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Miami’s food culture is strongly associated with Cuba but, in reality, Greater Miami & Miami Beach is a true melting pot of Latin American cuisine – ranging from the Caribbean to Central and South America. Each of these regions and the countries within them bring their own special recipes to the table, and their food is found in restaurants throughout the destination. With such diversity, oftentimes these flavors intermingle to create a fusion of Latin American food that can only be found in Miami.

Locals ordering at Versailles' window
Order at the little window at Versailles

Cuban Cuisine & Little Havana

The heart of Miami’s Cuban community is found in Little Havana, where classic restaurants like Versailles are found amid fruterias (fruit stands), bakeries and ventanitas (little windows) offering café con leche and pastelitos (pastries) on the go. Take a stroll down Calle Ocho (Southwest 8th Street) to get an intro course (or a refresher) in Cuban Miami 101.

Traditional Cuban cuisine falls into a few different categories. First, there’s Cuban coffee, which is made with strong espresso, lots of sugar and steamed milk. You can order yours in a variety of sizes and styles: café con leche is similar to a latte, a cortadito is a smaller, stronger version and coladas are extremely potent and meant to be shared as little shots. You’ll find Cuban coffee at ventanitas throughout Miami.

Classic Cuban medianoche sandwich
Traditional pressed Cuban sandwich

The Cuban Sandwich and More

The Cuban sandwich is also a staple of Cuban cuisine. It’s made with honey-glazed ham, marinated pork, Swiss cheese, yellow mustard and pickles pressed on a crusty Cuban roll. Take those same ingredients and put them on a sweet roll, and you have a medianoche (midnight) sandwich. This one gets its name from when it’s served – it’s popular with partygoers who leave the nightclubs after midnight.

Cuban entrees are traditionally served with black beans, rice and sweet plantains to accompany the main dish, which can range from masas de puerco (deep fried chunks of pork) and ropa vieja (stewed beef) to garlic shrimp and arroz con pollo (rice with chicken). You can have the rice and beans mixed together (moros rice) or, if you prefer, they can come separately. Other popular sides are tostones (fried green plantains) and boiled or fried yucca.

El Palacio de los Jugos is a local chain that has been serving up chicharrones (fried pork skins) and fresh juice since 1977. Over the years, it has expanded to 10 stores. Easily recognizable by its iconic bright red and yellow awnings, El Palacio de los Jugos is a feast for the eyes. Mounds of piping hot chicharrones, chicken cutlets, ribs and much more are all lined up behind glass. Order the food from the counter and find a seat – don’t forget the cafecito and a delicious made-to-order fruit juice.

Sushi bar area at La Mar
Upscale Peruvian fusion dishes at La Mar by Gastón Acurio

South American Influences

South American cuisine is perhaps the next most influential in Miami, with signature dishes from countries including Peru, Argentina, Brazil, Colombia and Venezuela.

Peruvian food is quite popular in Miami’s culinary scene, with a range of restaurants ranging from the down-to-earth My Ceviche, CVI.CHE 105 and Chalan on the Beach to fine dining establishments like La Mar by Gastón Acurio.

Ceviche and lomo saltado (a Chinese-influenced beef stir fry) are classic Peruvian dishes. Potatoes and quinoa are major crops of Peru and are reflected in the cuisine. Fresh fish doesn’t end with ceviche, as Peruvian food also includes tiraditos, which are similar to sashimi.

Grilled steak topped with chimichurri sauce
Argentinian-style steak at Novecento

A mainstay of Argentinian cuisine is the parilla tradition of grilled meats over an open flame, often referred to as asado. Think of this as your backyard barbeque, but with the flavors and the temperature cranked way up. Highlights of the Argentinian parilla are found at places like Las Vacas Gordas in Miami Beach as well as at Novecento, a chain found throughout Miami serving entraña (skirt steak), vacío (flank steak) and Argentinian chorizo (sausage). There’s also a strong Italian influence in Argentinian fare, so don’t be surprised to find pizza and pasta on the menu at traditional Argentinian restaurants. Other popular spots include Fiorito in Little Haiti as well as Buenos Aires Bakery & Café in Miami Beach.

Brazilian cuisine is for the true carnivore. Brazilian steakhouses are known as churrascariaand they’re home to an all-you-can-eat meat extravaganza. Servers walk through the dining room with skewers of assorted meats that they slice onto diners’ plates. Steaks are slathered in aromatic chimichurri sauce, which is made of finely chopped parsley, garlic and oregano (also served at the Argentinian parilla). These churrascarias boast an elaborate salad bar with every imaginable fresh veggie, salad and side dish under the sun. Popular spots in Miami include Texas de Brazil and Fogo de Chao.

Tacos served with sauces & flowers at Coyo Taco
Good times & delicious tacos at trendy Coyo Taco

Mexican And Central American Influences

Miami is home to a variety of Mexican and Central American restaurants. While traditional Mexican restaurants can be found all around, Miami has also seen a rise in trendy taquerias in recent years, with a slew of new restaurants offering their version of street food or cantina-style tacos. Try Coyo Taco, Taquiza, and Bodega Taqueria y Tequila to sample Miami’s new batch of taco spots.

With Nicaraguan cuisine, you’ll find similarities to South American food in dishes like churrasco (grilled skirt steak), gallo pinto (red beans and rice mixed with spices and garlic) and queso frito (thick squares of fried white cheese). The Sweetwater area is often called Little Managua, and you can find Nicaraguan restaurants there like Madroño and Raspados Loly’s. With two Miami locations, Los Ranchos is a popular choice for Nicaraguan cuisine.

Discover more Greater Miami & Miami Beach restaurants and dining experiences, and find amazing dining and restaurant offers during Miami Spice Restaurants Months during August and September.

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