Eleven Latin Dishes You Must Eat in Miami

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By: Mandy Baca & Shayne Benowitz

There’s more to Greater Miami & Miami Beach’s mouthwatering Latin cuisine than Cuban sandwiches and cortaditos. While those are mainstays on any visit to Miami, it's time to tempt your taste buds with these Latin dishes.

1. Fritas

The Cuban equivalent of an American classic, the frita is a hamburger with a twist. The patty is a mixture of ground beef and chorizo mixed with seasonings and then topped with shoestring potatoes, diced raw onions and ketchup. A slice of bright yellow melty American cheese can also be added as a topping. One of the oldest frita slingers in town, El Rey De Las Fritas, offers the best interpretation of the dish. Their fritas are sized just right, not too big or too small – and while they can get messy, they’re not greasy. If you’re ravenous, you can easily eat two. Pincho, with multiple locations throughout the destination, puts a modern twist on this much-loved staple with a handful of frita varieties to choose from. Worthy of note: they also have a Burger Bash People’s Choice Award under their belt.

Cuban sandwich
Try a classic Cuban sandwich

2. Cuban sandwich

The good eating doesn’t end with the frita. Cubans step it up a notch with their own signature grilled sandwich. It consists of Cuban bread, roasted pork, ham, Swiss cheese, mustard and pickles. You can’t say you’ve had a proper Cuban sandwich until you order one at Enriqueta’s Sandwich Shop near Wynwood. Touted by many as the best in town, all products are fresh and the sandwich stands tall (even after it’s pressed) with roasted pork, honey ham, Swiss cheese, pickles and mustard stuffed in between the perfectly buttered and toasted Cuban bread. For a modern twist, seek out Sanguich de Miami in Little Havana. They add spiced ham and homemade pickles.

Cuban coffee at Versailles
Savor Cuban coffee at Versailles

3. Cuban Coffee

Whether it’s a café con leche, cafecito, colada or cortadito, Cuban coffee is undeniably one of the most widely enjoyed drinks in Miami. Simply “coffee with milk,” café con leche is a breakfast staple, typically served at a 50/50 ratio of highly caffeinated Cuban coffee and hot, frothy milk. The cafecito (sometimes called café Cubano) is the café con leche’s more aggressive cousin. Don’t be fooled by its petite size: This sweetened shot of Cuban espresso packs a punch that will keep your heart pumping throughout the day. A colada is simply several cafecitos in one cup, and it is meant for sharing between four to six friends. The cortadito is like a macchiato, a smaller variation on the Miami favorite where Cuban espresso is topped with steamed milk. The historic Versailles Restaurant in Little Havana is one of the best spots for grabbing Cuban coffee—along with a side of nostalgia and politics.

empanada
Choose from salty or sweet empanadas

4. Empanadas and Pastelitos

For on-the-go treats, empanadas and pastelitos are the perfect options. Both can be salty and sweet, and filled with a variety of items such as guava, cheese, beef and spinach. The difference lies in the crust and cooking techniques. Empanadas use a heavier dough, while pastelitos are lighter and flakier. Both can be fried or baked. People from almost all Latin American countries eat these treats, and the varieties are endless. Vicky Bakery is one of the best places in Miami for pastelitos, while GoGo Fresh in South Beach offers a wide variety of empanadas to choose from. For traditional Argentinian empanadas and pastelitos, try Manolo in North Beach. If you're in a hurry, order at the walk-up window, "la ventanita", which can be found at many Latin American restaurants and bakeries.

croqueta
Classic ham croquetas are crunchy & creamy

5. Croquetas

Croquetas are versatile goodies (cylindrical in shape, they are deep-fried, finger-sized nuggets) filled with all sorts of minced salty items. First-timers should start with the classic ham filling. Chicken is also a popular alternative. These are the croquetas that kids in the suburbs of southwest Miami grew up on. While some croquetas are skimpy, Islas Canarias makes sure their croquetas are plump, with the right of amount of creamy filling and with a lightly fried, golden-brown exterior.

27 Restaurant
Arepas with ropa vieja at 27 Restaurant and Bar

6. Arepas

Arepas are the South American answer to the grilled cheese, using Swiss cheese and corn pancakes in place of traditional bread. Over the years, they have become so popular that all types of ingredients are added to the patties alongside the cheese. The best arepas are usually served from food carts. When it comes to arepas, the simpler the better. At Redland’s Farmers Market in South Dade, the arepas are rolled out and griddled right in front of you. These are no-nonsense arepas—corn pancake, cheese, butter and nothing else. For an upscale twist, order the arepas at  27 Restaurant and Bar in Mid Beach where they’re served with ropa vieja (stewed beef).

7. Colombian Hot Dog

Colombian hot dogs are the half-brother to another American classic, the hot dog. Boiled and not grilled, the dog is topped with items such as coleslaw, pineapple sauce, ketchup, mayonnaise, mustard and potato chips. It is not for the faint of heart, but truly a favorite among the late-night crowd. Many places in Miami offer this local favorite, including D-Dog House and Los Perros.

8. Plato Mixto

If there is something that all Latin American countries can agree on, it’s the plato mixto. Spanish for “mixed plate,” it includes as many traditional dishes as can fit onto one plate. In Nicaragua, the plate typically consists of carne asada with chimichurri sauce, chorizo, fried cheese, corn tortilla, gallo pinto and fried plantains. The plato mixto relies on the quality of the ingredients and precise cooking to bring out its best flavors. Located in a strip mall in the heart of Sweetwater, El Madroño is the go-to restaurant for Latin Americans missing the taste of home.

Freshly squeezed juice
Taste freshly squeezed juice at El Palacio De Los Jugos

9. Jugos

No trip to Miami is complete without a fresh-squeezed juice, from orange and grapefruit to more exotic products such as mamey and tamarind. Guarapo, or “sugarcane juice,” is also put through the juicer for a sweet drink.  El Palacio De Los Jugos, with multiple locations across Miami, offers at least a dozen juices made to order. The outdoor restaurants feature sprawling fruit markets, with fresh local produce.

10. Chicharrones

Chicharrones are the Spanish name for fresh, fried and seasoned pork rinds. These irresistible treats are crispy, crackly and greasy. For those who have never eaten fresh chicharrones, these are not your store-bought variety. A layer of pork belly is left attached to the skin for a heavenly little square of fried skin and fat. Find them in many restaurants in Miami, including El Mago de las Fritas (only on Saturdays, but worth the wait), Sanguich de Miami and El Palacio de los Jugos.

11. Ceviche

Peru is most often associated with ceviche, but you can find this traditional dish across all Latin American countries that are bordered by water. The traditional recipe is simple: raw fish is marinated in lime juice and spiced with onion, salt and cilantro. The deliciously simple Remedio Casero at Dr. Limon will transport you there. This hole-in-the-wall restaurant attracts Peruvians from all over Miami with a hankering for the fresh and traditional flavors of their home country. My Ceviche is a similar concept with locations across Greater Miami & Miami Beach.

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