich. You can order a buttery tostada at the ventanita and dip it into your cafe con leche for a quick breakfast, or grab a pan con bistec at their counter for lunch. But what truly makes Enriqueta’s so special is its location in the middle of Wynwood and Edgewater, two neighborhoods that are growing like Everglades pythons. Enriqueta’s is one of the last old school spots left in the area. Whenever we see it surrounded by monstrous apartment buildings, it reminds us of that house from Up, a last holdout from the before-times, when Edgewater and Wynwood weren’t full of bad restaurants with more subwoofers than tables. 

This Westchester Cuban diner is known for one thing: the bistec rio cristal. It’s a thin beef steak (let that “beef steak” translation sink in) with one giant side of papitas. It’s why people come here—a pile of fries the size of Mt. Tropical Park that makes you question if there really is a steak under all those potato twigs. But it’s there, juicy, and layered with onions and parsley. Some people like to spurt ketchup all over the top, but these are not finger fries. They’re short and bumpy so you can stab them with your fork and eat them together with your steak. Rio Cristal also might just have the absolute best flan in Miami too. 

La Carreta is Versailles’ less famous sister restaurant. And while Versailles has a big-city feel, La Carreta is more rural. The ceiling is lined with straw hatching, the servers wear guayaberas, and it’s more casual. The place is huge—and so are the portions. The vaca frita is shredded into long delicious strips, and the maduros are crunchy around the edges. The mariquitas are crisp, and the mojo is so strong, it pricks the tip of your tongue. Despite their differences, the menus at Versailles and La Carreta are extremely similar—but the food is much better here. So next time someone visiting Miami insists on going to Versailles, take them to the ventanita for a colada and then cross the street to eat at La Carreta. 

There are tons of great Cuban restaurants in Hialeah, and this is one of them. Morro castle is known for their fritas and churros, which are good, but we really love their vaca frita and elena ruz. You just have to know how to order here, because your choice of side makes all the difference. Order the vaca frita with yuca and mojo. Then dip that fried flank steak in the mojo sauce and enjoy it with a piece of yuca in one bite. And if you order the elena ruz, ask for it with ham instead of turkey. Is it still technically an elena ruz? We bet its namesake (a fan of making up sandwiches) would say so. Plus, the ham is saltier than turkey, which goes great with sweet medianoche bread and strawberry jam. 

photo credit: Cleveland Jennings / @eatthecanvasllc

$$$$Perfect For:LunchQuick EatsWalk-Ins

Here’s our Luis Galindo rule: you come here on Thursdays, sit down at the long counter by the sandwich station, and order the ajiaco a la criolla. It’s a hearty Cuban soup with pork, yuca, malanga, platanos, and chunks of corn still on the cob. This ajiaco is a little thick, and unlike Colombian ajiaco, it doesn’t have any potatoes. We know this sounds counterintuitive, but it’s the perfect food to get you sweating and cooled down on a hot summer day. If it's not Thursday (the only day ajiaco is available), there’s no need to fiddle through their big laminated menu complete with jewelry exchange ads. You’re ordering the tamal en cazuela—a thick corn stew with braised pork.

It’s easy to walk by this Little Havana spot and assume it’s a grocery store—which it is—but just past the gum sticks, next to the wine aisle, you’ll find a small counter with a few tables. Here, you can listen to the beeps and boops of the checkout register while you eat ternilla—beef rib meat so tender it falls apart faster than the lies you tell yourself about how much you’ll accomplish this weekend. Our favorite place to sit is at the counter, where perched regulars discuss the possible causes of their sciatica. Not everything is great here. The vaca frita is so tough it feels like you’re chewing on cable wire. But the stewy ternilla de res is why you’re coming here. 

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