For years, the closest many Americans could get to visiting Cuba was a trip to Miami’s Little Havana neighborhood. The community of expats who settled here in the early 1960s managed to turn Calle Ocho and its environs into a vibrant and colorful monument to Cuban customs, art, music, and, especially, food. As The U.S. and Cuba move toward normalizing relations at last, it’s only a matter of time before jetting from Miami to Havana becomes de rigueur. Which means you need to bone up on Cuban culinary traditions, like, yesterday. Fortunately for you, we’ve put together a two-day itinerary/cram session that will take you to seven Little Havana restaurants in just one weekend. It’s totally doable, provided you don’t dilly-dally... or forget to bring along an antacid. Day 1 Breakfast: Exquisito Restaurant | 1510 SW 8th Street Why it’s great: The Coro family has been serving up authentic Cuban comfort food since 1974. Set right along Calle Ocho, it regularly appears on lists of the city’s best restaurants—not too shabby for a place where most menu items are under $10. What to get: There’s really no bad time to drop by—the vaca frita (fried and shredded beef) is famous—but we have to start somewhere. Fortify yourself for the day with a breakfast combo of skirt steak and eggs with cafe con leche.    Lunch: Los Pinarenos Fruteria | 1334 SW 8th Street Why it’s great: 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 playing endless games of dominoes. What to get: In addition to fresh-from-the-farm pineapples, mangos, and other fruits, there are homemade tamales, juices, and super strong cups of coffee. For the full Cuban experience, ask for a guarapo, a juice extracted from sugarcane. Afternoon Treat: Azucar Ice Cream Company | 1503 SW 8th Street Why it’s great: ¡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, easily distinguished by the giant, five-scoop cone over the entrance. What to get: Pretty much anything you pick will have been made by hand with fresh, all-natural ingredients procured locally. The ruby red mamey sorbet, for instance, features fruit selected from Los Pinarenos just down the street. The sweet plantain ice cream (a fan favorite) goes great with tostones from Exquisito just across the street. Dinner: Versailles | 3555 SW 8th Street Why it’s great: 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: Versailles specializes in authentic, old-school Cuban standards. It’s a great place to try standbys like ropa vieja (stewed beef with vegetables) and Cuban-style roast pork (lechon). If you show up in the late afternoon, step into the restaurant’s coffee shop for an espresso with evaporated milk and listen to regulars debate the political issue of the day.   Day 2 Lunch: El Rey de las Fritas | 1821 SW 8th Street Why it’s great: Your diet is blown anyway at this point, so you might as well go all in with a frita, 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. El Rey’s no-frills, retro restaurants can be found at several locations throughout the city. What to get: If a heap of fried potatoes are enough burger toppings for you, go with the original. You can also opt for fritas with cheese, onions, and even sweet plantains. Wash it down with a mango juice or mamey shake.   Dinner: Hoy Como Ayer | 2212 SW 8th Street Why it’s great: Though it’s tasty and well-prepared, the food isn’t the main event at Hoy Como Ayer, one of the best nightspots for Latin music in the city. But after all the eating you’ve done over the last two days, we figured you could use a chance to dance away some of those calories. What to get: While listening to some of the biggest names in salsa, you can nibble on tapas named after dance styles. The rumba is a meat-and-cheese board; the cha-cha-cha is roast pork with bread. After-Dinner Drinks: Ball & Chain | 1513 SW 8th Street Why it’s great: In the 1930s, the iconic jazz club at this site welcomed the likes of Billie Holiday and Count Basie. The current Ball & Chain recreates that spirit with live music—jazz as well as salsa—and a menu of small plates and classic cocktails. What to get: Rum-based cocktails are the way to go if you want to stay true to Cuban flavors; try the mojito or, if you like ‘em extra-sweet, the cañita, made with housemade honey syrup, sugarcane juice, and a sugarcane stick. Snacks include congri fritters and pastelitos, a pastry with a guava filling. BONUS STOP: El Palacio de Los Jugos | 1545 SW 27th Why it’s great: Though it’s not located on 8th street, we couldn’t resist scheduling a bonus stop at a place known as “the Juice Palace.” Take the short walk and you’ll be rewarded for your efforts with a long menu of fresh juices, including mango, guava, soursop, sugar cane, and coconut milk you can drink straight from the fruit. What to get: Pair the juice of your choice with one of the kitchen’s hearty but cheap chewable options, such as pork croquettes or fried pork rinds, otherwise known as chicharrones. The latter are a particular hit with locals. Still Hungry? Check Out These Other Tasteful Itineraries: Seven Barbecue Joints in Three Days: How to Sample the Best BBQ in Austin in a Single Weekend 16 Gallons of Beer from 14 Breweries: A Smuggler's Guide to the Best Vermont Breweries
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