Le Cafe Bistro Turns Into a Block Party Every Thursday

The dingy stretch of Biscayne Boulevard above NE 70th Street conjures up images of decaying strip malls, by-the-hour motels, and desolate nighttime streets. This poster child of urban sprawl couldn't be further removed from the vibrant colors and animated sounds of the Caribbean. So imagine our surprise when we drive by NE 72nd Street and Biscayne Boulevard on a Thursday night and find a strip mall parking lot converted into a Havana street scene.

Two women, in glittery, sequined ensembles, lounge on a couch flanked by the yellow lines that mark parking spaces. Several tables have been dragged out of Le Café Bistro, and they are topped by dominoes and large pitchers of red sangria. An employee is making fresh mojitos from an outdoor stand, slightly swaying to a bachata beat coming from indoors, and a couple is spinning and sashaying all the way to the sidewalk.

When the tiny café invited us to dinner during its salsa night, we readily accepted, expecting the place's usual chill, lounge-y vibe and imagining that, in such a miniscule space, there would be some light dancing around tables.

We didn't imagine employees literally start pushing out all of the furniture into the parking lot around 8:30 p.m. to create a bona fide dance floor and outdoor block party. Or that "salsa night" actually begins with an hour-long free class taught by professional choreographers versed in cha cha cha, casino, and salsa styles from New York, L.A., and Miami. Or that the party runs all night "until everyone goes home," as our teacher informed us. It was a nice, sweaty surprise.

The best way to do Le Café's salsa party is to show up around 7:30 or 8 p.m. for dinner, with plenty of time to lounge until classes begin around 9 p.m. The café, which serves American and French dishes, is a laid back coffee and lunch spot during the day that offers free WiFi and plenty of shabby-chic stools and loveseats among pop-art prints by Lavazzon. At night, it transforms -- salsa on Thursdays and live music on Fridays.

We opted for the French parts of the menu, starting with a steaming hot French onion soup ($6) and baked brie ($8) drizzled with honey, topped with slivered almonds, and served alongside warmed slices of a baguette. We also sampled a mozzarella, Swiss, and brie "trios fromage" crêpe ($10) that was plated with mixed greens and shredded carrots with Dijon dressing. And an order of escargot ($8) arrived de-shelled and swimming in pods of a rich butter, garlic, mushroom, and parsley sauce.

That was as French as the night got. Then, it was pure Caribbean in the middle of Biscayne Boulevard until the sun came up.

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