Gentlemen in white suits and straw hats are strolling the streets, pulsating music with a traditional Latin or Afro-Cuban beat is pouring out of storefronts, and the aroma of Cuban coffee, fried pork and roast chicken is in the air. This could only be “Little Havana,” an enclave of Miami, Florida, where entire walls are painted with colorful murals, and on every corner, human-sized rooster statues delight children.
On a break from the beach culture of Miami, our family was attracted by the sights, sounds, and smells of Little Havana’s cafes, boutiques and a restored Art Deco theater. Longer-term residents have created an oasis of full-blown Cuban culture in their adopted home, creating great appeal to visitors entering this energetic Spanish-speaking district.
Churrasco marinated grilled skirt steak served with chimichurri sauce, from Little Havana’s El Cristo Restaurant.
Most tempting are the Cuban cafes. Jose Santana’s El Cristo Restaurant on Calle Ocho [“Eighth Street”] is considered the best of these, with an unassuming, openly welcoming atmosphere.
“Latino people like value for money,” Santana said. “Our grilled sandwich Cubano, for example, was originally designed to feed hungry laborers, so it’s filled high with ham, cheese, pickles, and mustard. Other dishes were borrowed from similar Hispanic cultures, such as Colombian crispy fried chicharrón pork rinds, or Argentine marinated skirt steak served with green chimichurri sauce made from chopped parsley, oregano, and garlic.”
After such meals, visitors who find these selections a bit spicy will often walk a couple of blocks further on Calle Ocho to the Azucar ice cream shop
, where Caribbean fruit flavors like coconut, guava, or mango prevail. Kids especially love their multi-flavor giant ice cream cones.
Sometimes food, art, and music all combine. In fact, this occurs on the last Friday evening of every month, when the family-friendly “Viernes Culturales,” or Cultural Fridays
, occurs around Domino Plaza.
Pati Vargas, director of Little Havana’s popular art and culture festival, explained, “Both local and visiting families enjoy our outdoor music and dancing, or browse among works by neighborhood artists and artisans. In Domino Plaza, elderly men enjoy playing dominoes and discussing politics. So this is truly an all-ages monthly celebration.”
Vargas points out a sidewalk that doubles as Little Havana’s Walkway of the Stars, honoring Latin American celebrities such as pop singer Gloria Estefan, who is Cuban. However, Vargas told me, “Little Havana is now a very diverse neighborhood with residents from across Latin America, although still around 45 percent came from Cuba originally.”