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Feb 24, 2010 07:37 AM

Nena's Cafeteria, La Caretta, Luis Gandalias and Islas Carnarias

So ive done my research and I think ive narrowed it down to the best cuban cuisine miami has to offer. Ive already been to palacio, enriqueta's, las culebrinas, Versailles bakery and I have the opprutunity to eat at 2 more restaurants before i leave. Which of these 4 should it be and what should I order? I will more than likely be going on a Friday or Saturday and I don't mind lines. My only requirement is that its the most authentic tastiest cuban food Miami has to offer

Is there another place I missed?

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  1. "Luis Gandalias"? Do you mean Luis Galindo's Latin American? Also: "La Carreta" and "Islas Canarias" (not trying to be a jerk, just providing proper spellings so these turn up when someone searches for them).

    Funny you should mention it, I've just been doing a mini-tour and sampling of Cuban sandwiches. I always liked Latin American when it was on Coral Way (which closed some time ago) but only very recently made it out to the new one on Red Road near 8th Street. The sandwich I had (a "Sandwich Miami" for a change of pace) was quite good and everything I saw looked good. The menu is mostly sandwiches and the Smithfield hams hanging everywhere send a positive message.

    I've never been wowed by La Carreta, and haven't been to Nena's or Islas Canarias. I love Enriqueta's pan con lechon.

    1 Reply
    1. re: Frodnesor

      Should have used spell check...

      im looking for more reviews on Nena's (the one on Bird rd not the fish market) I haven't had much luck

    2. Havana Harry's - it's a mix of old-time Cuban favorites (e.g. vaca frita) with some riffs on them (vaca frita de pollo). Probably on the nicer end of Cuban spots too. Everyone I've taken from out of town has loved it. On LeJeune near US-1.

      13 Replies
      1. re: lax2mia

        I feel like Ive read a lot of lackluster reviews on Harry's.

        1. re: popcornsutton87

          Honestly, Palacio is a step above a dump and the food isn't stellar and the Versailles bakery is pretty mediocre. If you liked those, Havana Harry's would be an improvement.

          1. re: lax2mia

            Is that why the nytimes reviewed it and its one of the most talked about cuban spots on this board?

            1. re: popcornsutton87

              I can assure you that lax has far more cuban experience in miami than the staff of the NY Times. I would take his rec over theirs in a second.

              1. re: tpigeon

                What about Miami New Times then? Why is Palacio de los jugos conistently raved about on this board?

                Do you like it tpigeon?
                If not then what do you like?

                1. re: popcornsutton87

                  I think ny has better cuban than here.

                  The Miami New Times? They rated Jerry's Deli the best late night place to eat in 2003. They have another 3 years of penance before they are forgiven.

              2. re: popcornsutton87

                If you wanted the NY Times' advice you should have just read the NY Times. I don't think Palacio de los Jugos is talked about, or praised, here any more than many other places; the opinions I've seen here are mixed. I still think it's a fun experience even if the food may not be the best in town.

                This is a good thread with lots of advice spanning several years on Cuban places in Miami ->

                1. re: popcornsutton87

                  You can take the advice or leave it. It makes no difference to me.

                  Specifically about Palacio, there are lovers and detractors. To me it's a chaotic madhouse with inferior produce, juices made from frozen pulp and pretty much an all around mess.

                  Among us Cubans it's lovingly referred to as El Palacio de las Moscas for obvious reasons, and especially in the summer. I have a feeling you wouldn't have been able to get that info from the Times.

                  Wherever you do end up, sincerely I hope you enjoy your Cuban cuisine. Just remember research isn't going to tell you where the best Cuban food is, your tastebuds will.

                  1. re: lax2mia

                    No using the search function definitely turns up more positive feedback and less negative for Palacio than most other places.
                    The thing that frustrates me about looking for good cuban restaurants on this board is that half the people say one place is great and the other half say it's shit. It's hard to tell which "chowhounders" actually know what they are talking about.

                    So what about the restaurants I asked about lax? Have you been to any of them?

                    1. re: popcornsutton87

                      I would just check the Yelp reviews as long as it's not overflooded with reviews done by tourists.

                      So far, Mambo's on Coral Way (where Chocolate used to be) and Nena's seem to be highly favored. I've never tried them personally especially since I'm not that crazy about Cuban after trying so many places. They're all el Palacio de las Moscas if you asked me. ;) But I do love the experience and convenience of going to Palacio de los Jugos - and I do think the shakes are good (not everything is made with frozen pulp - just keep your eyes out for what is and what isn't).

                      Luis' Latin American Cafeteria (if you're talking about the one on 107 near FIU) is a classic especially for their sandwiches where they hand-sliced the ham (but I've never tried Sarussi's to compare).

                      1. re: mialebven

                        Nena's only has 2 reviews on yelp
                        and it only has a couple here as well.
                        Theres no menupages on it either and not a whole lot comes up when I google it.

                      2. re: popcornsutton87

                        Really? My world of feedback goes beyond CH to those who live here, work here and eat here, and some of whom don't even know how to use a computer to post on CH, Yelp, Menupages, etc. So the tally of positive vs. negative feedback on CH means little to me.

                        You seem to be stuck on these for a reason I can't comprehend. If these are your choices, by all means go and enjoy. I've been to them all and they're all completely immemorable, with Nena's maybe having character because of its age. And as Frodnesor said, it's Luis Galindo, not Gandalia's.

                        I'm giving you two more suggestions and I'm done with this thread. One, Casa Larios on Flagler right off the Palmetto. Get the half fried chicken with garlic, moros and tostones. Two, if you're research for Cuban restaurants involves Yelp and Menupages, you're barking up the wrong tree. Those who know Cuban food best probably don't work a computer very well and their English is probably not stellar. How do you get their advice? Well, I've tried giving it to you.

                        1. re: lax2mia

                          ok ok calm down. I apologize about sounding doubtful to your recs I can see you know more than most the posters here I just needed a little convincing. Before you leave the thread can you answer a few things? Tell me what is best stuff to get over at Harrys? And on a different subject what do you consider to be the best cuban bakery in Miami? Have you ever been to la nueva fe bakery?
                          And what do cubans consider to be the best divey place for the food?

                          thanks for your help

            2. One of the best cuban restaurants is not on your list:

              Habana Vieja
              3622 Coral Way
              (305) 448-4644

              It's very old school and should certainly be on your list.

              If you haven't been to the lunch counter at El Nuevo Siglo (13th and Calle Ocho) - that should certainly be on your list. Thursdays one of the specials is Quimbombo - -an okra, pork, and green plaintain stew that's quite delicious.

              3 Replies
              1. re: karmalaw

                Agree with lax about Palacios. The only thing I get there is take out chicharrones (fried pork skin the real thing) with a loaf of cuban bread. Oh and a colada. Take to friends as a snack.
                I use to love Nena's went there a lot for lunch. It's a Miami institution. However, due to a change in my work venue I have not gone in years. Nena is only for breakfast or lunch. Counter service and some tables.They close at 3:00 pm. Nena was run by 80 year plus Abuela with an iron fist. Food was always good but limited to specials of the day and the standards (think cuban sandwich and palomilla). Is Abuela still cooking there? If not then it could be a whole different experience. I think New Times may have reviewed them back in the late 80s or 90s because back then many former (and some convicted) politicians would eat lunch there. I personally loved Abuela's rabo encendido (oxtail). Think that was thursdays only. But you will never find a menu on line for them. Very hole in the wall. Parking is out back. Front of store is a sidewalk on very busy Bird Road.

                I like Lario's in South Miami for their Vaca Frita. I also really like Casavana for their lechon. Casavana has two locations I believe. I go to the one in Kendall Town and Country. People swear that El Molino in Hialeah is the best ever I don't think that place is worth the drive. That place had awful vaca frita.

                Habana Vieja is good too. Havana Harry's on Le Jeune also is good. Don't love La Carreta or Versailles except for La Carreta on Bird Road has the most awesome cortadito ever. I cannot drive by there without stopping at the outdoor window for a cortaditio. And that window is always jammed.

                Oh and really a palacio de las moscas Rio Crystal on Bird Road. The best carne con pan(steak sandwich) and shoe string fries. Very greasy spoon. Great for hangovers I think.

                I am not Cuban but might as well be since I am latin and have spent most of my life in Miami. I have actually asked born in Cuba Cubans what they favorite best Miami Cuban cuisine restaurant is and have been stared at blankly in response. For some all of them are good so long as it is Cuban cuisine. I think with Cuban food it all depends. Depends on where you are and what is convenient. At the end of the day it is very rustic food that everyone tries to replicate from their nostalgia for Cuba. So they are always the same dishes and best if prepared by someone's Abuela.

                1. re: mom2mateo

                  I'm on the same side as mom2mateo - her recommendations are very solid and I also like Casa Lario's in South Miami. I wouldn't complain on going back to Casa Lario's as I would for the other Cuban places. Part of my gripe with Cuban cuisine is the usage of salt. It seems like Cubans have a high tolerance for salt and they put so much of it into everything in most Cuban restaurants I've visited, more so than other cuisines. Also, it's the common usage of cheap ingredients (but that shouldn't be a surprise since Cuban food is relatively cheap for Miami). It's for that reason I never liked Las Culebrinas, Islas Canarias, etc.

                  The only draw these places have, I believe, is a few picking from their lackluster menus. What they are, you'd have to ask an experienced Cuban diner in Miami and I don't see many of them - but myself, I don't go out of my way just for a few plates. But I also think that's why most of the Chowhounders would just refer you to iconic places instead - more so for the experience rather than for stellar Cuban cuisine.

                  LA CARRETA: The best one I've had to date is the one in Doral, by Miami International Mall. But really, the rest of the chain needs some improving.

                  CASANOVA/SERGIO'S: By comparison, Casanova / Sergio's chain is a bit better than La Carreta (although I noticed they also jacked up the prices and gringo-fied the menu last year).

                  LA MOLINA'S: I haven't heard of El Molino but La Molina's - and that was awful.

                  RIO CRYSTAL: I've also heard good things about Rio Crystal, at least about the portions and it being a good greasy spoon Cuban restaurant.

                  OASIS CAFETERIA: When I was working in Miami Lakes, it was pretty hard to find a Cuban place close by, surprisingly. At least in the part I was in. I discovered Oasis Cafeteria in Hialeah nearby the Gratigny and I liked it. I found the food to be very solid and tasty and also very affordable. This is a true hole-in-the-wall, with billiard tables inside, and a bar look and with barbecue signs outside. Easy to miss.

                  OASIS SANDWICH SHOP: The Cuban institution in Key Biscayne - it's usually open-aired so sometimes people complain about mosquitos and whatever else like one would of Palacio de los Jugos. However, I've found their food to be tastier, cheaper, and generally a nice surprise. I would rather come here than to nearby La Carreta in Key Biscayne (I believe the island has only two Cuban places since I did not see any other). This is a good stop to eat especially if you're going to the beach nearby.

                  MAMBO'S: New place on Coral Way have been getting good reviews, especially for their mariquitas. I would like to try this place and I think it would be a good one since my close friends have raved about it - and they don't usually rave about Cuban food as well.

                  HABANA VIEJA: for cortaditos and croquetas (with a lime wedge for them on the side). Their lunch specials are a good deal, at least for the vaca frita, although their sides can be pretty bad if you don't stick with the traditional Cuban sides (and skip the London Broil - it was not good).

                  CASA LARIO'S: I liked the one in South Miami the best, but the one by the Mall of the Americas is also decent. This chain may be better than the other Cuban chains, at least from what I can think of.

                  NENA'S: Have been around forever but I've never had a chance to try it out. I should soon.

                  CHICO'S: In Hialeah, this is an institution - but it's just standard for me.

                  LATIN CAFE 2000: On Biscayne near downtown, I didn't like it. Sandwiches were okay as were the coffee. Eh. The location by the airport on Le Jeune is better.

                  LA ROSA: Decent food as long as you stick with Cuban dishes and sides. Venture outside only at your own peril. This place has also been around for a very long time - apparently longer than Versailles too.

                  LITTLE HAVANA: The food at this place in North Miami, Biscayne corridor, probably is better than most Cuban places in Miami-Dade. It's more upscale in look and the prices are still very reasonable. Food is more comprehensive too - so for me this would also be a good choice to visit - but it's a bit out of the way.

                  LAS VEGAS: A little less "gourmet" than Casa Lario's (where I still talk about their empanadas having guava shells instead of guava paste), this chain serves good Cuban food more consistently than other chains, in my opinion. If you want more "common" Cuban food that most Miamians eat (which is usually served with cheaper ingredients - e.g. sangria has canned fruits), with relatively low price points, and a good one at that, then I would recommend Las Vegas. I've been to their locations in North Beach and Coral Gables.

                  EL NUEVO SIGLO: For no frills Cuban, counter-side seating & eating, this Argentine supermarket serves up good fare for the price. I have eaten here several times and never really found anything much to complain about, foodwise. I wouldn't mind coming back here since they get most of their ingredients in-store (which is a plus in my book since they're guaranteed to keep things freshly stocked - at least if they want to stay in business).

                  LOS PINARENOS FRUTERIA: Across the street from El Nuevo Siglo, this fruteria serves up good shakes if you asked me - but then again maybe I'm biased since it's hard to find a sapodilla shake (batido de nispero) anywhere in Miami and the fact that this place has it when the nispero is in season is a plus for me. They also serve up some cheap lunch bargains but I have not tried them. The ambience of the fruit stall is very Latin.

                  DAVID'S CAFE: Was just okay. For the Beach it's decent but it's much more expensive than what you would pay for in Miami.

                  PUERTO SAGUA: Might be the best in South Beach - decent spot. But I wouldn't drive across the bay to the Beach for this.

                  TROPICAL BEACH CAFE: Just a few streets north of the boundary of South Beach (I think), this place served up better food than what I had at Puerto Sagua so if I was stuck in the beach, I probably would try to venture here instead. I've only been here once though. This is more of a local place than the other Cuban places on the Beach. Very casual setting, like a cafe - hence the name.

                  ICONIC PLACES: Versailles, La Carreta, at the original location just because of the outside decor, Palacio de los Jugos

                  But then again, most Miamians, if they want Cuban food, they just usually go to the one closest to them since there's not much difference. In my case, I sometimes go to HAVANA DREAMS in Brickell which is owned by Colombians but serve up very good Cuban food, in my opinion. I also heard of the new LA GUARACHA in Brickell but I have yet to try it.

                  1. re: mialebven

                    Oh yes it is La Molina's not El Molino. Thanks for catching that.

              2. Here's a list of some of my favorite Cuban sandwiches (loosely speaking) in Miami ->

                Also, if I didn't mention it, I like Sazon in North Beach, though it's primarily because it's close to home for me. I find there's much Cuban food in Miami that is decent, but not much that's really exceptional. Still trying to figure out if that's a consequence of the cuisine itself or just how it's usually done here.

                1. I am totally dismayed. I drove past the former Nena's establishment and it is no more. Gone. sniff. It is now called Ranchuelito el chufe or something like that. I was so shocked when I saw it. Totally redone (which it badly needed) but still greasy spoon now open breakfast, lunch and dinner. I am in mourning.