Miami has long been the unofficial Hispanic capital of the USA (about 70% of the city’s population is Hispanic), and your visit should include an introduction to Cuban cuisine. Naturally there are countless Cuban joints in this giant, sprawling city, so you might as well begin with a few basic, no-frills standouts. Especially with discussions of travel opening up between Cuba and the USA, it’s even more reason to familiarize ourselves with their presence in Miami!
Here’s where you should eat before your feet ever touch the sand:
Versailles (est. 1971) lies past the far western end of Little Havana, and you’ll recognize it by the line of loyal diners out front. Don’t be discouraged; this place is actually quite cavernous and run by pros who know how to kill that line. Once seated, you won’t be disappointed with the ample Criollo sampler, which comes with juicy sweet plantains; cassava in tangy mojo sauce; velvety ham croquettes; fried pork; a Cuban tamale; black beans and yellow rice; and the most tender ropa vieja you’ve ever tasted (shredded beef in tomato sauce with peppers and onions). Even the table bread is super fresh because Versailles has its own bakery next door, so plan to go home with some guava puff pastries.
Puerto Sagua (est. 1962) brings a totally unpretentious element to South Beach, the rest of which is filled with the likes of Armani and the Ritz-Carlton. Puerto Sagua is indeed popular, for a good reason, and they know how to turn tables. The ambience is more modest than at Versailles, but the food is equally soul-sating. Try a steamy bowl of oxtail stew, well-spiced black bean soup, addictive ropa vieja, and the creamiest flan you can imagine.
Tropical Beach Café in Mid-Beach is the most informal of these three options and has the biggest portions, so order conservatively or plan to take the rest home. The fried red snapper is delicious, as are the black beans, simple salad with avocado, café con leche, fresh fruit juice, and rich homemade flan. The space is small, so there might be a short line at peak hours, but there’s definitely no red carpet and the service is very friendly.
Where do you take first-timers for Cuban food in Miami?