In the kitchen of Bella Cuba Restaurant, flames slowly sauté and season traditional Cuban dishes. Chefs season root vegetables with mojo—a sauce made from hot olive oil, lemon juice, raw onions, garlic, and cumin—before sautéing accompanying meats in citrus marinades. The smells of the sizzling pork steaks, meat pies, and yellow tail snapper sizzling in a coconut sauce infuse the whole restaurant with the smells of Cuba, helped along by the smoke of handcrafted cigars plucked from the dining room’s humidor. After a dessert of super-moist tres leches cake, guests can sip on Cuba libres and classic Cuban mojitos that, much like a splash in a neighbor’s bird bath, give relief on a balmy day.
Israel "Izzy" Valdes opened his namesake restaurant to help groups of diners avoid the age-old frustrations of settling for just one type of cuisine. By offering two popular fares in one location, Izzy's acts like a giant dove puffing on a peace pipe, healing the food-fueled rifts between bickering families and nagging couples. The ever-evolving menu is clearly demarcated according to cuisine, and two different chefs man the kitchen to ensure each half of the menu is expertly executed. The menu's Cuban region includes such delicacies as grilled chicken breast draped in equally grilled onions ($8.95) and the cubano sandwich, made with ham, roasted pork, swiss cheese, and pickles, all nestled on a Cuban-style roll ($7.95). The Thai portion features well-spiced staples such as pad thai, myriad vegetarian options, and curries of every color ($4–$13). Most of Izzy's sensational dinner entrees and specials fall within the $10–$20 range.
Though Chef Douglas Rodriguez's take on Latin cuisine is contemporary, he's no newcomer to the restaurant scene. SunPost Weekly credits him with propelling award-winning eateries including Wet Paint Cafe, the original Yuca, and Patria in New York to star status. At De Rodriguez Cuba, adjacent to the five-star Hilton's Bentley Beach Club, the executive chef channels his decorated career into a menu of Havana-inspired dishes and signature ceviches crafted from sustainable seafood. He steeps lobster, shrimp, and crab in the tangy notes of coconut milk, lime, and ginger for the thai coconut seafood ceviche and tops the popular vaca frita entree with avocado and tomato chimichurri. Complemented by Cuban cocktails or a sip from the large wine list, the dishes evoke images of the islands.
The eatery's decor also contributes Caribbean character, stealing the spotlight in a Miami Beach magazine piece. According to the article, "guests can sit poolside or in the lovely dining salon facing the sea," or they can set up shop at the 25-foot ceviche bar in a space "that's all dark woods and serene white curtains." Scattered palm trees and large green lounge chairs border one side of the pool, the other bank crowded with crimson-trimmed tan couches that melt seamlessly into the open dining room. The sweet notes of live music fill the age-worn slats above the bar, beside which an aquarium teems with fish like the fridge of a hibernating bear.
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.