Hialeah is a land of surprises. From the topsy-turvy street arrangements to the produce and wares you can buy while stuck in traffic, there’s always something interesting.
Here, most people expect little more than heaps of moros and shingles of dried-out palomilla. Sure, La Ciudad Que Progresa boasts some of the region’s best Cuban fare, ranging from the humble frita to manhole-cover-size milanesas. But it’s also home to a quaint French bistro, some stellar non-Cuban sandwich shops, and a very serviceable Vietnamese joint.
All of them reflect what Hialeah does best: keeping people well fed for not too much money. Though many folks look east to find new and exciting restaurants, it’s foolish not to search here in the western reaches. There may be lots of bad holes-in-the-wall, but there are also many places that offer a glimpse of Miami's true soul.
10. Franky’s Deli Warehouse
This husband-and-wife-operated sandwich spot (2596 W. 84th St., 305-827-5366) has grabbed some attention for serving Cannabis Energy Drink and for being a favorite of local heroes Flo Rida and Billy Blue. But it’s the dizzying array of sandwiches that's kept people coming back for nearly 20 years. Though some places specialize in Cuban or Italian sandwiches, Franky’s brings them together under one roof. It’s a beautiful thing when capicola, corned beef, and pan con bistec share the same space.
9. El Rinconcito Peruano
With all of the pork, sandwiches, and croquetas in Hialeah, this family-owned Peruvian joint (4644 Palm Ave., 305-364-4869) provides a light break with an array of ceviches, causas, and chilled glasses of the fermented purple corn drink chicha morada. Still, it’s the hulking jalea ($17.95) you're after. The fried seafood platter offers shrimp, fish, and squid draped in a tousle of tangy salsa criolla with a side of spicy ají amarillo sauce for dipping. Of course mariquitas also grace the place. This is Hialeah after all.
8. Green Papaya
Just north of the Palmetto Expressway, owner Frankie Cuong Nguyen and family provide a concise, herbaceous menu of Vietnamese classics offered in a humble setting at even humbler prices (16893 NW 67th Ave., 305-826-5216). It’s a busy lunch spot, where crowds pack in for the grilled pork called bun cha ($8.50) perched atop a bowl of rice vermicelli. The beef noodle soup called pho bo ($7.95) is always popular, but a similar soup from central Vietnam called bun bo hue ($7.95) is often a better option. The hit of chili oil pooling on the soup’s surface and tickling your tongue will drive you to drink.
7. Breadman Miami
Former marketing man Andy Herrera opened this minuscule bakery along southbound Palmetto Expressway (5804 W. 20th Ave., 305-273-2362) three months ago, and already it's a favorite. He picked up his skills from his father, who worked in commercial kitchens doing catering gigs and filling up the rickety lunch trucks that sustain the city’s construction workers. Herrera offers ultra-flaky versions of all of your favorite pastelitos (75 cents), along with some more interesting varieties stuffed with ground beef and sweet plantains or Nutella and sweet, creamy cheese ($1). There’s also a brief list of the neighborhood’s favorite sandwiches, along with the tongue-in-cheek Supermeng ($7.99). The hero of Hialeah piles shredded steak, chopped onions, American cheese, and fried eggs onto a Cuban roll. Prepare for the glory of a stomachache.
6. Mesa's BBQ
This year marks this Cuban meat mecca’s 20th anniversary in business. After your first visit (125 W. 29th St., 305-863-2009), the sound of piercing thwacks will always draw you back to standing in line and watching workers hack through racks of ribs, chicken, and pork legs. Mesa's $9 completas are also legendary thanks to generous portions of grilled pork chunks, loin, or rib with a choice of moros, white rice, potato, yuca, or sweet plantains. One of the sleeper dishes, however, is the smoked pork chop ($3.50). It's got all the char and salt of slow-cooked ham but nearly falls apart with the juiciness of chicharrones. Order one to go so you can make a sandwich the following day.
5. La Fresa Francesa Petit Café
Many observers say this addition to Hialeah’s south side is a glimpse of what's to come as the city looks to revamp its image with a new arts district. Hialeah native Sandy Sanchez and her partner, Benoît Rablat, opened this spot that soon became a favorite for its sweet and savory crepes as well as an array of creative sandwiches. The favorite is Un Cubano in Paris ($9.50). Pork shoulder is soaked in milk and rubbed with garlic and paprika before a lengthy braise in white wine. It's layered onto fluffy rolls from Los Angeles' La Brea Bakery, along with pickled red onions and Dijon mustard. There's a Cuban sandwich somewhere in there, plus a lot more.
4. El Rinconcito de Santa Barbara
Though other restaurants claim the crown, no mofongo bests the moist, pork-skin-flecked version served here. Owners Rosa and Pedro Delgado opened Rinconcito in 1997. They decided to serve Puerto Rican food two years later after a trip to the island. At their restaurant, the mashed green plantains are served in a pilón, the wooden mortar in which they are crushed into velvety, creamy oblivion. These plantains might be the Caribbean equivalent of Joël Robuchon's famous mashed potatoes, with a one-to-one potato-to-butter ratio that is perpetually whisked by some dutiful stagiaire.
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3. Morro Castle
It’s standard practice to note this Morro Castle is unrelated to the one in Little Havana. Yet it's the little things that make this place such a favorite. It’s one of the few spots that
2. Stephen’s Restaurant
It’s been more than 60 years since this classic Jewish restaurant (1000 E. 16th St., 305-887-8863) opened, but the original menu and chef Henderson "Junior" Biggers remain. The queen of all the sandwiches here is the grilled Rachel ($9.95). The Reuben's corned beef is swapped out for fatty pastrami pressed with Swiss cheese and sauerkraut between two slices of thick-cut rye. Thousand Island dressing comes on the side. Don't hesitate to use a lot. Stephen's is a vestige of Hialeah’s bygone years when the city also housed a Jewish garment district. Jack Frisch bought the business, Formica countertops and all, in 2010 from longtime owners Sheldon and Phyllis Nadelman. Little has changed, and it's perfect.
1. Molina’s Ranch Restaurant
Así que you could consider this one of Hialeah's fancier restaurants (4090 E. Eighth Ave., 305-693-4440). Booths are framed with dark wood, and glass panels boast its name. A waitress delivers a basket of butter-doused pan with a little curtsy, and soon you're off to the races. There are many options here, listed on the menu alongside ads for life insurance and trips to Cuba. The go-to, however, are the milanesas, especially the unholy bistec artesano ($14.75). It’s a breaded palomilla steak so massive more than an inch hangs off either side of a frighteningly large plate. On top go slices of salty ham, followed by Swiss cheese that's melted and crisped. The moros here are stellar as well gloriously sprinkled with bits of fried pork skin.