For the Vilarino family, opening a restaurant wasn't just an opportunity to celebrate their Cuban heritage. It was their shot at surviving in America after fleeing the Communist regime of their home country in 1980. And in the 30 years since they opened the first Las Vegas, they've found plenty of success, adding a dozen more locations along the way.
Perhaps it's the authenticity of the food that people have fallen for, as Las Vegas Cuban Cuisine's menu is an ode to classic Cuban recipes. There's a Cuban sandwich, of course, paired with plantain chips, as well as ropa vieja—shredded flank beef that's marinated in garlic, peppers, onions, and bay leaves and topped with a tomato sauce. Even the selection of beverages includes Caribbean-style drinks, such as pineapple soda and cafe con leche.
When working in the kitchen at Savor crafting Cuban fare, chef Ariel Alvarez draws on culinary training in Havana and years of restaurant experience, including time at El Floridita, where he served former president Jimmy Carter, Giorgio Armani, and Naomi Campbell. He passes between cooks, who chop fish for ceviche and simmer cauldrons of paella, while forging a menu that adds hints of European cuisine to traditional Cuban recipes. Servers deliver platters of crab-stuffed plantains and oxtail cooked with wine and fresh herbs past photos of Cuba that ornament the walls alongside chalkboards scrawled with the daily specials.
El Rey De Las Fritas serves up an extensive menu of authentic Cuban cuisine. Start your flavorful survey of Caribbean flavors with one of the restaurant's famous fritas, a seasoned-beef patty on cuban bread topped with sizzling shoestring potatoes ($3.25, $3.50 with cheese). Or submerge your mouth in the submarine-like pan con tortilla calljera, a heaping omelette sandwich guaranteed to wake up taste buds with its fresh flavors and impression of Gloria Estefan ($4.25). Sandwich-averse diners can dive into the tamal preparado, a cornhusk-wrapped tamale accompanied with a side of seasoned pork ($5.25) or sip on the sopa de pallo, a traditional Cuban chicken soup ($3.25).
Las Culebrinas Restaurant’s tapas-inspired yet generously portioned plates enrapture patrons with a tantalizing tour of Cuban delicacies. Pack on protein with meat and pork dishes such as the Cuban–style grilled top-sirloin steak ($12.95) or fried pork chunks seductively laid out in a bed of avocado sauce ($10.50). Deep-sea diners can submerge palates in seafood and fish dishes including the lobster, shrimp, scallop, fish, and mussels in marinara sauce ($26.95) or baked filet of dolphin, sprinkled with chunks of spanish sausage and creole-sauced ham ($17.50). Poultry entrees such as the breaded chicken breast, topped with tomato sauce and melted swiss cheese ($11.50), command the attention of traditionalist taste buds, and specialties including frog legs slathered in garlic sauce ($19.95) satiate the appetites of well-traveled eaters or sedentary time-travelers.
Tinta Y Café is a traditional Cuban café that serves its Little Havana neighborhood well. Centrally located on Calle Ocho, this diminutive eatery offers little in the way of parking or seating, but doesn’t skimp on flavor. The café con leche – offered warm or on ice – is a must, and the rest of the menu isn’t far behind. Look for classic Cuban sandwiches, empanadas and flan, plus sought-after croquettes offered with ham, spinach and bacalao (cod). The interior mimics a library and patrons are encouraged to take down a Spanish-language book and enjoy with their coffee, though the volume is much higher than you’d expect at a quiet place of reading. Thanks to its location in the heart of Little Havana, Tinta y Café offers a nice spot to savor a cup and do some great people watching.
Open since 2000, El Rinconcito Latino is a family-owned establishment in the heart of Coral Gables. The menu features well-priced large portions of Cuban-style chicken, deep fried pork, black beans, liver steak, yellow rice, grilled skirt steak and pasta with shrimp, the latter being offered with either a creamy white or hearty red sauce. There is even an extensive offering of daily specials that push the limits of the diminutive kitchen even further. Located in a strip mall, El Rinconcito is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner, while also doing takeout. Inside, wooden cushioned chairs and faux marble table tops are set in rows across a calming gray tile floor. The restaurant usually has a wait for Sunday brunch, but it’s well worth the time spent.