MIAReview

photo credit: Tasty Planet

Habana Vieja Restaurant  review image
8.4

Habana Vieja

$$$$

2475 SW 37th Ave, Miami
View WebsiteEarn 3X Points

Despite what every Spanglish-speaking Miamian will tell you, the perfect classic Cuban restaurant is a myth. Don’t misunderstand us, there are tons of great casual Cuban spots in this city, but none are perfect, nor are they meant to be. Habana Vieja understands this better than most places. Cuban food is greasy, oniony, and comforting. It dangles off heavy oval plates and makes you smell like garlic for days. And it’s best approached with humility. 

It’s not perfect either, but this Douglas Road spot has been quietly serving our favorite casual Cuban food in Miami for almost 40 years.

Inside, it feels like an old Cuban country home divided into three sections: an outdoor area by the entrance, a simple dining room with terracotta floors and wooden support beams, and our favorite place to eat: the bar area. It’s a backroom with a dark mahogany bar, wooden shingles plastered to the ceiling, and false windows. Your brain knows you’re inside, but you’ll think you're sitting outside on a farmhouse porch with first-wave Cubans recapping which Miami politicians are now in jail.

Habana Vieja Restaurant  review image

photo credit: Tasty Planet

What sets this restaurant apart from the rest of Miami’s many casual Cuban options is not that the free bread is medianoche bread instead of white Cuban (it’s OK—take it easy). It’s the refreshing embrace of its own flaws.

The music isn’t always on, they close inconveniently early, and just about everyone who eats there is a regular—so service can be a little curt and prioritizes them over newcomers. But that’s why we love it. It’s a neighborhood restaurant run by locals that isn’t trying to attract attention. They don't claim to be kings or magicians. They're not trying to be a palace or line their tables in white linen. They just make the best vaca frita in Miami—fighting words, we know. 

Habana Vieja Restaurant  review image

photo credit: Tasty Planet

You’re going to want to come here on a weekday between 5pm and 7pm for the early dinner special: a soup of the day, large entree of your choice, two sides, dessert, and a glass of house wine filled to the brim—for $12.95. Go on the earlier side. Not only do they close at 8pm, but their specials usually run out by 6:30pm. If you can’t make it then, come for the outstanding caldo gallego, which is only served on weekends but tends to run out by the end of lunch.

Not everything on the menu is a hit. The sangria is strong but made with what tastes like a 1950s recipe that involves canned fruit, and their sandwiches are just OK. Stick to other classics like rich ropa vieja that falls apart mid-flight between the fork and your mouth, or the sweet and plump maduros with golden crispy edges. You’ll have to go more than once to try everything and win over the regulars. But by the time you sample it all, you’ll be one of them and reach the same conclusion we did: It’s not flawless, but it’s the best in Miami.

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Food Rundown

Habana Vieja Restaurant  review image

photo credit: Cleveland Jennings

Caldo Gallego

Beans are making a comeback. But Habana Vieja’s caldo gallego is the Converse sneakers of bean soup—it’s always been popular, and we’ll never get sick of it. This brothy, hearty soup is made with pork, white beans, onions, and coriander. Just know that it’s only available on Saturdays and Sundays, and they stop serving it when they run out. So go early.

Habana Vieja Restaurant  review image

photo credit: Cleveland Jennings

Mariquitas

These crispy mariquitas are made in house, heaped onto a large plate, and served with a delicious garlicky mojo that we’re fairly certain was prepared by creative vampire slayers.

Habana Vieja Restaurant  review image

photo credit: Cleveland Jennings

Vaca Frita

The one thing that really sets this vaca frita apart from the hundreds of others in Miami are the onions. The shredded beef is crispy but still soaks in all the mouth-puckering juices from the vinegary onions, so there’s no need to even add lime or mojo. It comes with your choice of sides, which should definitely include their creamy black beans.

Guava Shells with Cream Cheese

This traditional dessert doesn’t get the love it deserves in Miami. The fruits are halved and scooped to create little guava helmets, then simmered with sugar until tender and dripping in their own caramelized sauce. And it’s all served with a hunk of cream cheese. If you’ve ever had a guava and cheese pastelito, just imagine that on steroids. It’s made with fresh guava fruit, so it’s only on the menu when they’re in season (which is thankfully most of the year in Florida).

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