Miami is home to the largest Nicaraguan enclave in the United States, and this community’s food doesn’t always get the recognition it deserves. Nicaraguans immigrated to Miami en masse beginning in the 1980s as a result of the Sandinista rebellion with many establishing themselves in Sweetwater in the western part of the county, which eventually became the epicenter of the Nicaraguan community in the United States. There (and across South Florida) Miami’s Nicaraguans have established their own food destinations - formal steakhouses, casual fritangas, bakeries, and snack bars - which have become firmly embedded in the city’s culture.
Many may see Nicaraguan food as solely belonging to inexpensive, super casual counter service restaurants called fritangas, which are the go-to spots for grilled steak, rice and beans, savory stew, and plantains. However, the Nicaraguan community in Miami offers a diverse array of specialties, including a wealth of dairy products as well as a unique combination of native Mesoamerican foods and Afro-Caribbean traditions. In addition to the classic fritanga, Miami has elegant sit-down restaurants serving up prime cuts of beef, bakeries famous for buttery cakes, and friendly purveyors of icy treats. While you can find Nicaraguan food throughout Miami-Dade County, here are 13 of our favorite restaurants that showcase the delicious diversity of Nicaraguan food.
Miamians can be very opinionated when it comes to food, and that’s especially true when asking which fritanga is the best. While Yambo is certainly a popular answer, I prefer to venture a little further east in Little Havana to Pinolandia. Like Yambo, PInolandia is also open 24 hours a day and constantly churns out freshly grilled carne asada. This place is a little more spartan than some of its nearby competitors, although dedicated fans keep coming back for expertly grilled meats, crunchy rolled tacos with a virtual swimming pool of crema, and savory tomato-based stews. Like almost all fritangas in Miami, make sure to order a traditional drink with your food, like a sweet barley tea that’s supposed settle the stomach after a plate of rich food (or a night of drinking).
This fairly recent addition to Miami’s Nicaraguan options follows the same casual fritanga format you’ll find at many other spots around the city. However, unlike many of those that are located at high-traffic roadsides or on sidewalks for commuters on the go, Rakachaka Grill y Más has upgraded the fritanga experience by offering a more polished dining room while maintaining the traditional low-key vibe. And the food follows suit with favorites like carne asada, gallo pinto, thick corn tortillas, and a whole lot more.
Long before Brazilian rodizio steakhouses became ubiquitous in Miami, Nicaraguans held down the fort when it came to fancy Latino-style palaces of beef - and none more so than Los Ranchos, which has been a local institution since 1981. The original location on 107th Avenue in Sweetwater (now sadly closed) was not only a place where Miami’s Nicaraguan community could sample a taste of home, but also a community center where refugees displaced by the Central American nation’s Sandinista regime discussed their homeland’s politics in addition to the situation in their new city. Los Ranchos currently has three locations throughout Miami, including one at Bayside Marketplace - perhaps the only restaurant worth checking out in this otherwise generic tourist destination. The menu includes traditional favorites, like carne asada, as well as more creative dishes, like Emerald fish, which is drenched in a creamy spinach sauce.
If you ask any Miamian who loves Nicaraguan food where to get their favorite Nica dishes, you will probably hear them passionately mention Yambo. This casual East Little Havana spot has been feeding Miami’s Nicaraguan community for decades, although it’s not just the food that draws people in - Yambo is also open 24/7/365, making it a favorite stop after a long night out. No matter when you come, you’ll find a diverse crowd waiting for plates of fresh-off-the-grill carne asada, fluffy gallo pinto, and crisp fried cheese. While there is an indoor dining room with table service, most diners line up at the outdoor steam counter and point to their favorites from a selection of traditional dishes. During busy times, an employee will approach you to take your drink order as you wait for your food, with options ranging from massive glasses of a tart, fuchsia-tinted limeade flecked with chia seeds to a sort of “grownup chocolate milk” made with ground cacao beans and spices. There’s also a covered patio decorated to look like a roadside restaurant in Nicaragua, complete with plaques featuring cheeky Spanish sayings.
More upscale Nicaraguan restaurants often offer a superior quality of meats when compared to what you’ll find at most fritangas. El Novillo is such a place, and offers an impressive selection of grilled meats, including a taconazo - a cut of beef resembling a high heel - as well as traditional appetizers, like vigorón - a heap of tangy cabbage salad and boiled yucca topped with crunchy chicharrones. This place also prepares some hard to find, old-school continental dishes like steak medallions in a marchand de vin sauce and lobster thermidor. However, one of the real draws here is its interior, which is made to resemble a traditional colonial plaza in Nicaragua, complete with a gurgling fountain in the middle of the main dining room.
While the original location of Los Ranchos is no more, Sweetwater residents and those venturing to this Nicaraguan enclave for lunch or dinner aren’t at a loss for white tablecloth options. For many of South Florida’s Nicaraguan expats and Nicaraguan-Americans, Madroño is the gold standard when it comes to sampling the best of their country’s food. This more upscale restaurant has a much more subdued feel than El Novillo and Los Ranchos, which can sometimes feel like theme restaurants. Instead, Madroño keeps things simple so diners can focus on the food rather than the kitschy decor. Appetizers like the repocheta, a thick corn tortilla toasted with a layer of fresh, uncultured cheese, is as close to what you’ll get in Managua. And the chimichurri here - a condiment that Nicaragua also claims as its own - may make you forget the more commonly known Argentine variety with its more even balance of vinegar, oil, garlic, and herbs. Make sure to save room for dessert, especially the Pio V (pronounced Pio Quinto), a soft pudding made of yellow cake soaked in rum syrup and smothered in a vanilla custard.
There’s something to be said about a place that specializes in one thing, And Quesillos Guiliguiste is a perfect example of this, specializing in its namesake, the quesillo. This popular Nicaraguan snack consists of a braid of homemade, squeaky uncultured cheese similar to fresh mozzarella, but a little firmer. It gets wrapped in a thick Nicaraguan-style corn tortilla, loaded up with a tangy onion salsa, placed into a small plastic sandwich bag, and then drowned in a torrent of housemade cultured cream. Eating this can get a little messy, and many Nicaraguans have their own unique way of enjoying this snack while avoiding spills. If you wait a few minutes before digging in, the cream has a chance to meld with the salsa and soften the tortilla, making it easy to eat with a fork. Some may advise you to bite off a corner of the bag and suck out the tangy crema that forms at the bottom. If you’re unsure of how to gracefully eat a quesillo, just ask the owner, who’s more than happy to explain the dish and how to eat it without half of it ending up on your shirt.
Tres leches cake is one of those desserts that seems to pop up on dessert menus in all sorts of Latino restaurants in Miami and even well outside of Florida. Is it Mexican? Is it Cuban? If you ask Nicaraguans (and many Miamians, too), you will undoubtedly get the same answer: tres leches is 100% Nicaraguan. And while there are plenty of places to get it in Miami, Tres Leches Factory in Doral is one of the best. It was started by a Nicaraguan woman decades ago, but when she decided to step down, a local non-Nicaraguan couple stepped in to take over, retaining the original recipe while sprucing up the place and including a few non-traditional options, like giving the option to add fresh berries instead of the traditional maraschino cherry topping. Tres Leches Factory also offers a cuatro leches topped with dulce de leche, a chocolate tres leches, and a ponche-like boozy tres leches infused with rum, along with a selection of flans too.
Korea has bingsoo, New Orleans has snowballs, and Nicaragua has raspados. While these can be found throughout Latin America, Nicaraguans have a unique way of approaching them, and Raspados Loly’s has long been the destination for Nicaraguans in Miami craving a sweet, refreshing taste of their homeland. The ice here is crushed instead of shaved with the larger pieces melting more slowly than the finely shaved ice found in other types of snow cones. Additionally, the crushed ice is layered with spoonfuls of homemade fruit jams, including nance, a Central American fruit that grows on a specific variety of palm tree. You can also get your raspado topped with about a quarter inch of dulce de leche, which mingles with the melting ice and fruit jams, making a sort of milky beverage. As if that weren’t enough, you can also opt to bury chunks of Nicaraguan-style pound cake between the layers of ice.
Kendall isn’t the first place that comes to mind when most Miamians think of where to find the best Nicaraguan food. However, my first taste actually happened at this Kendall fritanga over 20 years ago. The flavors of the food here - chargrilled carne asada, delicately seasoned gallo pinto, and caramelized nuggets of sweet plantain - compelled me to learn as much as I could about Nicaraguan cuisine. Fritanga Monimbo continues to deliver to this day, and it has become one of the go-to fritangas for residents of this huge swath of unincorporated Miami-Dade County. Besides serving well executed grilled meats and refreshing drinks, this place also specializes in some harder-to-find specialties, including a braised tongue that is as tender as filet mignon.
This Sweetwater bakery isn’t the type of place where you can grab a table and sit while enjoying baked goods and a cup of coffee. Instead, it runs mostly as a takeout operation and is the go-to source for rich special occasion cakes mounded with sweet frosting in baroque swirls and rosettes. Owner Esther Taboada does make a mean tres leches cake, which is perhaps the most popular and well-known Nicaraguan dessert. However, don’t let that be the only thing you sample. The guava cake highlights the fruit’s subtle tartness while giving the cake a soft pink hue, and this bakery is also one of the best places in Miami to get buttery loaves of traditional Nicaraguan pound cake.
If you’re looking for a place that’s between the fast casual vibe of a fritanga and the opulence of a more formal Nicaraguan-style steakhouse, then Cerro Negro off of West Flagler Street by Fontainebleau is the place to go. This casual restaurant has a polished yet low-key feel that’s perfect for a relaxed second date or to take your friends, family, or out-of-town visitors. The leather-bound menus are full of the usual suspects, including a selection of grilled meats, gallo pinto, and exceptional fried cheese. There are also several seafood options to choose from, including pargo a la tipitapa, a whole deep-fried snapper topped with an onion and tomato sauce. However, the soups, which arrive at the table in small cast aluminum cauldrons, shouldn’t be missed. Sopa de cola, a clear oxtail soup loaded with root vegetables and corn, is a true standout.
Hialeah is certainly the place to find stellar Cuban food in Miami, but as many have realized over the years, La Ciudad que Progresa is a lot more diverse than that. Case in point: there are actually quite a few Nicaraguan restaurants in the area, including Las Piedrecitas, which is a favorite among Nicaraguans living in and around Hialeah for its dependably good food and casual vibe. On top of the typical fritanga steam counter, there is also a bakery case where you can pick up traditional cookies and pastries, like picos - triangular sweet breads stuffed with cheese and other fillings. There’s also a cold case featuring a variety of Nicaraguan cheeses and cultured dairy products, some of which are even locally made. This makes Las Piedrecitas a one-stop destination for getting a pretty full taste of what Nicaragua has to offer, allowing you to order some hot food to enjoy there and some treats to take back home.