Only in Miami do pastelitos come in a variety of shapes (triangles, squares, even spheres), sizes (have you seen the monsters at Pastelmania?), and flavors, from the archetypal guava-and-cheese to coconut and even crab. Yes, crab is all up in your pastelito. Try finding a Cuban bakery in town that doesn't serve the flaky pastries that leave a trail behind. There's none.
In fact, pastelitos are no longer limited to third-generation, Spanish-speaking-only bakeries. At the resurrected Ball & Chain on Calle Ocho, you can have your daiquiri infused with pastelito and eat it too (the libation features a house-made guava pastelito as a garnish). Pincho Factory still cooks a baker's dozen pastelito burgers every Sunday. Even Top Chef host/judge and five-time James Beard Award winner Tom Colicchio serves the beloved pockets of guava and cheese at his first Magic City eatery, Beachcraft.
It seems we're in the midst of a pastelito revolution. Still, there are plenty of places where you can get the age-old classic without alcohol, buns, or a valet charge, and with some cafe con leche and a croquetica. What follows are Miami's top ten pastelitos.
10. La Rosa Bakery
Get here around 4 p.m. and you might just find your luck has run out, along with the pastelitos. At 3:08 p.m. on a recent weekday, there were only four pastelitos de guava left. That's because this 4-decade-old, family-owned bakery makes them fresh every morning, and once they're out, they're out. You can pick your poison between guava, guava-and-cheese, meat, and coconut. Or you can go with the pastelito preparado that, like a croqueta preparada, has meat, ham, and cheese inside its sweet phyllo.
9. Arahis Bakery
Arahis Bakery on Calle Ocho might not look like much, but don't judge a 20-year-old Miami bakery by its broken sign, outdated decor, and very limited seating; judge by its pastelitos. The folks behind Arahis assure us there's no secret, but one bite of the equal parts flaky and doughy with just the right amount of guava begs to differ.
8. La Suiza
Since 1983, La Suiza has been delighting Westchester residents with the best cream-cheese-stuffed pastelitos in the game. Local comfort food blogger and pastelito aficionado Sef Gonzalez, AKA Burger Beast, spent a large portion of his childhood eating here. What's best about La Suiza's pastelitos is that if you happen not to like the fluff of the pastry, there are also pasteles de guayava "finos" (thin). Skeptical? Try them and you'll realize girth is unimportant.
7. El Brazo Fuerte
You probably know El Brazo Fuerte for the inimitable and always-fresh pan cubano, which this place has been baking for more than 40 years. But if you've never had El Brazo Fuerte's specialty — the pastelitos — you're missing out. No matter the contents — coconut, meat, guava, guava-and-cheese, ham, and even little smoked sausages — these puppies delight, especially the pizza pastelito (think ham-and-cheese pizza but with the pastelito dough instead). Yep, it's real, and it's available only Saturday and Sunday.
6. Karla Bakery
Though one of the younger bakeries (25 years) on this list of Cuban landmarks, Karla Bakery has still been around the pastelito block longer than most. No matter which of the three locations you visit, rest assured your pastelito needs will be met. You'll smell (and can almost taste) the hot, freshly baked guava pastry waiting for you. Go ahead and pick up a dozen.
The film Chef might have given the Cuban sandwich at Versailles its 15 minutes of fame, but everyone knows that the thousands (yes, thousands) of pastelitos and cups of cafe con leches slung from the ventanilla are what fuel this Calle Ocho institution and well-oiled machine. If you need proof, step inside the bakery and watch a group of 60-something-year-old ladies spend their politician husbands' money on pasteles de coco. Or check out the kids pressing their mouths against the glass display case as they point to the treat with red in the middle.
4. Lucerne Bakery
In a city with no shortage of pastelitos, Lucerne stands out — even though it's hidden in a nondescript strip mall, has no website, and offers only the classics: guava, guava-and-cheese, cheese, and meat. No matter what choice you make, there's no wrong one when it comes to the pastelitos at this humble bakery on the west side.
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3. Ricky Bakery
A lot of people have very strong feelings about Ricky Bakery's pastelito de queso being the best in all of Miami, and most would be right to think so, considering they practically melt in your mouth and boast a glaze that would make a doughnut jealous. What's the secret? Love. Or in this case, cheesy love.
2. Vicky Bakery
Vicky Bakery prepares the most vibrant pastelitos on this list. The moment you walk into the shop, you're drawn to the sweetness, like a vampire attracted to blood. But pace yourself before ravenously biting into one; otherwise, the piping-hot guava might blister your palate.
At a place named Pastelmania, expect nothing less than a bounty of pasteles with fixings from the entire gastronomic spectrum. A must-try is the colossal and sweet guava-and-cheese, but it would be pastelito blasphemy if you didn't have a go at the coconut, the pineapple, and the pizza (with mozzarella and ham) pastels. Heck, while you're at it, try the crab too. The future of pastelitos is here.