Miami’s Best Ethnic Restaurant Neighborhoods

Cuban Sandwich

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Cuban Sandwich

By: Shayne Benowitz

When it comes to sampling authentic world cuisine, Miami is second to none. With the strong presence of Cuban, Caribbean, Central and South American cultures, Miami is a smorgasbord of international culinary delights. Head to Little Havana for authentic Cuban food and a melting pot of Spanish, Mexican, Nicaraguan and Bolivian cuisine. Little Haiti is home to not only excellent Haitian fare, but also a wide range of other Caribbean flavors. And when you venture to Historic Overtown, Liberty City or Coconut Grove Village West, you’ll sample the best of Southern and Caribbean comfort food. Read on for your best bets when dining in Miami’s ethnic neighborhoods.

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Little Havana

When it comes to Cuban food, start your gastronomic explorations in Little Havana at the classic Versailles, family-owned and operated since 1971. Not only does it function as the unofficial town square for Miami's Cuban diaspora, it serves delicious favorites from empanadas to stuffed plantains, croquetas and, of course, the Cuban sandwich made with sweet ham, roasted pork, Swiss cheese, pickles and yellow mustard pressed on crusty Cuban bread. Other neighborhood restaurants specializing in Cuban cuisine include El Cristo and El Exquisito. You’ll find classic, authentic dishes at all of these restaurants, including picadillo (ground beef with olives, raisins and spices), arroz con pollo (chicken and yellow rice) and ropa vieja beef stew, all served with plantains, black beans and buttered, flaky Cuban bread.

Through the years, a collection of Latin communities from Central and South America have also made Little Havana home. Today, you’ll find cuisine from Nicaragua, Bolivia and Argentina. For the best Mexican fare, head to Mi Rinconcito Mexicano, located at 1961 SW 8th St., with signature dishes like tacos and enchiladas slathered in mole sauce. There’s also a nice selection of traditional Spanish tapas in Little Havana at places like El Rincon Asturiano where you’ll find everything from croquetas to albondingas meatballs, paella, Iberican ham and manchego cheese.

Breathing fresh life into historic Little Havana, the 1930s Ball & Chain concert hall opened anew after a loving restoration. The result is a luscious dark wood paneled bar with deep green accents and a whiff of Old Havana, all designed for Miami’s modern revelers. There’s also an unexpected outdoor garden and bandshell. Once a venue where Chet Baker, Billie Holiday and Count Basie performed, today’s Ball & Chain honors its history with an entertainment line-up that covers everything from jazz to salsa. Inventive and classic cocktails, like the mojito, are on offer as well as a modern tapas menu.

    Little Haiti

    Chef Creole features plenty of signature Haitian recipes with a focus on seafood courtesy of beloved, longtime owner Chef Wilkinson Sejour. The restaurant’s cuisine showcases traditional Caribbean flavors in dishes like whole fish, seafood criollo stew and platters of fried lobster, shrimp and fish. Chez Le Bebe, located at 114 NE 54th St., is another popular spot for Haitian cuisine that includes fried pork griot and slow-cooked oxtail. Clive’s Café offers some of the finest Jamaican fare in Miami. The stripped down ambiance allows traditional Caribbean dishes – jerk chicken, brown stew, oxtail – to take center stage.

    Historic Overtown, Liberty City & Coconut Grove Village West

    Historic Overtown is beloved for its soul food scene and you have to head straight to Jackson Soul Food, a favorite of Muhammad Ali during the neighborhood’s heyday and, more recently, of Miami Heat star Dwayne Wade. Open until 1 p.m., this is where you come to indulge in hearty breakfast platters of scrambled eggs, grits, pancakes and biscuits, all home-cooked and served piping hot in Southern comfort glory.

    Liberty City is another bastion of soul food, both Southern and Caribbean. At Naomi’s Garden, a take-out window serves up massive portions of beloved Caribbean comfort food like peas and rice, plantains and curried chicken that you can enjoy at one of their picnic tables beneath lush tropical foliage. With a focus on seafood, the Bahamian Pot Restaurant specializes in conch. This is the place to sample conch fritters, cracked conch and fresh conch salad marinated in lime with diced peppers and onions. The flavors will transport you to those crystal clear waters of the Bahamas.

    The Village West neighborhood in Coconut Grove is the historic enclave of the Bahamian and African-American descendants of Coconut Grove’s early settlers. Like Overtown and Liberty City, the neighborhood offers plenty of quaint eateries and restaurants specializing in Caribbean and Southern soul food.

    You can’t go wrong with your exploration of multicultural restaurants throughout Miami. Be adventurous, try something you’ve never had before and enjoy the incredible flavors!

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