The Best Vaca Frita In Miami guide image


The Best Vaca Frita In Miami

When we die, bury us underneath a pile of vaca frita. Specifically, these ones.

What’s the quintessential order at a Cuban restaurant? After several group texts, lengthy ventanita debates, and heated dinner table conversations, team vaca frita outranked (and was frankly a little mean to) teams ropa vieja and pan con bistec. But we have to agree with the loyalists of this braised, shredded, and fried flank steak. The best ones are crispy but juicy, and meaty but swimming in vinegary onions. These are our favorite versions in Miami.


photo credit: Tasty Planet

Habana Vieja Restaurant  imageoverride image

Habana Vieja


2475 SW 37th Ave, Miami
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If you’re going to order vaca frita anywhere in Miami, it should be here. It’s our favorite. And most of the credit goes to the onions. They taste like they’ve been sitting in a pool of vinegar, just waiting for the moment they reach the perfect flavor to be dropped on crispy strips of beef. All those tart juices roll into every crevice of shredded meat. We dream about this vaca frita—it haunts us for days—not unlike the smell of mojo that emanates from our bodies after we consume it.

This vaca frita glistens like Fabio in a ‘90s canola butter commercial. It’s a beautiful, tangled mess of meat covered in mojo and sauteed onions that are slightly browned around the edges. They give you plenty of lime wedges, but you won’t need them. The intense mojo brightens up the seared flank steak all on its own.

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We love it when a restaurant sears both sides of a vaca frita. It gives it a little extra crunch. And not only does El Rinconcito Latino fry both sides, but they also serve the largest portion we've found in Miami. It takes up an entire oblong plate—the rice and beans actually have to be plated separately because they can’t fit on the same dish. Theirs isn’t fully shredded when it arrives at the table, so the thin braised steak looks like the ripples of sand on a perfectly raked zen garden, which you get to destroy with your fork and knife.

If you want to visit a classic Calle Ocho Cuban spot for vaca frita, it should be La Carreta. Theirs is sweeter than others, thanks to thicker pieces of onion that are intertwined with the charred meat. It comes with your choice of two sides. But one of the best things about La Carreta is that free basket of pressed, buttered, and garlicky Cuban bread on every table. We like to use it to build little vaca frita toasts with any stray strands of meat left behind.

Havana Harry's review image

Havana Harry's



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It’s called vaca frita for a reason, we know, but hear us out. Have you tried it with chicken instead? That’s one way Havana Harry’s makes it, and it’s actually better than their beef version—it’s juicier, seasoned perfectly, and has a killer mojo. They also make a pork vaca frita. But if you’re one of those people who can’t make up their minds at the grocery store’s cereal aisle (we get it), on the fourteenth page of their sixteen-page menu, you’ll find the aptly named tres vaca fritas. It consists of pork, beef, and chicken vaca fritas neatly lined up—all on one plate. But if you had to pin the three against each other, chicken wins every time.

If you’re out in Redland, you have to stop by Reyes for fresh watermelon juice and vaca frita. Even if you’re not in the area, we suggest making a little day trip out of it on a weekend—maybe on the way back from buying way too many hot sauces at Robert Is Here. Whichever Redland adventure you choose, Reyes’ vaca frita will keep you full throughout the day. A single serving easily feeds two. The vaca frita is finely shredded and has fine pieces of onion interlaced between all the crunchy bits. It’s also fluffier than most vaca fritas. We like getting ours with moros and maduros.

Blue Sky runs through so much food here, it’s sold by the pound from steam counters. One of the best things inside that steam counter is the vaca frita, which is always hot and tender. It’s perfect to buy in bulk for a party or last-minute family meal, where they’ll weigh a tray of it for you. But they also have a solo dinner option for $12.95 that comes with an entire styrofoam box full of vaca frita and two sides—a great option if you’re looking for a huge meal under $15.

Here’s the thing about Morro Castle: the vaca frita is good on its own, but it has the potential to be excellent if you know what side to order. And that side is yuca in mojo. You’re going to take your vaca frita, dip it in the mojo sauce, and enjoy it with a piece of boiled yuca in one bite. Once you’ve tasted that combination, you won’t be able to eat their vaca frita without ordering a side of yuca ever again—and you may have to forever resist the urge to tackle anyone who does.

The saying “never judge a book by its cover" applies to Havana 1957 in every way, especially their vaca frita. You’ll see a lot of sunburnt tourists wearing Panama hats here, which isn’t usually a great sign. And the vaca frita looks like the sad tourist-trap variety that would usually startle an abuelita. But this place is actually one of the best Cuban restaurants in Miami, and the crucial charred bits of the vaca frita are hiding at the bottom. Mix it all up and enjoy your life lesson.

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