/A Gringo’s Guide to Miami Cuisine

A Gringo’s Guide to Miami Cuisine

If there are three things we’ve learned about Miami in the two weeks we’ve been here, it’s that:

  1. Traffic sucks
  2. Todas las personas hablan espanol
  3. The food is AH-fracking-MAZING

You probably don’t want to hear me kvetch about the traffic, but it’s seriously the worst we’ve seen so far. Yesterday morning, for example, Google Maps told us to take a highway on our way to the airport. Now if you’re on a semi-direct route to anywhere in Miami the chances are pretty good you’ll have to pay tolls, so we grumblingly prepared to hand over our money… only to discover that this major artery was only open for cars with pre-paid toll passes. Really, Miami?  REALLY? Is my out-of-state dollar bill that unacceptable to you? Are you purposely trying to prevent visitors from leaving? Harumph.

Needless to say it’s a major undertaking to work your way through traffic to get to any restaurant, and once you’re there you’ll probably have to order in rusty high school Spanish, but all that will fade away with the incredible deliciousness of your first bite.

Miami’s proximity to Cuba and its large Central American immigrant population mean that Cuban, Honduran, Salvadoran, and Nicaraguan food is abundant and authentic and cheap as hell. And did I mention delicious?

A slight caveat, though, is that Spanish is the predominant – in many cases the only – language spoken in the good restaurants. Kali has been using this opportunity to practice his limited conversational Spanish, partly because he’s brave but mostly because he doesn’t have any other choice. Due to his ambiguous looks he frequently passes as one ethnicity or another, so most folks around here seem to presume he’s fluent in español (spoiler alert: he’s not, and the results are comical).

What happens is that Kali will greet someone with a shy “hola” and then that person will speak a lot of things very quickly that make no sense whatsoever, so Kali gets discombobulated and the person starts making jokes at our expense (albeit in a kind and teasing manner… I think), but we have NO IDEA that they are jokes at our expense so we just keep smiling and nodding, which makes this person laugh even harder. You know, just as a hypothetical example. It’s not like that’s happened to us repeatedly every time we go out or anything.

And while I’m sympathetic to his plight, I’m certainly not going to jump in and try to be helpful. The best I can do is smile and desperately hope no one calls on me – I mean, asks me something!  Freudian slip, perhaps?

Being in Miami is like constantly living in my recurring nightmare that I’ve forgotten to attend my Spanish course for the entire semester and now there’s an oral exam in front of everyone and OMG WHERE ARE MY PANTS? Miami is like that, only I’m awake and it’s real life. And I’m usually wearing pants.

ANYWAYS, as a result of all this we may have ended up ordering some dishes we didn’t exactly plan on, but all the food has tasted like culinary ecstasy (both the emotion and the drug… not that we’d know) so we thought it was worth sharing our best discoveries.

Let’s get to the nitty and gritty of this, shall we?

CUBAN :: Plantains & Café Cubano

Apparently plantains are pretty popular in most Central American cuisines (hello, tropical climate!), so we dedicated one meal to sampling them in a variety of different forms at a popular Cuban restaurant (El Pub) on Calle Ocho. The fried plantains tasted a little like bananas soaked in grease, but the plantain chips were muy delicioso, especially when lightly dipped in a garlicky sauce.

The real star of our meal, though, was the Café Cubano – a little shot of espresso that (according to Wikipedia) is sweetened with demerara sugar as it’s being brewed. All I know is that it tasted like liquid gold, which is pretty impressive since I don’t even really like coffee. We also had a variation, Café con Leche, which is basically a Café Cubano served with a cup of hot milk. The whole drink is a little DIY project – they’re brought out separately so you pour the espresso shot in the huge cup of steaming leche, stir, and then try not to drink the entire thing before your partner gets a taste.

HONDURAN :: Baleadas

Our typical diet in the RV consists of sandwiches, yogurt, and quesadilla variations (we’re boring and lazy and the kitchen is so damn small!), so when we discovered the baleada we were intrigued. One of the most common street foods in Honduras, a baleada is basically just a flour tortilla with stuff mushed inside. Our kind of meal! We ordered one with carne asada (seasoned steak), fried egg, and refried beans, and will now be incorporating some sad facsimile of this into our own meal rotation. Probably minus the carne asada, though, because we can’t cook meat… which means it’s not going to be anything like what we ate at all. Le sigh.


Miami has a restaurant (La Pupusa Factory) devoted almost entirely to this traditional Salvadoran dish. A Pupusa is a thick, hand-made corn tortilla stuffed with various fillings – in our case cheese, chicharrón (cooked pork meat ground to a paste consistency), and seasoned beans. After being stuffed it’s placed on a hot griddle until the crust turns golden brown, at which point it emits a tantalizingly delicious aroma.

The cool thing about the pupusa is that it originated with the indigenous Pipil population, so it’s been around for centuries. Woot for food that endures the test of time! Also, it tastes good.

NICARAGUAN :: Manuelitas

Saving the best for last, our absolute favorite food discovery has been the manuelita, a fun little Nicaraguan pastry we tried at Yambo. We had no idea what it was when we ordered it, but turns out it’s basically a pancake (although perhaps deep fried) rolled up with sugar, cinammon, and cheese (?!) on the inside. Kali swears there was also banana in ours, but I’m skeptical. Who puts bananas in manuelitas??

It was so delicious we ended up ordering two more “para llevar” so we could nosh on them at home. Sadly they’ve long since been eaten… and now I’m hungry. Viva las manuelitas!