Cuban restaurants in Miami are a dime a docena. In Hialeah, there are even more. Everything is the same — the same pork sandwich, the same rice and beans with plantains. Rarely does a restaurant do a fresh take on the classics. But Trigo Café (839 W. 49th St., Hialeah; 786-616-8952) does just that. And, most important, lo hace bien.
Owners Julio and Kathy Barrero came from Cuba at a young age. Like many immigrants, they wanted to achieve the American Dream of starting their own business. Julio's parents were restaurateurs themselves. They had a place in Medley called Benny's Café. "I've always been around food. I worked at the restaurant with my parents since '85,” Julio says. "But I decided to go into real estate so I had more time to be with my family. However, the dream of having my own restaurant always stayed with me."
When their kids went to college a few years ago, Kathy decided it was time to realize their long-lost dream. They knew they wanted to open a place in Hialeah, which they consider to be the home of authentic Cuban cuisine, but they wanted their fare to have a fresh feel. "I wanted to have food that stayed true to traditional Cuban staples but was innovative and fun,” Kathy says.
They began by giving the dishes names with American flair. The sandwich de pollo became "the fried chick" ($7.95); the pan con pavo became "the turkey" ($7.50). The food itself got a revamp too. Instead of using regular guava sauce, they mixed it with sriracha and put the spread on their traditional pulled-pork sandwich, which they dubbed "the porky" ($6.95). They also added homemade pimento cheese to a traditional Cuban burger named the trigo burger ($6.95).
The one thing they didn't change? Their trigo shake ($2.95), which is also what they chose to name the restaurant. Trigo is puffed wheat and is often blended with milk and sugar to create a milkshake that's equal parts sweet and nostalgic. "Every Cuban kid grew up drinking trigo shakes, but Americans aren't too familiar with it. We wanted to introduce the classic to our customers,” Kathy says.
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Adds Julio: "It was also a great name. A lot of food, like bread, stems from trigo, and it's simple enough to say in both English and Spanish."
Trigo is a family affair. Julio is always in the kitchen whipping up dishes, and although Kathy has a full-time job, she's at the restaurant Saturdays making French toast. Their kids even stop by to help. Desserts such as abuela’s flan ($2.95) and Yoli’s arroz con leche ($2.95) are named after relatives. "It was important for us to maintain the familial aspect. Cuban culture is all about family and coming together to enjoy good food, and that's the vision we had for our restaurant," Kathy says.
Trigo is the culinary embodiment of a Cuban-American living in Miami – still tied to deep-rooted traditions but with room for growth. It's a blend of two cultures in a seamless and surprisingly delicious way.