A Latin American food lover’s guide to Miami

Photo courtesy: Michael Pisarri

For years, it seemed Miami’s food scene would always be associated with the flashy hotels and short-lived celebrity chef concepts of South Beach. Cuban food, with its blend of Afro-Spanish influences and tropical exuberance, was the exception. But it’s not just about Cuba anymore. The steady influx of immigration from all over Latin American has quietly transformed the culinary landscape and changed the way food tastes, looks, and sounds in Miami. Latin American restaurants and cafes are as likely to evoke Buenos Aires, Caracas, and Lima as Old Havana. A minority-majority city that boasts more foreign than native-born residents, a new generation of restaurateurs is putting down roots and exploring pan-Latin flavors in ways that are both authentic to their origins and so Miami.

 

Photo courtesy: Bill Wisser (Left), Jason Henry (Right)

Colombian Breakfast

Loba’s owner and chef Jessica Sanchez grew up helping in her parent’s Colombian restaurant but never expected to run her own. When a career in finance failed to fulfill, she opened this spot on the long strip of restored mid-century restaurants and hotels in the MiMo District. Born and raised stateside, Sanchez’s menu finds inspiration in regional southern ingredients. But it’s in Colombian standards like the Andean potato stew Ajiaco and Bandeja Paisa—a stick-to-your-ribs breakfast of grilled rib-eye steak, beans and rice, and chicharrones fried to a golden crisp—where Loba’s soul shines through. 

Loba
7420 Biscayne Boulevard Miami, FL 33138

Peruvian Sushi

Browse the luxury boutiques of the Design District then head to the St. Roch Market, the NOLA meets Miami food hall, where chef Fernando Chang holds court with his children Nando and Valerie. Collectively known as the “Chang Gang,” their Nikkei-inspired Peruvian sushi and rice bowl stall has a devoted following among chefs and civilians alike. Vibrant where traditional Japanese sushi is restrained, their sashimi comes dressed in leche de tigre, Peru’s iconic citrus and pepper-based marinade. Start with their Rosita Tiradito—translucent slices of octopus suspended inside an olive aioli, topped with avocado and fried capers, and delivered with a Peruvian saltines or go for a hearty Chiclayo Cebiche Bowl—hamachi, sweet potatoes, crunchy Peruvian corn, and tender choclo kernels. Packed for lunch, the market quiets down in the evening just when Itamae gets interesting. DM them and let the chefs know you’re coming. They’ll pull together some off the menu items for an Omakase experience.

Itamae, St. Roch Market
140 NE 39th Street, Suite 241 Miami, FL 33137
Photo courtesy: Porter & Sail (Left), Bill Wisser (Right)

Argentinian Steakhouse

Even if Fiorito didn’t take its name from the working-class neighborhood in Buenos Aires, the murals to Argentinian soccer heroes Diego Maradona and Lionel Messi leave no doubt where co-owners and brothers Maximiliano and Christian Alvarez come from. Step inside this Little Haiti hub and you’ll likely find a soccer game blaring, Latin pop playing, and tables of Argentine expats laughing and arguing. A poster of tango legend Carlos Gardel watches over the kitchen and film stills and celebrity photos cover the farmhouse style walls.When it comes to their stripped-down, steakhouse menu, they keep it simple and so should you. Stick with the classics—seared provoleta and chorizo, grilled churrasco (skirt steak) with pitch-perfect chimichurri sauce, and crepes filled with homemade dulce de leche. The wine list is heavy on Malbecs which is all you could wish for in this setting. Villain Theater, an experimental comedy club, is just up the street and Churchill’s Pub, the legendary live music venue, is a few doors down so plan on making a night of it.

Fiorito
5555 NE 2nd Avenue Miami, FL 33137

Venezuelan Arepas

As Miami’s Venezuelan population surged, they brought their corn flour arepas and sweet corn cachapas with them. Budare Bistro, a utilitarian diner set in a nondescript strip mall along Coral Way, may be serving the best in the city. Go for broke with the Pabellon Criollo—a perfectly charred arepa stuffed with shredded beef, black beans, rice, and sweet fried plantains or try a Pepito sandwich—hoagies filled with hand-cut chicken or beef and topped with avocado-based guasacasa sauce and stuffed with fries.

Budare Bistro
1830 SW 3rd Avenue Miami, FL 33129
Photo courtesy: Michael Pisarri

Cuban Cocktails

The latest addition to Miami’s famed Calle Ocho is a throwback in every way. From pre-Castro Cuba to Miami in the 1980s, guests at Cafe La Trova are invited to move through time as well as space. And move you will. The band never stops and dancing in between the tables to the cha-cha-cha of the bartenders’ cocktail shakers is encouraged. Opened by James Beard-award winning chef Michelle Bernstein and her partner, famed Cuban cantinero Julio Cabrera, the cocktail program is as strong as the food. The Papa Doble daiquiri alone earns its iconic Cuban cocktail status and wipes away any memory of sugary beach drinks. Cuban comfort food goes upscale on the menu—a foie gras torchon and duck leg confit tapa holds its own against a homey citrus-marinated pork shoulder and side of steamed yuca. Don’t be afraid to indulge, you can dance it off at Ball & Chain, the newly restored jazz lounge down the street. 

Cafe La Trova
971 SW 8th Street Miami, FL 33130

Headed to Miami? We’ve got the perfect place for you. 

Leave a reply