At 6 a.m. every morning, the denizens of Little Havana awaken to the sweet scents that escape from the kitchens of nearby Rico Bakery & Cafe. A local institution for more than 25 years, the charming bakery has earned a dedicated following due to its fresh breads, Cuban and European desserts, and steamy coffee drinks. No item, however, flies off the bakery racks faster than the pastelitos, which come with sweet or savory fillings of coconut, cheese, beef, ham, guava, or piñata candy.
The bakers at Mmmm…. Cupcakes whip up artfully decorated handheld treats in a scrumptious spectrum of traditional, gluten-free, and vegan varieties. Utilizing 30% less sugar and a full line of organic ingredients, the bakers craft cakes ranging from full-sized desserts to easily weaponized cupcake push-pops. All baking is done in the shop’s kosher-certified kitchen, allowing customers of all ilks to chomp into freshly baked bites of Butterfinger, cran-orange, or guava con queso cupcakes. Bakers also teach the basic skills of custom cupcakery in one-hour lessons, in which students learn how to decorate and devour cupcakes tastier than a fresh-baked vending machine.
At Forty Four Cafe, chefs create a daily spread of Latin American street fare and fresh-baked French pastries. Each morning, chefs set to work to layer bread with ham, mustard, and pickles for Cuban sandwiches, stuff yucas for yuca rellena, and create savory empanadas. On the sweeter side, they create both French and Latin American desserts. Fresh, flaky croissants can be paired with a wealth of toppings, and guava tarts showcase the flavors of the tropics without dousing baked goods in every scent of sunscreen.
Rice House of Kabob's signature sumac sauce is known for its versatility—so much so that several customers want to buy it by the gallon. The coveted marinade was invented by Ali Shabani, one of the restaurant's four founding brothers, and seems to complement almost any item on the Persian menu. By seasoning char-grilled chicken, sirloin, shrimp, and vegetables, it serves as one of two constants in the kitchen. The other, of course, is rice—the family describes it on the website as "the world's ultimate comfort food" and lays it as a base for several platters, including housemade falafel and combination meals of ground-sirloin kubideh and charbroiled tenderloin.
From the vegetarian dishes to the pan-seared tilapia wrap, every item is prepped from all-natural ingredients. The culinary team arrives early in the morning to slice the preservative-free eats, which they always cook to order instead of reheating them beneath lamps or the smoldering gaze of Yosemite Sam.
Fusion cuisine is exciting because it can be a maze of unexpected flavors and startling twists on tradition. A certain level of compatibility is also important, though. It's a relief, then, that chefs at SuViche—voted the No. 1 favorite at Grand Tasting Village—chose two culinary traditions that draw heavily from the sea. Plates here blend Peruvian and Japanese ingredients and techniques, allowing sushi rolls to shine alongside fresh ceviche. The acidity of pickled ginger makes flavorful sense in bowls of ceviche, in which citrus juices already sparkle sharply, cooking sashimi-like cuts of fish. Wonton chips and teriyaki traditional in Japanese dishes also give ceviche a crunch and a sweetness that seem obvious in retrospect. And the exchange works both ways: golden aji peppers and cilantro give sushi rolls hints of spice typical of South American cuisine. Diners can watch the chefs roll maki or hold retirement parties for popular spatulas in the open sushi bars.
No artificial flavors here?chefs at Eccolo Pops cut, simmer, and puree fresh fruit before pouring it into popsicle molds to make their signature Italian-sorbetto pops. Always changing with the seasons, the flavors of these hand-crafted popsicles are in constant rotation, ranging from classics such as strawberry and pear to cocktail-inspired creations that include margarita and mojito. For special occasions, patrons can solicit chefs to create customized popsicles for groups of 35 or more brain-freeze hopefuls.