Eleven Latin Dishes You Must Eat in Miami

Empanadas

Empanadas

Pastelitos

Cuban Pastelitos

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By: Mandy Baca & Shayne Benowitz

There’s more to Miami’s mouthwatering Latin cuisine than Cuban sandwiches and cortaditos. While those mainstays are must-eats on any visit to Miami, tempt your taste buds with these Latin dishes you must sample on a culinary journey in Miami.

1. Fritas

The Cuban equivalent of an American classic, the frita is a hamburger with an accent. 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 it can get messy, it’s not greasy. If you’re ravenous, you can easily eat two. Pincho, with multiple locations throughout the city, puts a modern twist on this much-loved staple with a handful of frita varieties to choose from, as well as a Burger Bash People’s Choice Award under its belt.

Cuban sandwich
Try a classic Cuban sandwich

2. Cuban sandwich

It 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 a twist with 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,” a 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 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.

4. Empanadas and Pastelitos

La ventanita is Spanish for “little window” and it’s literally a window that can be found at many Latin American restaurants for on-the-go treats, such as empanadas, pastelitos and cafecito. At la ventanita you’ll be confronted with a battle older than your abuela: empanadas vs. pastelitos. Both can be salty and sweet, both can be filled with a variety of items like guava, cheese, beef and spinach. The difference lies in the crust and cooking techniques. Empanadas use a heavier dough, while pastelitos are lighter and more flaky. Both can be fried or baked. People from almost all Latin American countries eat these treats and the varieties are endless. Yisell Bakery in Little Havana 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.

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
Try the arepas 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 like 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. La Moon restaurant popularized the perro game in Miami, making it a household name. With toppings piled high, it’s guaranteed to be a messy affair—but so worth it!

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 from all reaches missing the taste of home. Simple ingredients cooked just right.

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 the expected oranges and grapefruits to the more exotic products such as mamey and tamarind. Guarapo, or “sugarcane juice,” is also put through the juicer for a sweet drink. You will find juicers and juices at many local establishments. El Palacio De Los Jugos, with multiple locations across Miami, makes it their specialty, offering 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 that 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. Try a gourmet spin on the staple served with habanero sweet chili sauce at CVLTVRA, an upscale Latin restaurant inside The Gabriel hotel in Downtown Miami.

11. Ceviche

Peru is most often associated with ceviche, but again, you can find this traditional dish across all Latin American countries that are bordered by a body of water. The traditional recipe is simple: raw fish is marinated in lime juice and spiced with onion, salt and cilantro. The best ceviches are made with freshly caught fish and eaten beachside. 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 in across Miami.

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