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If there's anything that describes Miami, it's flan.
Sweet and silky, not too firm, not too soft, creamy or supple... and that's just the people. Flan moves to its own rhythm. Its curves are as sexy as a salsa dancer on a hardwood dance floor -- and it's twice as easy to take home.
A good flan is one that's balanced in all flavors (sweet, eggy, creamy, and caramelized). If it's baked properly, the inside is smooth, with no sign of air bubbles. It shouldn't be too gelatinous or too firm, and should always hold its form. A good flan uses the flavors to compliment one another without any being especially predominant.
Originally hailing from the kitchens of Spain and France, the sweet egg and cream-based custard has found its way into the heart of Latin America. Few other desserts boast the popularity of flan on a restaurant menu. And as the official unofficial "Little Latin America," Miami must provide flan just like immigrants' native countries.
With that in mind, we set out to find the ten best flans in Miami. Our journey took us from Hialeah to Weschester to Midtown and Kendall. We found that Spanish restaurants (surprisingly) didn't have the best flan on the market, and that the best stuff doesn't have to be the most expensive, either. You might be surprised to see who made our list, and who didn't.
Mercadito may be a quasi-chain, but that doesn't mean it couldn't be in the running for our top ten flans list. The flan de cajeta ($7), which is made with goat's milk, is a particularly light flan compared to the most conventional. It's garnished with a cinnamon-sugar chip, and pieces of soft, candied apricot adorn the plate. It's a floral flan that's not too heavy on caramelized syrup, or almibar.
9. Confiteria Buenos Aires Bakery
We knew we'd get a little beef for choosing an Argentine place for great flan, but lo and behold, it made the list. Buenos Aires Bakery has been around for about a decade, but with all the delicious facturas and cakes they serve, has anyone paid attention to the flan? There are two varieties, one with dulce de leche, and one without. For consistency's sake, we ordered the regular flan. The almibar is crazy good -- if you're into caramelized sugar, that is. It's a little more gelatinous than most flans, but we're chocking that up to perhaps a way to keep the price low. After all, flan there is only $2.99.
8. Casa Lario's
Casa Lario's was our pick for Best Flan this year. But since these top ten lists are designed to give you alternatives, we chose someone else to be number 1. Flan at Casa Lario's, though, is still on point ($4.25). There's a predominantly burnt almibar, which can be a little overwhelming if you're not into caramelized sugar. We are, so it was perfect. While the texture is a little more gelatinous than we like, the sweet and creamy flavor over-powers the minor downfall.
7. Little Havana
For 15 years, we grew up eating at Little Havana almost once a week. If there's anything the place offers, it's consistency. But it also offers a great flan ($3.49). While this one is slightly sweeter than we'd normally prefer, the texture is damn near perfect. The soft, creamy, supple custard swims in syrup, and nearly does the butterfly stroke on your palate. It has a great balance of vanilla and caramelized sugar flavors, and even a hint of cinnamon.
We're gonna be honest -- Sazón wasn't our first thought when we were trying to compile a list of the ten best flans in Miami. In fact, it wasn't even a thought at all. The only reason we ended up trying one was because a friend said it might be good to see if any on the Beach were worth a mention. We were slapped in the face with surprise when a spoon-full of Sazón's flan met our mouth ($3.95). It was creamy, and sweet, and eggy, and the almibar didn't over power a thing. Best of all, it was another example that the best flans are not always the most expensive.
5. La Carreta
This was another surprise. As the flagship for La Carreta, its Calle Ocho location has seen its fair share of wear and tear. And with 8 locations, including the one in terminal D at MIA, it's almost expected that recipes get watered down, and food loses that special touch. We can't speak for the rest of the menu, but rest assured the flan regular ($3.25) at La Carreta's original location hasn't lost a bit of that magic. Topped with a maraschino cherry, the flan is baked perfectly. Once again, there's a symphony of sweet flavors not unlike what you'd expect from an old-school Cuban restaurant.
4. Molina's Ranch Restaurant
Flan from Molina's almost didn't make the cut. It's a good thing we went back a second time to double check our research (you know, for journalism). Our bouts with the first flan we had at Molina's were the holes when we slipped a spoon into it. If these air bubbles are present in your flan, it has not been baked properly. It had a fantastic flavor, but the spongy texture was unappealing. We were sure Molina's could do better, though. Our second time around, Molina's proved it to us. Once again, we ordered the exact same flan ($4.50), and when we spooned a piece out, there were no holes. Same deliciously sweet eggy flavor, this time with the right texture. The first flan was probably just a bad egg. Our luck!
These last three were the most difficult to rank. Alas, we had to come to a conclusion. We're going to use examples of la familia to help us better justify our choices. Versailles has been a Miami staple for ages. It's a must for tourists (if they want that authentic visit), and also for locals (if they don't want their Miami card revoked). Walk up to la ventana and you'll quickly feel like you've been transported into a time warp -- thrown into La Havana, Cuba circa 1950-something. Old men wearing guayaberas and stubbly beards bicker about the best cigars, and couples share un cortadito before hitting the town. Flan from Versailles ($3.25) is like Mom's flan. She got the recipe from her mom, and she's tweaked it slightly to fit her needs and taste. It's delicious. Sweet, and caramelized. It's baked perfectly and difficult to leave behind.
2. Cuban Guys
Then there's Cuban Guys. Let's consider Cuban Guys to be the crazy uncle of the family, who's always around, always mumbling something about the old days in Matanzas, Cuba, that no one really takes seriously until he whips out his bain-marie and makes a batch of his famous flan. Coño! Tio Cuban Guys' flan ($2.79) is only second best for one reason (which we'll get to in a bit), but if it weren't for that, it would be the best. This is the creamiest flan we've ever had in our life. If there is one creamier, please let us know (though, in all honesty, we don't expect much to be said). Cuban Guys' flan puts particular focus on the flan's flavor itself, versus the accompanying almibar. It truly is a cup-shaped slice of heaven. Who knew Tio Cuban Guys made such sense of nonsense?
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SHOW ME HOW
1. Rio Cristal
Nothing beats abuelita's flan. No matter how many times one tries to replicate her secret recipe, it never comes out quite like 'buela's. This is what the flan is like at Rio Cristal ($3.90). It may seem crazy, but you can taste the love in it. A silky smooth texture will caress your palate. And a sweet and eggy flavor will embrace your taste buds. The almibar? It will shake out any trace of doubt you had about the flan at Rio Cristal. It's cozy, and comforting, and the perfect blend of flavors and texture. Just like abuela made it.
Follow Alex on Twitter @ARodWrites.