Food All-Stars

5. Felipe Valls: From Santiago de Cuba to Versailles

New Times' Best of Miami 2014 issue arrives June 19. To celebrate, Short Order is paying tribute to Miami's culinary all-stars. These people forged our city's food scene into what it is today -- a thriving amalgam of tastes and cultures. Through their insight and talent, they've given the city a unique flavor and paved the way for bright new chefs and restaurateurs to follow their lead and take the Miami food scene into the future.

Versailles Cuban Restaurant is a dose of unselfconscious camp. Walk through its doors and you'll be struck with imitation boiserie, frosted mirrors and fake chandeliers as far as the eye can see. But no, this isn't Kimye's rehearsal dinner -- it's the epicenter of Cuban cuisine in Miami. Here, the talk among aging Cuban exiles tends to flare up with wild gesticulations, as tourists snap photos of the most famous dining spot in Calle Ocho. Though it's faced a few hurdles recently, including a lawsuit filed by former employees, the restaurant remains an iconic Miami destination. Even more common than the out-of-towners crowding Valls' establishment are the regulars, some of whom have been stopping in for cafecito and conversation for decades.

See also: Versailles: 40 Years of Politics, Cafe Cubano and La Vida del Exilio

Founded in 1971 by Cuban expat and entrepreneur, Felipe Valls, Versailles grew to become the cornerstone of his gastronomic empire. Valls holds court at the Little Havana staple, with a smattering of local and national politicians eager to appease the Cuban-American vote by sipping on a sugary coffee and munch on garlic-drenched plantain chips. Apart from anointing aspiring Republican presidential nominees, Valls has become a fixture on the local culinary scene. He owns over 18 restaurants throughout the area, including La Carreta, and Casa Juancho, and even had a segment of Calle Ocho named Felipe Valls Way in his honor.

Tasty Tidbit

Valls wasn't always the mogul he is today. Back home, he owned auto parts dealerships in the province of Santiago de Cuba. Stateside, he worked as a busboy at various South Beach hotspots before saving up enough for the down payment on a small tract of land on Eighth Street and 35th Avenue priced at $94,000. Though friends and family decried the locale as being too far west of downtown to attract clientele, Valls remained steadfast. In its early days, he even employed his teenage son, Felipe Valls Jr., as a busboy and waiter. Soon the small coffee stand grew into a large restaurant and attached bakery occupying the entire block.

In His Own Words

"This is where you come to take the pulse of our community... Versailles is the Cuban exile that refuses to kneel down."

Miami Food All-Stars

25. Dewey LoSasso

24. Mark Soyka

23. Jason Starkman

22. Lorena Garcia

21. Barton G.

20. Mike Hampton

19. Chef Creole

18. Jeremiah Bullfrog

17. Cindy Hutson

16. Jack Homes

15. Shareef Malnik

14. Bruce Ozga

13. Robert Is Here

12. Julio Cabrera

11. The Garcia Family

10. Norman Van Aken

9. Lee Schrager

8. Bacardi

7. Allen Susser

6. Stephen Sawitz

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Neil Vazquez is an arts and entertainment writer who works at the intersection of highbrow and lowbrow A Miami native and Northwestern University graduate, he usually can be found sipping overpriced coffee, walking his golden retriever, or doing yoga.
Contact: Neil Vazquez