By: Shayne Benowitz
Miami is synonymous with Latin flavor. Here’s where to find it.
Miami is synonymous with Latin flavor, from strong and sweet mojitos to sizzling salsa moves. While Cuba is a dominant culture, Miami is composed of a melting pot of people from across Latin America and the Caribbean. This diverse population brings with it an electric nightlife scene. From dance clubs to music halls, cocktail lounges and buzzy restaurants, here are a few hot spots to get a taste of Miami’s Latin flavor on a night out on the town.
The historic Ball & Chain bar and music hall was revived in 2014 after sitting dormant for decades. Famous for its 1950s heyday when the likes of Count Basie, Billie Holiday and Chet Baker once performed there, Ball & Chain is back, reinvigorating the nightlife scene on Little Havana’s Calle Ocho. The venue is designed with sexy, wood-paneled walls, green leather banquettes and lush palm fronds, along with a spacious back patio. Live music is the focal point with acts ranging from Latin house DJs, salsa and live jazz. Expect expertly mixed mojitos here by Cuban mixology impresario Julio Cabrera. A tapas menu is also available, once you’ve worked up an appetite on the dance floor.
Hoy Como Ayer is a Little Havana institution for live music, strong rum and, yes, dancing. Reserve a table and prepare to be entertained by an evening filled with anything from a seven-piece band to a soulful crooner. You won’t be seated long as the rhythms of salsa and rumba gets you on your feet and dancing. If names like Celia Cruz and Benny More don’t ring a bell, then you’ll get an education in the Cuban music greats here. On Thursday nights, the long-running Fuacata! party featuring The Spam Allstars is a local’s favorite with their unique blend of Latin funk.
Part-research center/art gallery, part-rum bar with live music, CubaOcho is a true Little Havana treasure. By day, explore the collection of antique artwork and furniture from 1850-1958. Ask the owner to show you pieces that Frank Sinatra formerly owned. It’s a place for locals to congregate over cigars in the outdoor courtyard and to quaff rum at the wooden bar—arguably the most extensive rum bar in Miami. Weekend evenings come alive with live music ranging from jazz to salsa and everything in between. Cut a rug or watch the locals shimmy in this intimate setting.
It’s not all Cuban food and music when it comes to Latin flavor in Miami. In fact, Mexican food is having a moment—especially tacos. At Bodega on South Beach, these tacos come with a twist. The food truck-like façade is a front for a secret speakeasy nightclub. Specializing in tequila cocktails, this club with an approachable, yet high-energy vibe has quickly become one of the hottest scenes on the South Beach nightlife circuit.
On Ocean Drive, Mango’s Tropical Café is one of those Miami experiences everyone has to try at least once. Step inside to the sounds of salsa and flamenco music and, chances are, a woman bedecked in ruffles and a full headdress will be tangoing on the bar with a man in skintight sequin pants. Order a piña colada and enjoy the show or hop on the dance floor to try out your own moves.
YUCA, an acronym for “Young Urban Cuban-Americans,” serves up contemporary Cuban and Nuevo Latino dishes at this stylish restaurant on a corner of Lincoln Road with ample outdoor café seating. Expect an upscale, gourmet twist on classic Cuban dishes, such as the Croquetas De La Abuela, made with truffles, béchamel and Serrano ham, guava barbecue ribs and pan-fried corvina fish with a spicy tomato fondue. An upstairs ballroom holds salsa lessons on Wednesdays and Fridays at 7:30 p.m, with live music or a DJ to follow, keeping the party moving. The floor-to-ceiling windows peer out on passersby on Lincoln Road and the Miami night sky for an inspiring setting to perfect your moves.
In the heart of Miami’s Wynwood Arts District, Wynwood Kitchen & Bar is an ideal stop day or night. Surrounded by the monumental Wynwood Walls, an outdoor “museum of the streets” featuring works by the world’s most talented mural artists, Wynwood Kitchen & Bar serves up an eclectic menu of small plates and creative cocktails with a Latin twist. Grab a seat outside amidst the Walls or pull up a chair at the bar, which has been decorated by acclaimed street artist Shepard Fairey. Order up beef empanadas, gooey queso fresco taqueños and tuna tartare with avocado crème fraiche. Pair that with a round of the boozy, rum heavy Guayaberas or the mezcal-based Peppery Pepino and you’re in for a good time.
For upscale Peruvian food in a sleek setting with a buzzy scene, look no further than COYA in Brickell. With rustic hardwood floors, the restaurant is warm and chic decorated with chartreuse velvet chairs, leather club chairs and Peruvian textiles. While the scenery is certainly attractive, the food is the true star. Indulge in everything from fresh ceviches, tiraditos and lomo saltado. Their weekend brunch, which includes a pisco cocktail and unlimited Champagne, is a festive time to truly savor everything on the menu. Alternatively, their Pisco Bar is a great place for happy hour or an after dinner cocktail.
In Doral, La Covacha is a local spot with great Latin music ranging from salsa and merengue to house and even disco. The welcoming backyard and tiki-style bar draws a crowd ready to move on the dance floor. And with a little luck, you’ll be a part of it!
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