Tag Archives: Miami

Bread and more at Zak the Baker In Miami

Some of the best Kosher bread and pastries we have ever had have been in an unexpected location – Miami. Surprised? Well Zak the Baker in Wynwood (We visited 405 NW 26th St Miami, FL 33127 – Zak the Baker has since moved) has made a name in Miami for having some amazing breads and pastries, and some of the best avocado toast anywhere. Though we get our fill of Cuban and South American food in Miami, we have also made Zak the Baker part of our Miami food routine. And we aren’t the only ones, since Zak the Baker seems to be constantly bustling! AvocadoToast Continue reading

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Fireman Derek’s Pies in Miami

Happy Pi(e) Day everyone! When we are traveling in the US we love to give a visit to the local pie shops in the area, and sample some of the regional favorites. Fireman Derek’s (2818 N. Miami Ave., Miami, FL), is known particularly for its key lime pie. Fireman Derek’s is a tiny storefront opened in 2014 by actual Miami Fireman Derek Kaplan. There are only two tables inside the shop, but many take their orders to go. You can order a whole pie ($25-30) or pie by the slice ($5-6). There are seasonal flavors like pumpkin, and pies always available include the signature Krack pie (salted caramel custard that was named one of the best pies in Miami), key lime, apple, pecan and s’mores. You can also get some tasty coffee drinks made with Panther beans, cheesecake, milkshakes made with Azucar ice cream, as well as savory pies and quiches.


On our visit, we sampled the coconut custard and the key lime, trying to keep with the tropical vibe of our surroundings. The key lime pie had a perfect graham cracker crust and was light and tangy – so good! The coconut cream was equally delicious and was light and fluffy and packed full of real coconut flavor. We highly recommend stopping into Derek’s if you are looking for key lime pie in Miami. Part of the fun is checking out the awesome pie mural on the side of the tiny shop (seen above), good preparation for all of the other amazing murals in Wynwood.

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Bahamian Pot, a taste of the islands in Miami

BahamasWe were cruising around Miami, in the mood for some Caribbean flavors and seafood. Bahamian restaurants, specializing in the nation’s fish-heavy cuisine, dot the city. We heard good things about Bahamian Pot (1413 NW 54th St. Miami, FL), so we decided to pop in for a quick lunch. When we entered, a few tables were full, and people were chatting over glasses of iced tea and huge plates of fried fish and chicken.
BahamianPotWe scanned the tables and pretty much knew what we wanted to order, and what were the specialties of the house (FISH!). The menu was simple: a few breakfast items like fried chicken and waffles and a variety of fried seafood, including shrimp, whole snapper and tilapia. If you are feeling like meat, the oxtail draws praise. Bahamian Pot’s prices were reasonable, with everything falling in the range of $10-15. The portions of the dinner plates were generous and came with 2 sides, which included mac and cheese, plantains, string beans, crinkle-cut fries, okra or beans and rice.


To start out with, we got conch fritters, and whole breaded tilapia and snapper for entrees. The fish are all fried to order, but before too long, we were presented with steaming plates of fried fish. Everything was tasty and fresh, and the fries that came with the conch are on point. To finish up we highly recommend the guava duff cake, a steamed Bahamian dessert. If you are looking for some down-home Bahamian cooking and are in the mood for seafood, this is the place to come!BahamianSnapper

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Juice and more at Under the Mango Tree in Miami Beach

The famous South Beach section of Miami Beach is a very confusing place that we don’t really fit into (except that we like the beach and Art Deco architecture). Full of glitzy clubs and cheesy tourist shops, it is definitely not our scene. However, there are some places that really do stand out in a positive way, including Under the Mango Tree. This tiny juice and snack bar (plus giftshop) is located In a nondescript row of shops just off South Beach. Under the Mango Tree (714 6th St. Miami Beach, FL) specializes in a wide range of natural juices and smoothies (mango, beet, carrot, kale and more) as well as açaí bowls and other healthy treats. Unique selections include a dragon fruit bowl, tumeric chai tea, an agave, almond milk and raw cacao smoothie as well as a kale melt for something savory. The inside of the store is cute and welcoming, with colorful walls, Tibetan prayer flags, plants everywhere and little wooden benches. At any given time all the seats may be full!

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Paseo Catracho, authentic Honduran in Miami

Paseo Catracho
824 SW 8th St
Miami, FL 33130

flags_of_HondurasWhen we are in Miami, we feel spoiled for choice at all the Latin American options we have. We were especially happy to try some restaurants that make food from countries that aren’t really available in Chicago. One among these is Honduras. When we were searching for Honduran options in Miami, Paseo Catracho bubbled up as a favorite (the “Catracho” in the name is a nickname for people from Honduras). One of our good friends who lives in Miami who is of Honduran heritage said it was her favorite place to get Honduran food in the city. When we walked in, we were impressed by the bustling atmosphere, and the cute touches like straw hats hanging from the ceiling as lamps.


Hats as decor!

As we perused through the menu of this comfortable mom and pop place, we noticed that everything was a little cheese and carb heavy, just the way we like it! The specialty of the house was pupusas – which we know as El Salvadorean food – however, Honduras puts its own little spin on this as well. Of course we had to have the pupusas! (3 for $6.99). The pupusas came with a side of chismol (a cabbage slaw), and were filled with quesillo cheese. These were pretty similar to the Salvadoran pupusas. We also got a stuffed plaintain / maduro relleno: absolutely filled with beans,  cheese, and cream. This was a nice combination of salty and sweet. To finish we got a hot dip similar to a queso called anafres. At its most basic, anafres is a refried black bean and cheese fondue. The food at Paseo Catracho is definitely delicious, but by the end of the meal you could roll us home. If that weren’t enough they even have huge family platters with 10+ pupusas and toppings for your next family outing.


The elaborate anafres presentation.

The service was decent, if a little distracted, but we still had a pleasant time. We wished this place was closer so we could try some of the other unique Honduran options, many of which we had never heard of before. People also particularly rave about the baleadas, a tortilla filled with refried beans. Paseo Catracho is definitely not a place for those on a diet… but that’s not why you go there! However, it is a great place for good food at a reasonable price. Definitely a family kind of place.


Our favorite: Pupusas

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Uruguayan parrillada in Miami at La Morocha’s

UruguayFlagWe are always excited to visit Miami, because of all of the awesome Latin food there, and because we get to see our friend K & M, who are both awesome people and food pros! One of M’s friends recommended Patio D La Morocha (2175 SW 1st St. Miami, FL 33135) for dinner – it is owned by a friend – and it was truly an awesome local spot. The restaurant is Uruguayan – a new restaurant country for us – our only experience with Uruguayan food was previously on a beach in Rio de Janeiro. Like many of its neighbors, the food of Uruguay is meat heavy, and a lot of the food culture revolves around the almighty grill.

This is a little out of the way place, but the main feature is in fact the roaring, wood-burning grill. It may be better to call it a “fire,” since it is basically just an open blaze stacked with cherry wood and meat. We are talking, smoke, fire the works! The meat is just seasoned with salt, and you pick and choose what types of meat you want, all of which are served to you in a giant chafing dish, and you eat on wooden planks. Kind of a primal experience.

As a group of 5, we chose the mixed parrillada of tripe, skirt steak, Short ribs, stuffed chicken, roast chicken, morcilla blood sausage. Seem like enough for the group? There was definitely something for every taste and appetite, and it was great to get the meat hot off the grill. M’s favorite part was probably watching the grill itself and the artful grillmaster. Even with just the simplest of seasonings, all of the meat was delicious, charred and super flavorful. Along with the meat, we got a number of side dishes, some of which were cooked on the grill, too, including roasted cheese with chimmichurri. In terms of cold sides, we got the “Russian” salad (basically potato salad with carrots and peas) and a green salad.

The atmosphere inside was festive, and there was even a Nicaraguan singer who arrived halfway through to belt out boleros. Judging by the amount of balloons and families, we could tell that this was a very popular for parties. The nondescript interior definitely does not give a hint into what lies inside La Morocha’s! It was a fun experience, with an absolutely insane amount of food for a low price.

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Discovering Pan de Bono, Colombian cheese bread

colombiaWe are huge fans of Brazilian pão de queijo, and we were excited to try its Colombian cousin the “pan de bono” or pandebono on a recent trip to Miami. No, not BUENO, bono. Hmmm. Like pão de queijo, the dough is made from tapioca flour, however, the addition of corn flour also gives it a more bready texture, and it is a bit sweeter than pão de queijo. Our first stop to try pan de bono was a Colombian bakery, Ricky (several location, we went to 252 Buena Vista Boulevard #108, Miami). We were hooked instantly on the slightly-sweet cheesy bread. There is nothing better than a cafe con leche and a pan de bono for breakfast in Miami, at least for me. I have not tried any pandebono offerings in Chicago yet, though I am intrigued by this recipe from Lucky Peach. Do you know of a good place for pandebono?


Pan de Bono at Ricky Bakery

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Our first frita experience in Miami: Mago de las Fritas

cubaEl Mago de las Fritas
5828 SW 8th St.
West Miami, FL 33144

We have tried a lot of burger joints in our day, and while we were more than happy that a Shake Shack finally opened in our neck of the woods, it is rare we try a burger place that is totally NEW. Well, Miami, you’ve done it for us again by introducing us to the unique and delicious Cuban burger, the frita. There are a couple of places that claim to have the best fritas in Miami, and we decided to make our first frita experience at one of the fan favorites, Mago “Magician” de las Fritas (another rival across town is Rey “King” de los Fritas).


We have arrived

We arrived on Saturday afternoon, and the place was pretty crowded. The Mago himself was even helping man the grill. The restaurant is small and set up like a diner, with a big flattop grill, booths on one side and blue swivel chairs at the counter. There are a number of items available on the menu, including hot dogs, chicken, and steak sandwiches, but rest assured that most people are here for the frita. There are few options for the frita, including a single, double and even one with egg on top (a Caballo). We settled in for our single fritas with a banana shake (mango, guanabana, and others were also available). Now, our only knock on the place is that it took us 30 minutes to get a burger. Sure, we don’t mind to wait a little bit, but it’s a burger…. Despite this setback, the staff was very kind and apologetic throughout.


The Frita!

When we finally received our frita, we dug right in. The thin, crispy burger patty was made out of beef and chorizo, and had a spicy, rich flavor. It was also topped by raw and cooked onions, and shoestring potatoes, a Cuban staple, on an egg carton shaped roll. The mix of textures was really delicious, and the chorizo added a whole new dimension. As always, we loved the crunch that the shoestring potatoes added. We are definitely converts to the frita burger, and El Mago de las Fritas was a fun place to try a frita for the first time. Just go when you have time to spare.


The Mago Himself

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Warm Weather Memories of Key Lime Pie

We just returned from Miami, where we enjoyed the warmth, good coffee and the key lime pie, a staple of the region. Key lime pie is a custard pie made from tiny key limes (or often the more common Persian limes that most of us deal with) condensed milk, eggs and with a graham cracker crust. The use of condensed milk was born out of the lack of refrigeration in the area until the 1930s!  Apparently, actually using real key limes is somewhat rare, since many of them were actually destroyed in the 1926 hurricane which devastated Southern Florida. Who knew? Despite key lime pies being available throughout the country (even in Brooklyn), when we visit South Florida we have to sample some of the classics.


Why did we leave Southern Florida?

The first pie in the area we sampled was in Key West, at the aptly named Key West Key Lime Pie Company (511 Greene Street, Key West, FL). There are a ton of companies touting Key Lime pie in Key West, but we heard this was the best around (YMMV). The store was shockingly key lime green, which, to be honest, made us want to go inside even more. The only thing for sale were key lime pies and variants of pies, like chocolate-covered pie slices on a stick, and key lime paraphernalia and postcards. We brought back a whole pie and shared it with our friends K and M in Miami, and the pie was great! It was tart and creamy filling (not gel-like as versions some can be) and with a cookie crust. Back in Miami, we also tasted key lime pie from Keys Fisheries (3502 Gulfview Avenue, Marathon, FL). Though made in the keys, these pies are also available from Whole Foods stores in the Miami area. This was an excellent key lime pie, with a pale, creamy filling and a sweet graham cracker crust. We really loved both of these Keys-made pies, and it has inspired us to make one of our own, hopefully soon, to re-capture some of the warm weather. Do you have any favorite key lime pie bakeries or recipes?


Keys Fisheries Key Lime Pie – yum!

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Old School Italian Grocery in Miami: Laurenzo’s

ItalyWe are obsessed with old school Italian groceries, and we absolutely pine for an offshoot of our gold standard, Tenuta’s to open in Chicago. Laurenzo’s (16445 W Dixie Hwy, North Miami Beach, FL 33160) is Miami’s answer to Tenuta’s, an old-school 1960s era supermarket with a little restaurant inside and a prodigious selection of olive oil and cheese. We were on our way to Hollywood beach for the day, so we decided we needed to pack a perfect picnic. Fortunately, Laurenzo’s had everything that we needed. We wandered the aisles, spending some extra time in front of the cheese counter, where we spied imported mozzarella and provolone. The baked goods selection was also pretty impressive, with a rainbow selection of Italian cookies and house-made cannoli. We could have piled up a basket or two of food, but we tried to keep our appetites in check. Check out the photos below of our wanderings through the store (and of course, we’ll definitely be back next time we end up in Miami). We ended up buying some crostini, buffalo mozzarella, sun-dried tomatoes and prosciutto. These are our typical picnic fixin’s, but not typical beach food. We still think it pairs pretty well with the sun and sand!


The deli counter at Laurenzo’s


Pannettone and Italian Cookies


Stay and sit for a while at the cafe.


Cheese, cheese and more cheese.


Not your typical beach picnic, but delicious!

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Jimmy’z Kitchen: Mofongo in Miami

Jimmy’z Kitchen
Several locations – we visited 2700 N. Miami Ave.
Wynwood, Miami, FL

Flag of Puerto RicoWe first had mofongo in Puerto Rico in 2008, and haven’t had it many times since. So when our Miami local friend suggested a good place to get mofongo in Miami, we were sold. Jimmy’z (named after proprietor Jimmy Carey), located in the trendy Wynwood neighborhood of Miami, is bright and modern with ample outdoor seating. The menu is a little more upscale and pricier than you might expect at a place where you order at the counter (some entrees over $20), and the food is later brought to your table. ???????????????????????????????

The menu at Jimmy’z has something for everyone. For a quick bite, there were a wide selection of panini and other sandwiches, including a cubano and seared ahi tuna. There are even substantial entrees covering both Latin and American cuisine like pollo guisado and cajun ribeye if you are really hungry, and a big range of salads if you are trying to be “good.” We had the tomato and mozzarella salad to offset our mofongo and it was delicious! However, what we had been hearing raves about was the mofongo, the quintessential dish of Puerto Rico made from mashed plantains and garlic. Honestly, we were a little skeptical since the restaurant seemed to be doing the whole Pan-Latin and euro sandwich thing. However, we were assured that the mofongo was the real deal. ??????????????????????????????? There were 6 kinds of mofongo available: mixed seafood, fresh fish, churrasco, pork in mojo sauce, chicken and shrimp. We ordered the pork mojo mofongo, since M can never pass up a roast pork dish, and split a little of the churrasco with our friends. The price, $17, was a little high, but it was more than enough to feed two hungry people. The pork was tender and flavorful and it was chock full of plantains. It was still had some substance to it, not too mushy. They weren’t lying, this mofongo was delicious.


Everyone at our table got mofongo so it was fun to try all the different kinds, though we still think the pork mojo was our favorite. Contributing to the party atmosphere, there is also an ample beer and wine selection, including a lot of import bottles, which were a hit. On a nice night, the outdoor patio was particularly festive.  Jimmy’z was awesome for mofongo, and it gave us the hankering to go back to Puerto Rico, ASAP!

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Las Americas, Bolivian in Miami

Las Americas Bolivian Restaurant
We visited: 700 South Royal Poinciana Boulevard, #120, Miami Springs
Now Located at 2772 8th St SE, Miami, FL

BoliviaFlagTo say we had some difficulty in finding Las Americas would be something of an understatement. Yelp, you lie to us. The address you have on file is for their previous location, but Las Americas moved out from a busy, restaurant-filled strip of NW 7th Stret in Miami to the (correct) addressed listed above sometime last year. But their new location is definitely not where one would expect to find a restaurant: on a diagonal street in an office park, located on the ground floor of a nondescript mid-rise office building. If not for the Bolivian flag peeking out, we may never have found it. But we are glad we did.

See the Bolivian flag on the left? That's how you know!

See the Bolivian flag on the left? That’s how you know!

Las Americas is set up in a rather unusual way. It seems to serve partly as the go-to cafeteria for the office building, so there is a smaller interior space attached to a larger, partially open-air area with outdoor seating and a roof. It was a nice day (it’s Miami, after all), so we decided to sit out there, surrounded by a sprinkling of Bolivian artifacts and clothing on the walls. After a few minutes, the friendly owner came out and helpfully explained the menu to us. We were intrigued by a drink called mok’ochinchi, which we have never seen anywhere else, but the restaurant was out of it that day. Peruvian aficionados will also be familiar with chicha morada, and they make a good one at Las Americas.???????????????????????????????

On a recommendation both from the owner and from reviews, we started with a Bolivian-style empanada called a salteña (pictured above). Fantastic! Perfectly baked, its savory filling crossed with a sweet touch and a generous helping of olives. Pair with Las Americas’ signature spicy salsa (not for the faint of heart), and a few of these (only $2.50 each) are a meal in and of themselves.

The main entrees at Las Americas will remind patrons of Peruvian cuisine with less of a coastal influence: lots of starches, grilled meats, accented with vegetables, with a heavy emphasis on clean, simple flavors. We opted to split an order of grilled steak (bistec), which was served with the typical Andean starch accompaniments, potato and large-kernel corn. This was the first time we had ever actually seen the large kernels attached to the corn, so this was cool to see! The steak also came with a refreshing side salad of tomatoes, red onions, and a creamy cheese similar to feta.  At $12.50, this was plenty for two people. Overall, Las Americas helped us check a new country off the list while satisfying our Andean food cravings. It’s definitely worth a try, and the office employees are lucky to have it for their lunch break!


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Pummarola: Miami-area Neapolitan Pizza

141 Aragon Ave.
Coral Gables FL 33134

ItalyLet’s be frank: we are total pizza snobs. When it comes to pizza, it takes a lot to impress us. Maybe it is because we had superlative pizza in Naples, and let’s be honest, there is nothing like pizza in Naples. Maybe it is because both of us come from Italian families. Or maybe (and this is probably the most important) it is because Matt’s grandmother has owned and operated her own pizza shop for the last fifty years. In any case, we were surprised to fall so quickly in love with Pummarola, a small restaurant serving up pizza that part Neapolitan, part northern Italian, and part pure Miami. Small with not even ten tables, the tiny space is dominated by a stone pizza oven and a red Fiat 500 car stuck into the wall as decoration. Love it. Maybe an allusion to the Neapolitan traffic?


Pummarola’s menu includes pasta and salads, but the main attraction is the pizza, which is made exactly like we had it in Naples – and thus exactly as we have come to expect it. The obvious reason for this? Everyone who works at Pummarola, from the owner to the pizzaolo, is Neapolitan. Everyone except the ebullient and witty manager, who hails from northern Italy: “I’m the only real Italian here!” he quipped with a wink, echoing the north / south Italian cultural divide. With a Neapolitan pizzaolo behind the counter, it is no surprise that we found the pizza to be purely Neapolitan. It was fun to watch the pizza being prepared and the white tiled pizza oven heating up. We went twice, and each time split a large pizza (which is really is enough for 3). The first was a perfectly-made margherita, with buffalo mozzarella and perfect tomato sauce. Other varieties included spicy salami, truffled mushrooms and pancetta.


On our second trip we had a prosciutto and arugula pizza, also fantastic. L, always one to explore further afield, tried the arancini, which was good, but nothing to write home about. Our quest for a respectable arancine in the US continues. Still, that pizza just blew us away. This was one of the best pizzas we’ve had in this country (not on this side of the Atlantic, though – we’re looking at you, São Paulo) and one of the few that approximated those we had in Naples. We liked both pizzas, but our hat tip goes to the margherita, for its clean flavors. If you are craving Neapolitan style pizza, do not think twice to head Pummarola. It is cheaper than a flight to Naples!


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Los Pinarenos Fruteria: A country escape in urban Miami

Los Pinarenos Fruteria
1334 SW 8th St
Miami, FL 33135???????????????????????????????

Los Pinarenos Fruteria is so atmospheric you would love to go there even if the food wasn’t any good (apparently Chase picked up on this as well). But the drinks are so delicious, it just makes us want to visit more. Right on Calle Ocho, Los Pinarenos is combination of a country farm a juice counter and fruit stand. This place made us think of all the juice bars in Brazil we used to love to visit, with their huge menus of flavor options.


Los Pinarenos has juice options in spades, and you can get everything from parsley to mamey along with more familiar fruits. You can order either a juice or a milkshake (batido) of any of the fruit flavors. There are also savory tidbits and cafe Cubano, but we never got past the fruit to try them. Every drink is made fresh to order, and from real fruit. Of course, as fun as it is to sit the counter, anyone who has ever been there will tell you the best place to sit is out back. There are a few tables out back populated usually by Cuban men in white shirts, however also holding court out back are a flock of chickens, some ornery roosters, and – the real reason to visit – the fattest pig we have ever seen.??????????????????????????????? So we first saw this pig on our first visit to Miami in January, and well…. we didn’t know if she’d still be around in February. Made into lechon, we assumed. We didn’t know if she was a pet or dinner! Turns out she is a pet, and her name is “Chucha,” and you can see her and her menagerie any day. It seems like she has a pretty content life. Case in point – we ordered two watermelon jugos one day, and Chucha got the entire watermelon rind, so we like to think we are contributing a little bit to her happiness. There is also a baby pig nearby, but you have to ask permission to see her. We’ll be back whenever we are in Miami – for the ambiance, the drinks, and to visit our favorite animals!



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Enriqueta’s Sandwich Shop, Cuban Sandwiches in Miami

Enriqueta’s Sandwich Shop
186 NE 29th St
Miami, FL 33137

cubaWhile Enriqueta’s Sandwich Shop is in many ways a typical Cuban sandwich joint in Miami, it attracts a loyal and devoted following. A little off the beaten path,  Enriqueta’s is a simple lunch counter with one side facing into the restaurant and another side  with a window open to the street. Sometimes I wonder how a place like that can ever keep up with orders, but somehow they do, albeit a little slowly. Being from Chicago, I can’t quite ever wrap my head around the concept of an open air lunch counter, or frankly any outside window walk-up, so of course we had to order our food there. When in Rome…


The menu consists of pressed Cuban sandwiches and hearty side dishes like fried plantains and beans and rice. Fritas, or Cuban burgers, with shoestring potatoes on top, were also on offer. We split a Cubano sandwich and a “Chicken classic” sandwich, which consisted of tomato, lettuce, Cuban grilled chicken and a hearty helping of shoestring potatoes. We also ordered a side of fried plantains. The sandwiches took about 15 minutes to arrive, and as we waited, the growing line snaked across the parking lot. There was nowhere to sit outside to eat, so we snagged a bench on the street, and unwrapped our sandwiches to chow down. The sandwiches were huge (and under $9, so it is a great value)! The Cuban roll was perfectly crispy, the fillings were fresh and the plantains were tasty, if a little mushy. Enriqueta’s is a perfect little lunch joint off the beaten track of Wynwood. If you need a cheap, tasty Cuban fix, definitely give it a try!


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Pasion del Cielo, coffee from around the Americas

So we caught a bit of a coffee bug in Miami. Our favorite place for a classic cortadito is still Versailles, but if you are in the mood for a little something else, Pasión del Cielo (we went to 100 Giralda Ave, Coral Gables, FL, though there are other locations) is a great place to enjoy a latte with a twist. In addition to a variety of iced coffees, frappes and lattes, the key feature that sets Pasión apart is that you get to choose what kind of coffee you get in your drink, and they have 12 varieties to choose from. Pasión has coffees from Brazil, Colombia, Costa Rica, Cuba, Guatemala, Hawaii, Honduras, Jamaica, Mexico, Nicaragua and Peru, each with their own distinct qualities. It is the same price to order any of the coffees, except the rare Jamaican blue mountain, which is $2 more. When I went there, the full-bodied Brazilian coffee seemed to be a particularly popular choice, and given our affinity for Brazil, we were pretty excited. The coffee was great, flavorful and robust, and I liked the ability to customize. Another clever detail is that the coffee drinks all come with drink art. I really wish they had one of these shops in Chicago.


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Adventures in Floridian Produce: Zapote

Well, we made a huge mistake and returned to Chicago (10 degrees) from Miami (80 degrees). But over the next week we will bring you highlights of our culinary adventures in south Florida, including our multiple visits to Los Pinarenos, a fruit store famous for its juices and smoothies on Calle Ocho, in the heart of Miami’s Little Havana (review coming soon!)

While sitting outside at Los Pinarenos, sipping our watermelon juices, we looked up at the tree we were sitting under, and grew curious about what kind of fruits it produced. We asked the amiable owner, and he responded it was a zapote. He pointed us to a small group of apple-sized, soft, brown fruits. We had never heard of them, never seen one, and had no idea what they tasted like. So, of course, we bought one!


Our zapote, fresh from the tree.

Zapote is the Cuban name given to a fruit known widely as the sapodilla, which grows throughout Mexico, Central America, and the Caribbean. Today it is also widely grown in southeast Asia (why didn’t we find it while we were there?), bring introduced to the Philippines by the Spanish. The taste is difficult to describe, but unlike anything else we have had: semi-savory, with nutty hints of cinnamon, it tastes like a lúcuma crossbred with a honeydew and cotton candy, but without as much sugar. When ripe they are quite soft, with the consistency of a soft melon. As such, you can’t just bite it – you need to scoop it out with a fork or a spoon. Still, the flesh comes out a bit grainy, with flecks of tasty zapote goodness.

We were quite mesmerized by this fruit. Has anyone else heard of it? And is there anywhere to get it in Chicago? We’ll keep searching and get back to you. In the meantime, stay tuned for posts from the rest of Miami!

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Escaping the Snow in Miami

Apparently, Florida is the only state in the US currently without snow. Well we are certainly sick of snow here in Chicago, so we are excited to get away. We are headed to Miami today for a two-week business trip, though we plan to eat as much as we can there (especially on Calle Ocho in little Havana), and drink a lot of coffee, too. Anyone have any last-minute recommendations? We really hope to get some Bolivian and Nicaraguan food.

Calle Ocho

Calle Ocho Rooster by Maya83

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Coffee Culture in Miami

cubaWe were in Miami for a friend’s wedding and we had a fabulous time taking in the local cuisine. One thing L especially loved was the coffee culture in Miami, where delicious espresso was found on every corner. Our Miami-native friend Fredo assured us that Miami’s coffee culture was the greatest in the US, so we were pretty excited to get drinking. Fredo was definitely right, people in Miami are truly passionate about coffee, and we got a ton of suggestions for where to get the best coffee from our Miami-local friends. However, no matter where you go, there are a few major types of Cuban coffee that you will commonly find offered:

Cortadito at Panther Coffee in Wynwood

Cortadito at Panther Coffee in the Wynwood Art District

Cafecito / Cafe Cubano – very similar to the Brazilian cafezinho, a strong shot of espresso, with a healthy amount of sugar. The drink is not sweetened after, but rather the sugar is added during the brewing process. This drink is ubiquitous, and will run you less than a dollar. We warn, though, you’d better like your coffee strong.

Cortadito – My favorite, a cafecito with some milk added. This drink is often offered to “beginners” who may think a Cafecito is too strong, but I like it anyway!

Cafe con Leche – Typically for breakfast, a shot of Cafecito with a generous amount of steamed milk

Colada – A quadruple shot of espresso with four (usually Styrofoam) shot glasses. Under no circumstances are you supposed to drink all four shots alone, but rather you are supposed to share with friends. Usually this ends up being a pretty good deal.

Another unique aspect of coffee culture in Miami is the fact that coffee counters abound, and are still the most popular way to enjoy a cup. This reminded us of Brazil, where people would enjoy their cafezinhos standing up at small counters. While you can get your cafe to go, many places also have small areas to sit down. You can find Cuban coffee all over Miami, but many of the most famous places are in Little Havana all along Calle Ocho.

Interior of Versailles, at the western end of Little Havana / Calle Ocho

Interior of Versailles, at the western end of Little Havana / Calle Ocho

Versailles (3555 SW 8th St.) is one of the more famous Cuban restaurants in Miami, and a solid bet for both Cuban food and coffee. There is a full restaurant, which is a favorite among visitors and locals alike (we were actually there about 1 hour before Beyoncé and Jay Z), but there is also a smaller cafe with a coffee counter attached. Along with coffee, you can also get a wide variety of tarts and pastels and while away the time. We enjoyed a Guava pastry and an apple and citrus Torta de Santiago. The coffee and pastries together reminded us a little of our favorite pastelaria in Lisbon, also called Versailles, though the Miami setting was not as opulent. Another good choice in the area is El Pub, with a more minimalist counter (1548 SW 8th St.).

Cortadito, a pastel de guayaba, and a torta de Santiago at Versailles

Cortadito, a Pastel de Guayaba, and a Torta de Santiago at Versailles

Offering a more modern take on the cafecito is Panther Coffee (2390 NW 2nd Ave.). Panther is reminiscent of a NYC or Chicago coffee shop, with a wide menu of small-batch coffee varieties, and even a menu of alcoholic drinks. Located in the artsy Wynwood district, Panther draws a young crowd that looks like they would be more at home in Wicker Park. Even if you are hipster-averse, the coffee is great.

Panther Coffee in Wynwood

Panther Coffee in Wynwood

This list only is the tip of the iceberg, and you can find Cafe Cubano on every corner of Miami. We are excited to try out more spots when we return there in February. In the meantime, maybe we should pick up some Bustelo Coffee at the supermarket.

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Miami’s Best Pan con Lechón: Papa Llega y Pon

Papa Llega y Pon
2928 NW 17th Avenue
Miami, FL 33125


Well, we finally managed to make it home from our whirlwind culinary tour of Miami (thanks to the Polar Vortex for the delays)! In the coming days we’ll have reviews of eats around Little Havana / Calle Ocho, Miami’s amazing coffee culture, and why South Beach scares us. But today, we head straight for the reason M loves Miami so much: pan con lechón, a classic cuban pork sandwich. Lechón is a Spanish term for roasted suckling pig (BBQ lovers: note that lechón is NOT smoked, so do not expect a pulled pork sandwich). In Cuba, and especially among Cuban expats in Miami, pan con lechón (literally bread with roasted pig) is a classic lunch. We asked around, and there was near-universal agreement as to where to go to find the best of the best: Papa Llega y Pon, in Miami’s Allapattah neighborhood.


It seems by now that we have an affinity for places serving lechón by someone named Papa. At Papa Llega y Pon, pan con lechón is the specialty of the house and a simple affair. Papa Llega y Pon seems to take pride in being nondescript. There is no sign either on the street or at the restaurant, so it is easy to miss if you do not know what you are looking for. Even so, the small parking lot, we were told, is almost impossible to get in and out of on weekdays around lunchtime. We played it safe and went at late afternoon on a Saturday, when it was nearly empty. Walking up the counter, you are greeted by women brandishing meat cleavers, ready to take your order. You have few options: you can order a pan con bistec (beef sandwich) or pan con lechón. While there are rumors of people ordering the former, the sign on the building’s north side is there to remind you of what you should be asking for:


When ordering, you are given a choice of sizes for your sandwich (we opted for medium, $6 each) as well as toppings. We went all out and chose both possible toppings, cebolla y picante (onions and hot sauce).

???????????????????????????????At Papa Llega y Pon, the pork is lightly but effectively seasoned, the hot sauce adds a tinge of spice (barely discernible to M), and the onions blend in with the rest of the pork, adding a little extra texture and variety to the flavors. Adding more texture is the obligatory chicharrón (fried pork rinds) mixed in with the pork meat. You can order yours without chicharrón, but you’ll get some strange looks from your servers. Overall, this is simple comfort food, so those expecting bold flavors or exquisite preparation will be disappointed. This is well-made, well-seasoned, and classically prepared food for those who have come to expect the best of the same. It definitely satisfied our lechón cravings, and there is no wonder it is so popular in Miami.


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