Cuban Charm in the USA: Exploring Miami’s Little Havana Neighbourhood
Miami’s Little Havana neighbourhood has long been a hub for the Cuban community in the United States. There are about four times more Cubans living in the Miami Dade area than in the second largest city of Cuba Santiago de Cuba, about 1.2 million versus little over 400.000.
The neighbourhood was also the site of a massive celebration following the death of former Cuban leader Fidel Castro, with thousands of people taking to the streets to celebrate. Despite its popularity amongst tourists from all over the world, Little Havana has managed to maintain its unique character and charm, making it a must-visit destination for anyone interested in Cuban culture and history.
Cuban Culture in Calle Ocho
The area is famous for its colourful Calle Ocho street, named after 8th South West Street that runs for miles and miles. All along this street, and the surrounding streets, you’ll find Cuban shops, Cuban restaurants, cigar shops, souvenir shops, and just a very Cubanesque atmosphere. You can find a map of Little Havana on this website.
Whenever I am in Miami, there’s one thing I need to buy, and that’s a guayabera. The classic Cuban shirt with the four pockets. There are several shops in the area such as The Havana Shirt Store, D’Asis Guayaberas, Havana Collection and Ramon Puig, but just take a stroll through the neighbourhood and you’ll find other shops selling the iconic shirt as well.
Casa de Las Guayaberas/Ramon Puig (photo credit: Little Havana Walking Tour)
The best Cuban vibe you can find is at the Maximo Gomez Domino Park, where older Cuban men gather to play domino all day while smoking cigars and drinking strong and sweet Cuban coffee. And just a few minutes away you’ll find a Cuban memorial park, another must visit for tourists.
Maximo Gomez Domino Park (photo credit: greater Miami & Miami Beach)
Culinary Delights: A Taste of Cuba on Miami Streets
This is the place to indulge in Cuban delights, such as croquetas and flaky pastelitos and share thumbnail-sized cups of coladas. Or the world-famous Cuban Sandwich, which is not a traditional Cuban dish but invented and made popular by Cuban immigrants in Tampa, Florida.
Venture to the charming walk-up windows known as ventanitas, where you can indulge in warm croquetas, flavourful pastries, and shots of the invigorating Cuban coffee that energizes the city. A must-visit establishment is Versailles Restaurant, an iconic Little Havana institution serving Cuban delights since 1971. Immerse yourself in the local atmosphere as you sip a Cafecito and engage in lively discussions about politics with fellow patrons.
photo credit: news.miami.edu
For a sensory adventure, explore the open-air fresh fruit and juice market, Los Pinareños Fruteria, a family-run gem established in the 1960s. Delight in the tropical flavours of ripe mangos, papaya, sugarcane, and a variety of fruit juices and smoothies. Indulge your sweet tooth at Azucar Ice Cream Company, a popular artisanal shop infusing Cuban flavours into delectable cold treats.
Little Havana is not only a hub for street food but also boasts chef-driven restaurants like Cafe La Trova, where Chef Michelle Bernstein elevates Cuban comfort food with an upscale twist. Sala’o Cuban Restaurant & Bar is another culinary gem, offering traditional Cuban seafood dishes bursting with bold flavours.
photo credit: Café La Trova Facebook Page
Unwind at Casa Tiki, a tropical tiki bar with a Latin-infused take on Polynesian culture. Enjoy exotic cocktails during happy hour while relishing live entertainment. Experience the lively nightlife by grabbing a seat at historic Ball & Chain, where mojitos, creative Cuban bites, and salsa dancing converge for a memorable evening of the best live music in Miami. Little Havana beckons with a rich tapestry of flavours, culture, and entertainment that captures the essence of Cuba in the heart of Miami.
Cigar Legacy: Iconic Spots for Aficionados in Little Havana
But for us as cigar smokers, there are some iconic spots as well, including a few still functioning cigar factories as well as cigar shops and lounges. On the corner of 8th SW Street and 11th SW Avenue you will find the most famous of the still active cigar factories, El Titan de Bronze. This small but well-respected factory makes cigars under their own name but also produce cigars for Warped, La Palina, Padilla and even the giant STG sometimes uses El Titan de Bronze for special limited releases. It’s the factory where Willy Herrera, the master blender for Drew Estate, made his name as a blender.
Photo credit: El Titan de Bronze Facebook page
Right across the street from El Titan de Bronze you will find a cigar lounge and shop. The El Credito Cigar Factory used to be the cigar factory of Ernesto Perez-Carrillo but when General Cigars bought the brand and the factory, they turned it into a cigar lounge and shop. Under the same roof, just two doors down, used to be El Rey de Los Habanos, the small factory that made Don Pepin Garcia a celebrity in the cigar industry. Unfortunately, that location is now a tourist shop and nothing shows that the humble beginnings of My Father Cigars lay right there.
El Credito Cigar Factory (photo credit: MapQuest)
One of the most famous cigar makers in the area is Pablo Bello, who has been crafting cigars for more than 30 years and he’s one of the few remaining people that still make cigars in the Little Havana neighbourhood.
Pedro Bello Cigars (photo credit: Calle Ocho News)
But it doesn’t end here, there are several cigar shops such as Top Cigars and the Little Havana Cigar Factory. The last one used to be a cigar factory in the past and was once the cigar factory of Ernesto Padilla.