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If the tropical vibe has you hankering for Cuban food, you've come to the right place. Miami is the top spot in the country to enjoy authentic Cuban cooking.
The flavors and preparations of Cuban cuisine are influenced by the island nation's natural bounty (yucca, sugarcane, guava), as well as its rich immigrant history, from near (Caribbean countries) and far (Spanish and African traditions). Chefs in Miami tend to stick with the classic versions of beloved dishes, though you'll find some variation from restaurant to restaurant, as recipes have often been passed down through generations of home cooks. Try the popular Versailles (3555 S.W. 8th St. 305/444-0240) in Little Havana, appealing to families seeking a home-cooked, Cuban-style meal. For a fun and modern interpretation of Cuban eats, head to South Miami's OYE Cuban Grill (11327 S. Dixie Hwy. 786/249-4001 www.oyecubangrill.com), where the motto is "Inspired in Cuba, Made in America." The South Beach late-night institution David's Café (1058 Collins Ave. 305/534-8736 1654 Meridian Ave. 305/672-8707) is the beach's favorite hole-in-the-wall.
The Cuban Sandwich
A great cubano (Cuban sandwich) requires pillowy Cuban bread layered with ham, garlic-citrus-marinated slow-roasted pork, Swiss cheese, and pickles (plus salami, in Tampa; lettuce and tomatoes in Key West), with butter and/or mustard. The sandwich is grilled in a sandwich press until the cheese melts and all the elements are fused together. Try one at Enriqueta's Sandwich Shop (2830 N.E. 2nd Ave. 305/573-4681 Weekdays 6 am-4 pm, Sat. 6 am-2 pm) in the Design District, or Exquisito Restaurant (1510 S.W. 8th St. 305/643-0227 Daily 7 am-midnight) in Little Havana.
Arroz con Pollo
This chicken-and-rice dish is Cuban comfort food. Found throughout Latin America, the Cuban version is typically seasoned with garlic, paprika, and onions, then colored golden or reddish with saffron or achiote (a seed paste), and enlivened with a sizable splash of beer near the end of cooking. Green peas and sliced, roasted red peppers are a standard topping.
Bistec de Palomilla
This thinly sliced sirloin steak is marinated in lime juice and garlic, and fried with onions. The steak is often served with chimichurri sauce, an olive oil, garlic, and cilantro sauce that is sometimes served with bread as a dip (slather bread with butter and dab on the chimichurri). Also try ropa vieja, a slow-cooked, shredded flank steak in a garlic-tomato sauce.
Treat yourself to a slice of tres leches cake. The "three milks" come from the sweetened condensed milk, evaporated milk, and heavy cream that are poured over the cake until it's an utterly irresistible gooey mess. Also, don't miss the pastelitos, Cuban fruit-filled turnovers. Traditional flavors include plain guava, guava with cream cheese, and cream cheese with coconut. Yum!
Sip guarapo (gwa-RA-poh), a fresh sugarcane juice that isn't really as sweet as you might think, or grab a straw and enjoy a frothy batido (bah-TEE-doe), a Cuban-style milk shake made with tropical fruits like mango, piña (pineapple), or mamey (mah-MAY, a tropical fruit with a melon-cherry taste). For a real twist, try the batido de trigo—a wheat shake that will remind you of sugar-glazed breakfast cereal.
If you're in the mood for an inexpensive, casual Cuban meal, have a frita—a hamburger with distinctive Cuban flair. It's made with ground beef that's mixed with ground or finely chopped chorizo, spiced with pepper, paprika, and salt, topped with sautéed onions and shoestring potato fries, and then served on a bun slathered with a special tomato-based ketchuplike sauce.
Fresh ham or an entire suckling pig marinated in mojo criollo (parsley, garlic, sour orange, and olive oil) is roasted until fork tender and served with white rice, black beans, and tostones (fried plantains) or yucca (pronounced YU-kah), a starchy tuber with a mild nut taste that's often sliced into fat sticks and deep-fried like fries.
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