Miami's historic Eighth Street, known locally as Calle Ocho, is America's Cigar Central
From the Print Edition:
The Blues Brothers, Jan/Feb 2008
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Art District Cigars
1638 SW Eighth St. (between 16th and 17th aves.); 305-644-0444
La Luna cigars were once crafted at this address. Since La Luna Cigars changed its name to Art District last July, the location became a building that combines the finer elements of a cigar shop, bar and a smoking lounge. But the heritage of production is kept alive by a few rollers making the company's house brand, called 1638. You can, however, still buy La Lunas here (they are made in Honduras) and listen to music, plus take advantage of a bar serving beer and wine.
RESTAURANTS & COFFEE SHOPS
La Carreta (Cuban)
3632 SW Eighth St. (between 36th Ave. and 36th Court); 305-444-7501
Behind the statue of a rooster with a cigar clamped in his jaw that stands in front of La Carreta (Spanish for The Wagon) is a no-nonsense Cuban restaurant that serves food to fill the belly. Several presses on prominent display through a window open to the kitchen are testament to the eatery's devotion to the Cuban sandwich, that most marvelous of creations combining sugar-cured ham, roast pork, Swiss cheese and pickles, heated and pressed on Cuban bread. Don't expect ambience—just plenty of good food. The churrasco steak is a solid option, and for those who aren't afraid of a hearty meal, La Carreta serves a delicious lechon asado, or roast pork. Be sure to order it with black beans and rice, and don't forget the maduros, sweet, ripe plantains fried in oil until they are caramelized and impossible to resist. The place is open 24 hours.
3555 SW Eighth St. (between 35th and 36th aves.); 305-444-0240
The name suggests the French court of Louis XIV, but Versailles is all about eating Cuban food. One part restaurant, one part meeting place, this is also a fine spot to hear the politics of the day. (Or the night, as it is open extremely late by Miami standards, closing at 4:30 on Sunday mornings.) The same family owns La Carreta and this iconic Cuban restaurant. In addition to the long list of Cuban mainstays such as Moros y Cristianos (Moors and Christians, or black beans and rice), the Cuban pastries are highly recommended. Perez-Carrillo says the croquetas are the best examples of these batter-fried, meat-filled treats that he's ever had. A walk-up coffee window serves Cuban coffee.
El Rey de las Fritas (Cuban fast food)
1821 SW Eighth St. (between 18th and 19th aves.); 305-644-6054
Imagine a hamburger. Now imagine it loaded with spices, moistened with copious amounts of sauce and topped with a mound of thin and crispy fries. What you would have is a frita, or a Cuban hamburger, and the best place to eat one is at El Rey de las Fritas. The zippy burgers pack a spice punch and are quite addictive. The ultra-casual restaurant, like many, also serves a fine cup of syrupy Cuban coffee, and local cigarmakers swear by the batidos, or milkshakes.
|Flamenco dancing at Casa Panza.|
449 SW Eighth St. (between Fourth and Fifth aves.); 305-856-9788
Calle Ocho is more than just Cuban. Elements of the pan-Latin community are also represented here. The Spanish tradition of serving food in small samples known as tapas is practiced at this comfortably cozy, clean and brightly lit restaurant. The grilled octopus with pimentón (smoked paprika) is a great starter, as is the chorizo done in cider. The Serrano ham, manchego and chorizo sandwich, served on a crusty, flaky roll, prepares the stomach for a long day of smoking strong cigars.
Casa Panza (Spanish)
1620 SW Eighth St. (near 15th Ave.); 305-643-5343
Live flamenco dancing comes with the experience at Casa Panza. This vibrant restaurant and nightspot features Spanish fare such as paella and sangria. According to Janny Garcia of El Rey de los Habanos, the owner is a lover of the leaf.
El Pub (Cuban)
1548 SW Eighth St. (between 15th and 16th aves.); 305-642-9942
Decorated with Cuban memorabilia, El Pub specializes in some of the country's favorite dishes such as ropa vieja, a long-cooked beef dish that tastes far better than its English translation (old rags) sounds. It also serves Cuban sandwiches and some fans say it has the best café con leche (coffee with copious amounts of warm milk) in all of Miami. Bargain prices.
Taquerias al Mexico (Mexican)
521 SW Eighth St. (between Fifth and Sixth aves.); 305-858-1160
Another Latin cuisine that is represented on Calle Ocho is Mexican. If your idea of that country's food is Taco Bell, prepare to be astounded by Taquerias al Mexico. Cigarmaker Philip Wynne, owner of Felipe Gregorio cigars, calls this little eatery "the best Mexican restaurant in Miami."
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