The first place to go to when you touch down in Miami is the heart of the Cuban expatriate culture: Little Havana. Known to Miamians as Calle Ocho, walking into this neighborhood is like stepping back into 1960’s La Habana. Things don’t change much here, and that’s why, for me, it’s like a tonic to the no-longer-living-in-Miami soul, no matter how long I’ve been gone, this vibrant Cuban neighborhood does not change, somehow it only manages to get richer (just like the layers of flavors of a well done Fricase de Pollo)!
PHOTO CREDIT: Mobile upload to Yelp.com from Elizabeth M.
The first thing to do on Calle Ocho is grab a “frita” sandwich from El Rey de las Fritas (“King of the Cuban burgers”). In my family we call it: Fritas Del Rey. Located in a strip mall on 8th street, just past 17th avenue, this Miami institution should be the first place you eat on your trip! Little has changed inside the 1960’s-style diner–painted in patriotic Cuban colors. And it is so much fun to eat right at the counter, looking at the colorful menu and signs written in spanish.
PHOTO CREDIT: gastroeconomy.com
The house specialty, the “frita,” is like a so-much-more-mouthwatering-version-of-an-American-hamburger (but so g*ddamn better that I regret even using the comparison). A super-thin beef patty (only about 4 ounces) that is cooked on a flat-top, marinated in a red picante sauce and topped with a pile of homemade shoestring potatoes. A so-much-more-mouth-watering-version-of-the-shoestring-potatoes-in-the-can that are made by shredding potaoes on a box grater, deep frying and salting. I recommend getting one classic frita sandwich and another one mixed with spicy chorizo pork sausage–trust me, you need more than one!
Take your fritas “to go” and walk down 8th street to 15th avenue over to Maximo Gomez park. Locally known as “Domino Park,” this has been a fixture of the Little Havana community since the infusion of Cuban exiles in the 1960s. Named after famous Cuban revolutionary, Maximo Gomez, who fought against Spanish oppression in the late 19th century, this park is an authentic Cuban-American experience.
Made to look and feel just like the old domino parks in Cuba, this central meeting place, mostly for older Cuban men, will give you some of the most authentic sights and sounds while on your trip to Miami. The hard slams of the dominoes on the tables and the passionate political discussions spoken only in Spanish make Domino Park a must-see while in the Little Havana neighborhood.
Next place to explore in Miami: South Beach!