One of the highlights of a trip to southern Florida is the ability to get some good Cuban food. Up here in cold New England, Cuban food is so far off the culinary radar (Boston proper doesn’t even have a vaguely authentic Cuban restaurant for example) that most people up here are of the mistaken impression that Cuban food is like Mexican food, which is really unfortunate, since Cuban food is very distinctive, and very delicious in it’s own right. Indeed, if I had to characterize Cuban food in terms of other cuisines, it’s basically a fusion of Spanish, French, African and Caribbean cuisines, drawing many distinctive flavors from each of these, with heavy influences of garlic, citrus, and sugar cane.
Unfortunately, the downtown tourist areas (Port of Miami, Bayside, etc) are definitely not the center of Cuban cuisine in Miami, for that sort of action, you’re best heading to Calle Ocho and Little Habana. But in Bayside Marketplace (the big outdoor mall right on the Bay) is one little gem of a Cuban place, Latin American Bayside Cuban Cafe.
While located in what’s basically a mall, Latin American has a nice location, with a small indoor seating area and bar, and a much larger outdoor patio, so you can overlooki Bayside’s harbor while enjoying a nice mojito and watching several plates of Cuban food being brought forth from the kitchen.
In my case, I was actually drawn to the restaurant by seeing several plates of their “Cuban Special” being delivered to a table:
Masas de Puerco Fritas (fried pork chunks), seasoned with mojo criollo sauce (onions in citrus sauce), served with sides of black beans and rice, roasted yuca, and fried sweet plantains. This looked good enough that it’s what I ordered (at right). Indeed, everything worked well with this dish. The pork was nicely seasoned, tender on the inside with a nice crisp to it, and it was perfectly complemented by the mojo criollo. The yuca was perfectly cooked and tender, the black beans and rice nice and savory, and the fried sweet plaintains tender, slightly chewy, and almost caramel-like in flavor.
Carol opted for another classic Cuban dish, Ropa Vieja (old clothes), which is shredded flank steak in a spiced tomato sauce. The result is rather like a flavorful beef stew, and Carol also enjoyed her side dishes.
All said and done, our dinner was excellent, quickly served, and ran us around $24 dollars with mojitos and a decent tip.
Sure, there are a lot of places to eat Cuban in Miami, but Bayside is quite the restaurant given it’s location and price.