Culinary travel: Where to eat while visiting Miami

This city's iconic dish: the Cubano

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Culinary travel: Where to eat while visiting Miami
A Cuban sandwich, or Cubano, at Sanguich

Photograph courtesy of Sanguich

Miami is America’s modern-day melting pot, where immigrants from South and Central America, the Caribbean, and Europe all exert a profound effect on the city’s culture. The restaurant scene might be the most tangible evidence. Family restaurants offer every type of Latin American and Afro-Caribbean fare, and there are fine-dining establishments that represent these eclectic cuisines. This mix of food is hard to find anywhere else in the U.S. and makes Miami a can’t-miss food destination.

When it comes to dining, you can’t go wrong with the local Cuban cafes and family-run restaurants that dot the metro area. Iconic seafood items, such as stone crabs, have made their name in Miami at places like Joe’s Stone Crab and CJ’s Crab Shack. El Cielo serves Colombian fine dining worthy of its Michelin star, and INTIMO brings superlative Peruvian cuisine to South Beach. It is, however, a modest sandwich that has become synonymous with Miami and its Cuban American population: the Cubano.

To navigate Miami’s diverse food scene, explore beyond Miami Beach. Neighborhoods like Little Havana and Little Haiti serve the best of what locals have to offer, and areas like Wynwood and Coral Gables have gem after hidden gem that you won’t find on top-10 lists.

Culinary travel: Where to eat while visiting Miami
Mary’s Cafe and Coin Laundry

Photograph by Ysa Pérez

Iconic dish: the Cubano

The origins of the Cubano are murky but important, with disputes over where it originated and who does it better. When you dive in, you start to appreciate the sandwich’s arrangement and how it became Miami’s signature.

Historians agree the sandwich made its first appearance in Cuba as more than a lunch in the 1800s, because it was made with sliced meats and cheese, high-priced delicacies at the time. In the late 1800s, thousands of Cubans moved to the U.S. in search of work, and many settled in Tampa and Key West, where cigar factories, most notably in Ybor City, employed the new arrivals. The Cubano became a common lunch for the factory workers, its ingredients now more attainable in the U.S. Shops and restaurants in the area adopted the sandwich, and by the 1940s, Tampa’s version of the Cubano had become commonplace. Their sandwich is made with crusty handmade bread, pickles, mustard, Swiss cheese, marinated pork, ham, and (the kicker) Genoa salami.

When Fidel Castro took power in Cuba in 1959, Miami received a wave of Cuban expatriates, who brought their food to its shores. Miami’s version of the Cubano does not include Genoa salami and uses a Cuban bread that is uniform and pressed to give it a signature crispness. That version became the Cubano widely available around the country today, but the rivalry between Tampa and Miami lives on, with Tampa declaring the Cubano its official sandwich in 2012 and stoking feuds between local politicians.

Cafes and delis serve the sandwich throughout the Miami metro area, but it’s concentrated mostly in Miami’s Cuban cultural center, Little Havana. And the food spots themselves are cultural and political centers: Miami’s most famous Cuban cafe among locals and tourists is Versailles, which has played host to presidential candidates and anti–Fidel Castro protests for decades. The cafe made headlines in June 2023, when former president Donald Trump offered diners free food before leaving without picking up the tab.

Culinary travel: Where to eat while visiting Miami
Mary’s Cafe and Coin Laundry

Photograph by Ysa Pérez

Three restaurants to visit

Sanguich
A spot in Little Havana has risen a head above the crowd of Cubanos in Miami. Sanguich will greet you with a line out the door, but for good reason. The pork, which the restaurant marinates for a week in garlic and spices, is the star of Sanguich’s Cubano, served alongside a hearty portion of ham. Fresh bread pressed to a crisp is the cherry on top, but the delicacy comes at a price, $14 for a sandwich. The Little Havana location is small but welcoming, with a few tabletops and colorful tiled floors. Sanguich also operates a takeout window in Little Haiti and has plans to open a new location in Coral Gables this year. To explore the menu to its fullest potential, try the crisp, thick croquetas as a perfect starter. An alternative sandwich, pan con bistec (slow-roasted beef, housemade mojo rojo, Swiss cheese, and shoestring fries), also impresses. Pair your lunch with a cafecito or Cuban soda for the full experience. 2057 SW 8th Street

Mary’s Cafe and Coin Laundry
Located between Coconut Grove and Coral Gables, Mary’s Cafe and Coin Laundry is as unique as local gems come. The family-run sandwich spot, founded in 1982, serves from a window and kitchen inside the family’s coinlaundry business. Mary’s has two tables outside, where you’re likely to see locals sitting for lunch or dinner with their families. Laundry machines are visible just past the kitchen where Cubanos, pan con bistec, and more sandwiches are made by hand. At only $7, the Cubano is huge, bookended by fresh, airy bread and featuring lots of pickles and mustard that pack flavor into each bite. The menu includes large smoothies and delightful homemade pastelitos, or Cuban pastries. One important note for your trip: The cafe is open 24 hours, so you can come and go as you please, on Miami time. 2542 SW 27th Avenue

Cafe La Trova
In the heart of Little Havana, Cafe La Trova is an iconic bar and restaurant that crafts the perfect mix of food, drink, and atmosphere for a night out. Rumba bands perform every night by a dance floor where you can let loose, and guests can make regular or premium reservations based on the table’s proximity to the stage. James Beard Award–winning chef Michelle Bernstein serves a menu of modern Cuban cuisine, featuring lechon, pork shoulder, skirt steak ropa vieja, and Cuban sandwich empanadas. The outstanding cocktail menu, by owner Julio Cabrera, is heavy on rum and executed by sharply dressed bartenders. Try the Hotel Nacional (pineapple rum, apricot liqueur, pineapple juice, and lime juice) and award-winning Buenavista (Bombay Sapphire gin, cucumber, mint, elderflower liqueur, lime juice, and sugar). On Fridays and Saturdays, La Trova opens their backroom, 80s 305 Bar, where a disco DJ keeps the party going until 2 a.m. 971 SW 8th Street

Culinary travel: Where to eat while visiting Miami
Arlo Wynwood

Photograph courtesy of Arlo Hotels

Where to stay

Esmé Miami Beach
You won’t find a better boutique hotel for the price than this one, with a prime location on South Beach. A Spanish- and Moorish-influenced aesthetic features a speakeasy cocktail bar, El Salón; retro rooftop pool; and Latin-themed rooms—all a five-minute walk to the beach.

The Fontainebleau Miami Beach
Grand lobbies, pools as long as the eye can see, and white-sand beaches are the epitome of the Miami experience. The Fontainebleau delivers on all of them, though the luxury comes with a heftier price tag.

Arlo Wynwood
The first hotel to open in Wynwood, a neighborhood known for its street art, brings its own flair with murals by artist Hoxxoh on the exterior walls and art pieces in the hotel rooms. The hotel offers guests complimentary bicycles for exploring the neighborhood, while a ninth-floor pool with a cocktail bar overlooks the Miami skyline.

This article appears in our March 2024 issue.

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