Although the name implies it, Little Havana is not just a place to find Cuban food. Many great restaurants serve the island's cuisine, but this Miami neighborhood offers more than meets the eye. With an eclectic mix of traditional spots as well as hip bars and eateries, Little Havana is also a place that will surprise you with its seriously good culinary finds.
1. Lung Yai Thai Tapas. Lung Yai is undoubtedly Little Havana’s hidden gem. Thailand native Chef Bas offers authentic food for a bargain at this hole in the wall. Its increasing popularity means that at peak hours, you'll probably have to wait for a table, but it’s worth it. Order the shrimp dumplings ($5) or indulge in pad thai with shrimp ($13), made unique by Bas’ use of tamarind sauce. There are plenty of other dishes to choose from, including noodles and northern Thai specialties such as nam prik ong ($12) — marinated ground pork in a house curry. Heads up, though, you can order only once, so make note of everything you want first. 1731 SW Eighth St., Miami; 786-334-6262.
2. Cardon y el Tirano. Trying to classify the food at Cardon y el Tirano is nearly impossible, especially because chef/owner Francisco Anton doesn't label his cuisine. But the eatery is truly a find. Tucked away in a strip mall, the small dining room holds no more than ten tables, yet the menu offers a seemingly never-ending number of plates. Whether you order the Asian-style lechón dumplings ($11) or the Venezuelan-inspired arepitas ($4), you are sure to be transported to another part of the world. 3411 SW Eighth St., Miami; 305-392-1257; cardonyeltirano.com.
3. LeKoké Wine & Bites. With an impressive selection of more than 300 bottles for purchase to take home or drink on the spot, Lekoke is the place for wine lovers. The family-owned wine bar and café also offers a vast menu of Spanish tapas. Best sellers include the classic cold omelet tortilla flamenca ($5.99) and flatbreads, particularly the smoked salmon and anchovies ($12.99). A knowledgeable staff is adept at recommending wine pairings, and the quirky decor adds warmth to this cozy spot. 1225 SW Eighth St., Miami; 305-848-5656; mviana.wixsite.com/lekoke.
4. Miami Smokers. If the bacon is not enough to persuade you to visit Miami Smokers, the delicious sandwiches will surely lure you. The duo behind this pork palace became popular for their smoked meats and soon began delving into smokehouse sandwiches with a twist. Don't miss the signature BBQ Berk sammich ($10), made with Berkshire butt, and the Midnight in Miami ($12), made with lechón and guava. 306 NW 27th Ave., Miami; 786-520-5420; miamismokers.com.
5. Azucar Ice Cream Company. Although Azucar offers only desserts, its delicious ice cream makes this shop worth visiting. The owners were trained at the Frozen Dessert Institute and Penn State University Creamery. (Yes, those are real places.) Azucar serves more than 30 signature and classic flavors, including key lime pie, but Abuela Maria takes the cake. The concoction, containing the famed cookie by Goya, is so popular it’s trademarked. Two scoops of any flavor cost $6. 1503 SW Eighth St., Miami; 305-381-0369; azucaricecream.com.
6. Taqueria Viva México. Away from the bustle of Calle Ocho, you’ll find some of the best tacos in Miami. The menu at Taqueria Viva México lists only tacos and guacamole, but this place does them right. Order a classic chicken taco ($2) or, if you're feeling adventuresome, the beef tripe taco ($2.50). A filling meal here doesn't cost more than $10, making this spot a great lunch option. 502 SW 12th Ave., Miami; 305-300-5597.
7. El Rey de las Fritas. This local chain has several Miami locations, but there’s something specially charming about the original Little Havana restaurant. Find a wide array of popular sandwiches, such as steak ($5), but you must order the frita, a ground-beef patty topped with spices, sautéed onions, and shoestring fries on a Cuban roll. El Rey offers offer two varieties, but the original frita is the more popular and a bargain at $3.50. 1821 SW Eighth St., Miami; 305-858-4223; elreydelasfritas.com.
8. Versailles Restaurant. A list of Little Havana restaurants isn't complete without Versailles. The Miami institution has been the unofficial town hall for El Exilio since 1971. However, this Calle Ocho icon serves more than just cafecito. Its Cuban sandwich ($6.50), with classic fixings such as sweet ham and Swiss cheese, is a winner with the fast-casual crowd, and a traditional roast pork Cuban-style ($10.95) is a hearty meal served with rice and beans. But if you simply want to stop by the to-go window — AKA la ventanita — for croquetas, no one will judge you. 3501 SW Eighth St., Miami; 305-444-0240; versaillesrestaurant.com.
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9. Ball & Chain. This lively bar serves some seriously good eats, along with cocktails inspired by the neighborhood. The food menu is extensive for a lounge. Of the 15-plus dishes, try the Cuban spring roll ($8), made with the traditional Cuban sandwich fillings of pork and cheese wrapped in spring-roll dough and served with mojo dipping sauce. On a sultry night, nibble some bites and sip a Miami mule ($12) while you listen to live music on the famous Pineapple Stage. 1513 SW Eighth St., Miami; 305-643-7820; ballandchainmiami.com.
10. La Carreta. Omitting La Carreta from a list that includes Versailles is like mentioning the Capulets but not the Montagues. The division of loyalty among patrons is that real. With multiple Miami locations, the restaurant is loved for its authentic Cuban fare. Try the vaca frita ($9.85), which consists of grilled shredded beef and onions with a side of rice and beans. The chicken breast milanesa ($9.95) is basically the Cuban iteration of chicken parm. Any meal here will make you feel like you’re at abuela's house. 3632 SW Eighth St., Miami; 305-444-7501; lacarreta.com.