Caja Caliente Opens in Coral Gables With Cuban Tacos and Pan con Minuta

Tacos and more at Caja Caliente.
Tacos and more at Caja Caliente. Caja Caliente
Fast-casual, Cuban-inspired eatery Caja Caliente is opening a second location in Coral Gables next month.

From humble beginnings as a tiny food truck founded in 2016, owner Monica Leon's Cuban-inspired cuisine quickly expanded to a larger operation in Wynwood. After being featured on the Cooking Channel’s Seaside Snacks & Shacks, and selected to participate in both the 2018 and 2019 South Beach Wine and Food Festival, Leon says her goal was to eventually expand to a brick and mortar location.

"I always knew I wanted to expand, but I wanted to do it right. I didn’t want to lose our local following, and I didn’t want to lose quality. I wanted to take my time with it,” says the restaurateur, who spent the last year renovating a former gym to create her first brick-and-mortar location. “Now I can share my family recipes in a fast-casual space with an array of menu options, where quality and freshness are the priority."

The new location is set to open at noon on Saturday, May 11, on Ponce de Leon Boulevard. The 1,500-square-foot Coral Gables restaurant will seat 40 to 50 people, offering its own brand of "tranquilo y tropical" with decor sourced from various Caribbean islands, including Cuba.

Unique to the Coral Gables space is a tropical-themed beer and wine bar, as well as several new dishes, including gator tacos and pan con minuta (a fried yellowtail snapper sandwich). Specials, available daily, will feature more of Leon's family recipes with special guest chef appearance made by her aunts, cousins, and other family members.

Caja Caliente's new digs will continue to offer customer favorites like Lupita's pan con lechon (her grandfather’s roasted pork recipe, served on a Cuban bun with potato sticks, pico de gallo, caja aioli, and cheese), Cuban tacos, and homemade tamal Cubanos.

With the new location come expanded hours. Expect late-night hours, says Leon, with specials that include $4 tacos and beers on Tuesday and $9 tamals on Thursday. There will also be brunch on Saturday and Sunday, hosted by Leon herself, featuring a number of Cuban-themed breakfast dishes as well as bottomless mimosas.

The best part might just be the weekend special dish: arroz con pollo prepared by her mom.

“Growing up, every weekend we’d have huge family parties. We’d roast a pig and my mom would make her arroz con pollo,” says Leon. “It’s a wetter, risotto-like version, and something that brings back memories of those parties. I want the new place to have that same vibe. It’s a special dish.”

Caja Caliente. 808 Ponce Dd Leon Blvd., Coral Gables; Opening May 11.
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Nicole Danna is a Palm Beach County-based reporter who began covering the South Florida food scene for New Times in 2011. She also loves drinking beer and writing about the area's growing craft beer community.
Contact: Nicole Danna