photo credit: Emily Schindler
Cafe La Trova
Sometimes we want dinner to feel like a party, but a lot of restaurants think this means sticking sparklers in mediocre sushi rolls and letting an electric violinist in white jeans run around the dining room. The overlap of places where Pitbull has filmed a music video and places you’d actually want to eat at is almost too small to see. But if you whip out your magnifying glass and look closely, you’ll find Cafe La Trova—a rare place where dancing, drinking, and eating work together perfectly.
Cafe La Trova is located on Calle Ocho, exactly where you’d hope to find a place with a fantastic daiquiri only 20-feet away from a very fun dance floor. The menu is mostly Cuban with some classic Latin dishes thrown in, like the hand-cut steak empanadas, which are good enough to justify ordering twice and stuffing in your pockets for the ride home. If you’ve got some friends to split bigger plates with, the crispy whole boneless snapper is the entree equivalent of a conga line, and everyone can take turns ripping it apart with a fork.
Order with confidence, though. We have yet to eat a dish at Cafe La Trova that isn’t very good, which is pretty remarkable. Because, in Miami, restaurants that feel like such a big, loud party usually serve food you don’t want anywhere near your face.
When it comes to drinks, stick to cocktails because La Trova doesn’t have a bad one on their menu. The Daiquiri Clasico is probably the one drink we’d take along if we were left on a desert island, but if you want something a little more theatrical, get La Chancleta, which comes on a wooden flip-flop and is cheesy in a fun way—unlike an Ocean Drive margarita, which is cheesy in a possibly toxic way. You can also get any of these drinks at the little bar in the back, which was inspired by ’80s Miami and has a heavily-mirrored space that’d make the Cocaine Cowboys feel right at home.
From there, you can bounce back and forth to the bar in the main dining room, where there’s usually a band playing classic Cuban songs and a few couples showing off their salsa skills. But if your salsa skills still need work, you can also just sit back, watch, and order another daiquiri. There’s no shortage of options at Cafe La Trova, and as long as you’re willing to embrace a little bit of the chaos, you should have as much fun here as the folks in one of those Pitbull music videos.
We know every restaurant within a five-mile radius of La Trova is selling croquetas, but these are easily some of Miami’s best. Options rotate often, but include fillings like jamón serrano, Maine lobster, and paella. They’re all fantastic, and also make us wonder what other delicious things we should consider sticking inside croquettes. Oreos? Cacio e Pepe? Someone let us know who’s in charge of this so we can write letters.
Hand-Cut Steak Empanadas
We suspect the tender, juicy steak and caramelized onions would taste awesome even if they were stuffed in an old sock, but we’re glad this comes in empanada form.
If you’re at a big table with people who are about to split a bunch of different things, you might as well get this because it’s fried cheese—and good fried cheese too. But if there are only a few of you, skip it to save room for the entrees.
Crispy Whole Boneless Snapper
We see a ton of crispy whole fish around Miami, but this is one of the best. The fried skin is obviously delicious, but what’s underneath that skin—really tender, tasty snapper—is what sets this one apart.
Arroz Con Pollo
If there is a good metric to measure a Cuban spot by, it’s always the arroz con pollo. And everything about Cafe La Trova’s hits the mark—from the juicy half chicken a la plancha to the great saffron-infused bomba rice, which you should absolutely mix with the chicken for an endless parade of perfect bites.