Miami has always been a gateway for international cultures and, as a result, its cuisine has benefited tremendously. But when you talk about Latin food here, you have to be more specific because there is representation from every Latin American country. Picanha, tequeños, and tres leches - things that may seem unfamiliar in other parts of the country - are just everyday food down here.
Miami’s proximity to other countries in the Caribbean as well as Central and South America allowed it to fold in new groups of people and traditions over time, forging a diverse identity along the way. Most notably in the 1960s, thousands of Cubans immigrated to Miami and set up the infrastructure that would encourage other communities to establish roots here. This was repeated in the ’80s with Nicaraguans, and Venezuelans in the ’90s, as well as a gradual influx of Colombians, Argentinians, and more over time.
Essentially, you can eat your way across all of Latin America one restaurant at a time - and this guide is here to help you do that. We’ve selected some of Miami’s quintessential Hispanic spots that have not only stood the test of time, but also are significant to their respective communities.
Colombian in Westchester
Colombian spots may come and go in Miami, but this colorful restaurant has been a go-to for local Colombians and even Colombian tourists that crave a taste of home. It may look like just another Mediterranean house from the outside, but inside you’ll be transported to Miami’s version of Andres Carne de Res, a Bogota restaurant that has made Colombia famous the world over. They have traditional decor hanging from every inch of the ceiling to create a cool party atmosphere. They also have tons of arepas on the menu, but you’re coming here for the whole fried snapper or their version of the bandeja paisa.
Dominican in Allapattah
After New York and Boston, Miami is home to the third largest population of Dominicans in the United States. The neighborhood of Allapattah, also known as Little Santo Domingo, has been a hub for the community since the 1960s. You’ll find nods to the old country at places such as Juan Pablo Duarte Park, named after one of the Dominican Republic’s founding fathers. But the most famous Dominican restaurant is this lively spot, which opened in 1985. Here, you can eat traditional foods such as chivo and mangu during lunch, and then dance salsa, merengue, and bachata late at night. Tapped as the next hot neighborhood with developers and the likes of Leku, Rubell Museum, and Superblue moving in, the area is changing rapidly, which could lead to the displacement of local residents to other parts of the city.
Cuban in Little Havana
According to local comfort food writer Burger Beast, the frita dates back to 1920s Cuba where it started out as a street food. Victoriano “Benito” Gonzalez (AKA El Rey) sold Cuban fritas in Cuba prior to making them popular all around Miami when he opened this iconic diner. Often referred to as the Cuban version of a hamburger, the patty is a blend of beef and pork served with onions and shoestring potatoes on Cuban bread. While it sounds indulgent, they’re actually lean enough for you to order two. And with prices around $4 each, they won’t break the bank.
Uruguayan in Westchester
With a large Hispanic community already established in Miami, Uruguayans made their way to the neighborhoods of North Beach and Coral Gables when they immigrated to the United States in the 1960s and 1970s. Just don’t confuse them for Argentinians - the culture is very different, especially when it comes to food. Doña Paulina is one of the most well known Uruguayan restaurants, and has lived in Westchester for decades. You’re coming to this lively neighborhood restaurant to watch soccer matches, hang out with other Uruguayans, and eat traditional foods such as chivito, pizza a caballo, and chaja dessert.
Nicaraguan in Kendall
Another very important export of Nicaraguan cuisine is the fritanga, the country’s answer to fast food. These casual cafeteria-style restaurants offer homemade Nicaraguan food to-go. The experience is simple. You wait in line (there’s always a line), pick your food, and they pile it high inside a styrofoam container. But more than that, they offer community hubs for Nicaraguans to see and interact with other Nicaraguans. Not only has Fritanga Monimbo been around for decades, but it has two locations in West Kendall, the second most important hub for Nicaraguans after Sweetwater. You can’t go wrong with the classics here: churrasco, gallo pinto, maduros, queso frito, and tortillas. But they also have unique items that other spots don’t, such as baho (beef brisket cooked in banana leaves) on the weekends and nacatamales.
Puerto Rican in Wynwood
As Wynwood continues to change, this old-school restaurant remains a reminder of the neighborhood’s Puerto Rican roots. Wynwood dates back to the 1930s when New Yorkers moved to Miami during the city’s building boom, relocating their manufacturing businesses here. With a mass influx of immigrants in the 1960s, Miami’s Fashion District became ground zero for jobs. A large portion of those immigrants were Puerto Ricans who settled in Wynwood, creating a small enclave. Bajareque is sadly the only brick and mortar Puerto Rican restaurant to survive the neighborhood’s rapid development and gentrification, and it’s absolutely worth a visit. Whether you grab a seat at a table or the counter, come here to taste a diverse array of Puerto Rican cuisine with a plate of lechon, mofongo, arroz con gandules, and tostones.
Argentinian in Westchester
Those unfamiliar with the culture and cuisine of Argentina might be surprised to know that there’s a large Italian influence. The country is seen as the most European in Latin American culture. This is due to the large influx of Italian immigrants to Argentina in the late 1800s and early 1900s. Today, you can still see those influences in Argentinian menus across the city, where you can find both Italian food alongside more traditional Argentinian grilled meats. To a larger degree, it sparked a trend that’s pretty unique to Miami: Latin and Italian fusion restaurants. Graziano’s began as a small butcher shop in Argentina in 1962, but has grown into a Miami food empire for all things Argentinian. They have a variety of markets and restaurants around the city offering the very best imported food products, bakery items, dozens of empanadas (including one with roquefort cheese filling), and meats - lots of meats. Their flagship location is in Westchester.
Peruvian in South Beach
Much like Miami’s own history, Peru’s culture and cuisine has been influenced by many different countries. Peruvian restaurants abound in Miami, the rise in trend beginning in the early 2010s, paralleling the increase in immigration from the country in the early aughts. El Chalan has two locations, and has been around since before Peruvian cuisine picked up steam around the world.This South Beach spot continues to be popular because it eschews a pretentious atmosphere and boasts a large menu of ceviches, especially popular in Miami’s tropical climate, and heartier dishes such as lomo saltado and tallarines verdes.
Cuban in Kendall
When it comes to Cuban spots around Miami, there are a handful of big names like Versailles, Sergio’s, and, of course, Islas Canarias. This spot has cornered the market out in West Kendall with a variety of family run restaurants, including Finka and Amelia’s 1931. But Islas is a Miami classic, and one of those old school places with a European dining room and a ventanita on the side, both of which are always packed. They are best known for their overstuffed croquetas, which have a cult following. Croquetas are serious business in Miami and one could even say that this place started the local competition to have the best product (which they totally do). Islas Canarias croquetas de por vida.
Nicaraguan in Coral Terrace
Nicaraguans arrived in large numbers beginning in the 1980s due to the Sandinista revolution and created their hub in Miami, much like the Cubans did two decades earlier. They moved into the community of Sweetwater, locally referred to as Little Managua. El Novilli isn’t quite in Sweetwater but it’s close by. This upscale steak restaurant was one of the most important restaurants to come out of Miami’s Nicaraguan migration for its detailed colonial plaza decor and beef-heavy menu representative of the country’s foodways. The best part of this place (especially for those new to the cuisine) are the attentive waiters bringing you the full spread of Nicaraguan sides, such as gallo pinto and maduros, in elaborate platters served tableside. Finishing the meal with a tres leches is a smart move too.
Cuban in Little Havana
You could say La Camaronera is the epitome of the American dream. Three of the Garcia brothers, from the same family that runs Downtown’s famous Garcia’s Seafood, came to Miami from Cuba in the 1960s and opened this spot as a quick stand for fried seafood in 1973. Since then not much has changed, including their most popular dish, the pan con minuta - famously served with the tail intact. They also have a small market inside the restaurant where you can buy local fish and spiny lobster at market prices.
Honduran in Little Havana
Starting in the 1980s, the eastern part of Little Havana became an enclave within an enclave for Central American immigrants. The Honduran population in the United States grew exponentially in the 1990s and Florida is now home to the largest community of those immigrants. Paseo Catracho is an essential Honduran restaurant located in the very same area many Honduran immigrants first settled in Miami. You can’t leave here without ordering a round of pupusas and baleadas, which are both served with a side of curtido. As for the restaurant’s name, it’s a nod to the word catracho, which is the nickname given to Hondurans. The word dates back to the 1850s when General Florencio Xatruch led hundreds of Honduran soldiers, known as xatruches or xatruchos, in a war against those who wanted to reestablish slavery in Nicaragua. Xatruch was successful and regarded as a hero across the region. The word xatrucho eventually became catracho.
Venezuelan in Doral
Miami is now home to the largest population of Venezuelan immigrants in the United States, with the hub being in the city of Doral. With an exponential boom in immigration starting in the 1990s and peaking in the aughts, the community is now on track to impact the city just like Cubans did in the 1960s. The city of Doral alone has become Little Venezuela, often referred to as Doralzuela. Historically, it’s where you can get a variety of Venezuelan foods. But Pepito’s was one of the first, and popular long before Michelle Bernstein brought Anthony Bourdain here to try the Doralzuela, a massive beef, chicken, and smoked pork burger with six sauces. This place has always been a late-night spot, open till 2am Thursday-Saturday. But plenty of people still come here for dinner at a more reasonable time, eating dishes such as tequenos, cachapas, and their namesake pepitos, which are the overstuffed Venezuelan answer to hoagies. You can also find traditional Venezuelan soft drinks such as papelon con limon and parchita here.
Chilean in Sweetwater
Miami’s Chilean population may be on the smaller side (think in the tens of thousands versus hundreds of thousands), but this spot has provided a consistent food homebase for the community for decades. And we’re glad they’re around as the menu provides a great introduction to this lesser known cuisine, which has a strong sandwich tradition. The most classic options are the chacarero, a steak and green beans sandwich with avocado and mayo; the lomito, a pork loin sandwich with avocado and mayo; and the barros luco, a steak sandwich with melted provolone. That avocado and mayo combo is a popular addition known as Italiano style. And while you’re here, make sure to try Chilean pisco, the national spirit of Chile. Don’t confuse it with Peruvian pisco. Differences in terroir, grape varietal, distillation, aging, and bottling processes make this a unique product all its own.
Cuban in Westchester
Miamians don’t get many opportunities for cold weather or snow day activities, so when the opportunity arises we go all out in the best way we know how: food. Anytime the temperature dips below 60 degrees, the owners at this popular spot get ready for the long lines that form almost immediately. Those people shivering on the sidewalk are waiting for one unique dish: churros and chocolate. Following the Spanish tradition of fresh fried churros dipped in hot chocolate, this spot has been the go-to for cold weather indulgence since 1979.
Mexican in Little Havana
Mexican food may not have the same foothold in Miami as it has in other parts of the country, but the fact that this spot has provided an authentic experience since the 1980s - in the middle of Little Havana nonetheless - speaks volumes. It means they’re doing something right. Here, they go beyond tacos with heartier dishes such as mole and chile relleno. And for Miamians it has become an iconic part of the Miami dining landscape, whether for playing hooky on a Friday afternoon with margaritas, a late night dinner before heading upstairs to the upstairs club Los Altos, or their iconic Mexican desert vista neon mural.
Cuban in Little Havana
Since the 1970s this spot has been ground zero for political discourse and breaking news from Cuba. Beginning in the late 1950s, Cubans began immigrating to Miami, establishing a strong community that opened the door for other Latin Americans arriving in the city. Today, Miami is home to Cubans, Nicaraguans, Venezuelans, Colombians, and more. Regardless of origin, this spot continues to be the heart and soul for local Latin-ness. The restaurant is broken up into three sections. There’s the main dining room styled after Versailles’ Hall of Mirrors, the bakery, and the famous ventanita. The open-air style of the ventanita encourages socializing and is a space to get together and talk while enjoying Cuban coffee. But even more important than its coffee is its position as the community’s political hub. Love it or hate it, this is Miami’s official hub for Cuban culture and coffee.
Empanadas in South Beach
This spot doesn’t represent a single country - but rather a truly iconic Latin American food: empanadas. They are beloved by most Latin Americans because they’re cheap, easy to eat, and make the perfect street food. But not all empanadas are made the same, and they vary from country to country. If you want to try a variety (to decide once and for all your favorite style), you’d have to trek all over the city. But at Charlotte Bakery, they solve the problem by offering an array of different styles and fillings from Argentina (baked using puff pastry dough), Venezuela (fried using corn flour), and Chile (square and baked with ingredients such as raisins, olives, and egg) all day long. You won’t find this much empanada variety anywhere else in Miami.