Little Havana is a neighborhood in Miami, Florida known as the cultural and political capital of Cuban Americans. Little Havana is one of the most authentic Cuban cities in the United States. I would say every area of Miami is influenced by the Latin culture, however Little Havana captures the heart and soul of the Cuban culture. Once you step into Little Havana you feel as if you have stepped into another country. I hope you remember some of that Spanish you learned in high school because it will definitely come in handy here!
I personally am no stranger to the Cuban culture as I am Cuban American. My grandparents, political refugees, fled Cuba in the early 1970s and both of my parents arrived to this country as small children with my grandparents. Although they left behind their lives and families in Cuba, they carried on family traditions and famous Cuban cuisines in the United States. You may have heard the saying “All roads lead to Rome”, well in this particular case, “All roads in Havana lead to Miami”.
Before the 1960s, Miami had a very small Cuban population, but with Fidel Castro’s rise to power in Cuba, many Cuban refugees fled their country and relocated to Miami. Due to this, Little Havana has since captured the Cuban culture: one filled with hand-rolled cigars, salsa dancing, reggaeton music, pastelitos, Cuban cafecito, and, of course, dominoes.
Whether you are a local, like myself or visiting Miami, one area you should not skip is Little Havana. If you are looking to experience authentic Cuban cuisine and culture then I suggest you book The Little Havana Food Tour with the highly recommended Miami Culinary Tours.
Today, I will share with you my experience and review of The Little Havana Food Tour. I hope to inspire you to explore the Cuban culture on your next trip to Miami!
To begin the day, we met at the Agustin Gainza Gallery on Calle Ocho in the heart of Little Havana around 12:30 pm. This was the meeting area for our tour group. Our tour guide for the day was, Lana, a Russian women, who is married to a Cuban. After everyone was checked in, we were ready to get our eat on!
First stop was at El Pub Restaurant located on the famous Calle Ocho. El Pub Restaurant is family owned and has been serving Miami for over 50 years. This restaurant is known to many locals and was where we tried a Cuban empanada stuffed with picadillo. Picadillo is ground beef that is sauteed with tomato sauce, onions, garlic and peppers or “sofrito” as the Cubans call it. I will say that I have had many empanadas in my day and this one was on the top of the list! It was cooked to the perfect level of crispiness on the outside and was so flavorful on the inside. El Pub Restaurant definitely did not skimp on the picadillo filling. If you’re looking for a little spice then have no fear because adding a little hot sauce to your empanada is recommended. Next, we sampled some tostones or fried plaintains that were paired with a mojo sauce. The mojo sauce consisted of oil, minced garlic and lime. After dipping my tostone in the oil based garlic sauce, I took a bite of the warm, crispy and garlicky goodness! Mmmm!
Following a brief walk to the outside of the restaurant, we stopped for a taste of Cuban coffee at the street service window called a Ventanita. Cuban cafecito gives you the fuel to push through your day and most Cubans have cafecito several times a day. Cuban coffee consists of a sugary sweet base that is meant to give you a boost of energy. Most locals frequent the Ventanitas on a typical day and will pick up coffee and pastries to bring home or to the office.
After our shot of Cuban coffee, we visited the popular Old Havana Restaurant, which is located next to the famous Domino Park. During our visit, we sampled more Cuban delicacies, such as croquettes. Croquettes or Croquetas consist of ground chicken or ham that is lightly breaded and fried. These tiny little rolls were jam packed with flavor and fried to perfection. Take it up a level by drizzling fresh lime on top.
We then sampled the classic Cuban sandwich. A Cuban sandwich consists of pork served on Cuban bread with swiss cheese, mustard, pickles and topped with crispy potato sticks. The Cubano at Old Havana was nothing short of amazing!
After devouring our Cuban sandwich, we strolled on over to Domino Park or Parque de Domino. It’s official name is Maximo Gomez Park and it is a Little Havana landmark. Many local old timers gather to enjoy a game of dominoes on a daily basis. Abuela may look friendly, but don’t cross her on the domino table. Playing dominoes is a very popular and serious game in Cuba and this naturally has transferred over into the Domino park in Little Havana. Many of the residents spend long and intense hours here playing what seems to be a never ending game.
Across from the Domino Park, we entered a popular establishment – Ball & Chain. This venue opened in 1935 and remained there through the end of the 1950s, although its name changed slightly from time to time, it has been considered a premiere bar and lounge of Miami.
From across the street you could hear and see a fantastic live band as crowds gathered around to join in the lively performance. People walking down the sidewalk would stop and begin salsa dancing with members of the band providing a fun and entertaining environment.
We were greeted with a local favorite – a classic Mojito. Hands down one of the best mojitios you will ever have. Ball & Chain’s mojito is made with crushed mint leaves, sugar, a hint of fresh lime and rum served on the rocks. The perfect cocktail for a hot Miami day, which is really EVERYDAY! We enjoyed our time watching people dance while sipping on our refreshing cocktail.
If the mojito wasn’t sweet enough for you, then prepare to head over to Yisell’s Bakery for a Pastelito de Guayaba – guava pastry. These pastries are a traditional Cuban sweet and can be eaten as a snack or even for breakfast with Cuban cafecito or Cafe con Leche. The guava pastry at Yisell’s Bakery was flakey, savory and sweet.
During our visit to Yisell’s Bakery, we also had the opportunity to try the flan. Flan is a Cuban style custard and was perfectly executed at Yisell’s Bakery. I only planned to have two bites and ended up eating the entire thing! It was so delicious and was topped with a coffee flavored caramel.
Following our visit to the bakery we then made our way along to Los Pinaderos Fruteria. This is an open fruit/vegetable market that makes fresh juices and smoothies. We saw locals here shopping for fresh produce and even stopping in for natural fruit drinks.
The sweet lady behind the counter firmly pressed sugar cane through a machine as it went into the collecting container. She then poured this juice into cups with ice and served them. This juice is known as Guarapo or sugarcane juice. We enjoyed a sample of this refreshing juice, which I would say was not as sweet as one would expect, but perfect for a hot day.
Next on the list was The Cuba Tobacco Cigar Company. This establishment is a family owned cigar shop, which has been in the Cuban cigar business for over 100 years, and we watched master rollers crafting the cigars by hand. Did you know that experienced cigar rollers roll 100 cigars a day? Watching the women roll the cigars was very fascinating as it was so effortless.
Last, but certainly not least we ended our food tour at the famous Azcuar Ice Cream Company. Azcuar creates a variety of unique Latin inspired ice creams made from local fruits and vegetables. I chose to have their signature ice cream Abuela Maria, which consists of guava, vanilla ice ream, cream cheese and Abuela Maria crackers. Literally, INSANE! Want to spice it up a bit? Order their new flavor Burn in Hell, Fidel! – chocolate ice cream with cayenne pepper.
In my opinion, anything revolving around eating and drinking is always a win! Everything we tried on this tour was absolutely delicious and the variety of foods offered were awesome. I can guarantee that you won’t be leaving hungry after this tour. Our tour guide, Lana, was wonderful! She was very knowledgeable about Cuban culture, history and Little Havana. We had a blast exploring Little Havana and the Cuban culture through our stomachs! Little Havana proves that the Cuban culture lives on in the city of Miami!
Thank you so much to Miami Culinary Tours for providing us with a complimentary tour. As always, all opinions are my own!
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