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Little Havana Restaurants: A Cuban-Food Crawl Down Calle Ocho

BY: Editors | Apr 25, 2016

See-and-be-seen beaches. Swanky, neon-lit art-deco hotels. Sexy nightclubs. Pork. These are the things Miami does better than any city in the US. You won't find any of the former in Little Havana, but with the neighborhood being home to some of the best restaurants in Miami for Cuban food, you'll get the latter in spades. Since there are so many places to choose from, we've made it easy on you by picking eight of the best Little Havana restaurants to visit and organizing them into a tasty Cuban-food crawl down the neighborhood's famous Calle Ocho street. And the best part? Each suggested dish will cost you less than $10. ¡Vamos!

1. El Nuevo Siglo Supermarket | 1305 SW 8th St.

You don't often see supermarkets with dine-in counters these days, which is just a small reason to start your crawl here. Adjacent to the stocked aisles of goods sits a complete dining area that serves some of the best Cuban food in Miami. A separate meat counter and bakery add to the neighborhood charm.

What to Get: A heaping plate of rabo encendido—a hot oxtail stew served with rice, beans, and yuca or plantains—will run you just $8 on Sundays.

2. Los Pinarenos Fruteria | 1334 SW 8th St.

This longstanding market in the heart of Little Havana supplies a taste of rural Cuba with rows upon rows of abundant tropical produce. You can assemble the ingredients for a picnic in nearby Maximo Gomez Park, where you can watch locals play endless games of dominoes.

What to Get: In addition to fresh-from-the-farm fruit, you'd be wise to try one of their homemade tamales, which are just $2 apiece and topped with bright, chunky salsa. To drink, keep it simple: for a few bucks, they'll happily hack open a fresh coconut for you and toss in a straw.

3. Yisell Bakery | 1356 SW 8th St.

Despite its exterior being adorned with bright street art, Yisell Bakery is one of Little Havana's true hidden gems. Behind the single small, neon sign in the window sits a no-frills, counter-style place that serves everything from cakes and pastries to Cuban coffees and roast-pork sandwiches.

What to Get: Make no mistake—the guava pastelito is king here. A single rectangle of flaky, glazed dough filled with warm gobs of sweet guava filling costs less than a dollar, so grab a couple.

4. Azucar Ice Cream Company | 1503 SW 8th St.

¡Azúcar! (which translates to "sugar" in English) was a favorite catchphrase of the great Cuban-born salsa queen Celia Cruz. You're likely to find yourself shouting it out, too, at this cheerful ice-cream shop. You can't miss it as it's easily distinguished by the giant, five-scoop cone over the entrance.

What to Get: You can't go wrong with the signature Abuela Maria: vanilla ice cream flecked with bits of guava, cream cheese, and galletas maria cookies and topped with guava syrup. But if you feel like going off the board a little, try the ruby-red mamey sorbet, which is made with fruit selected from Los Pinarenos just down the street. A single (but quite generous) scoop is just $3.70.

5. El Exquisito | 1510 SW 8th St.

The Coro family has been serving up authentic Cuban comfort food at El Exquisito since 1974. The joint also regularly appears on best-of lists for Little Havana restaurants—not too shabby for a place where most menu items are under $10.

What to Get: Get the fried pork chunks. They're a customer favorite, they come with your choice of two sides (for an authentic Cuban taste, go with the fried yuca and rice), and they'll cost you only $9.95. Also, isn't it sort of a life rule that whenever you have the chance to say, "I'll have the fried pork chunks," you take it?

6. Ball & Chain | 1513 SW 8th St.

In the 1930s, the iconic jazz club at this site welcomed the likes of Billie Holiday and Count Basie. The current Ball & Chain re-creates that spirit with live music—a salsa band livens up the front bar area before other acts rock the back patio from a halved-pineapple stage—and a menu of small plates and classic cocktails.

What to Get: If you're there during the daily 4–7 p.m. happy hour, you can grab one of Ball & Chain's famous mojitos or a Calle Ocho old fashioned (aged rum, demerara sugar, tobacco-infused bitters, and tobacco leaf) for $6 apiece.

7. El Rey de las Fritas | 1821 SW 8th St.

El Rey's no-frills, retro restaurants have popped up in several locations throughout the city over the last 40 years, but the spot at 1821 SW 8th Street is the original. Like any tried-and-true diner, the menu is packed with dozens of entrees, appetizers, and around 20 different sandwiches.

What to Get: You're eating at "The King of Fritas," so it'd be insulting not to go with the namesake sandwich, right? A frita is Cuba's take on the burger; the classic version of the sandwich features a spiced beef patty topped with copious shoestring potatoes between a crispy bun. A single will set you back just $3.75.

8. Café Versailles | 3555 SW 8th St.

The self-described "most famous Cuban restaurant" in the world—where you'll find mirrored walls and a menu covering the entirety of the island's culinary output—is a true Little Havana landmark. When the national media wants to get a sense of how the Cuban-American community feels about something, this is where reporters are usually sent.

What to Get: A list of Cuban foods wouldn't be complete without a Cubano, and Versailles has one of the best in the city. The combo of roasted pork, ham, swiss cheese, mustard, and pickles stacked between pressed baguette slices is a tasty $6.50.

This article was originally written by Groupon staff writer Zac Thompson in 2013 and has been slightly modified since its initial publication.

Photos: Top photo by Groupon; Ball & Chain photo by Dan Delagrange.