Little Havana is arguably one of Miami’s most dynamic neighborhoods, yet finds itself often overlooked by out-of-town visitors who tend to default to the beach-centric revelry of South Beach. A longtime enclave for Spanish-speaking transplants from the Caribbean (namely Cuba), as well as other Central and South American countries, Little Havana flourishes as an unapologetically authentic hub of Latin culture, cuisine and tradition. Designated a “national treasure” by the National Trust for Historic Preservation, Calle Ocho (Southwest 8th Street) is its iconic nucleus: a bustling thoroughfare lined with coffeehouses, cigar shops, pastelerias and landmarks like the 1926 Tower Theatre. Tap the experts at Little Havana Walking Tour for a guided excursion throughout the barrio’s best pockets or discover the neighborhood’s cherished spots on your own.
Life House Little Havana
The newest of Life House’s hotels is located on a residential street a few blocks away from Calle Ocho. It’s one of the few hotels in the historic district, and takes that significance to heart with its locally inspired design (which was spearheaded by Life House’s in-house team) and its programming. Life House Little Havana occupies a bright orange 1920s Mission Revival mansion, with 33 tropical-themed guest rooms (there are king, queen and bunk-style suites), a library and co-working space and a lush courtyard garden. Art from emerging Latin talent abounds throughout the property, including works from photographer Christina Arza (exhibited in the three-story atrium gallery) and Afrocuban ceramics that adorn the Living Room lounge. Terras, the buzzy rooftop restaurant and bar, serves up Latin American street-food-style dishes with many ingredients plucked from an on-site garden.
Los Pinareños Fruteria
A longtime institution on Calle Ocho, Los Pinareños is an open-air fruit and flower stand specializing in Caribbean staples like mangos, mameys and guanabanas. Much of the produce is grown in the rear garden by the Hernandez family, who founded the bodega in 1963 after immigrating from Cuba. People flock here for coconut milk, robust Cuban-style coffee, smoothies and fresh-pressed juices. The milky-sweet guarapo (pressed sugarcane juice) is among the most popular orders—a refreshing sipper on a sweltering Miami afternoon. Los Pinareños only takes cash, so be sure to have some on hand.
A block north of Calle Ocho, Doce Provisions is a hip Cuban fusion eatery helmed by chef-owners Justin Sherrer and Lisetty Llampalla. Lunch and dinner menus frame the chefs’ unique spin on classic dishes, which prominently feature locally sourced and organic ingredients. While the Cuban sandwich is certainly one of the main draws—theirs is stuffed with salami, Cuban Vicky ham, swiss, mustard, and mojo mayo—don’t sleep on the more inventive “para picar” small plates and provisions, like lechon asado buns made with aji amarillo and grilled pineapple confit, and fried chicken and sweet plantain waffles with guava and Sriracha honey. Enjoy your feast in the landscaped back patio, one of the most charming outdoor dining spaces in Miami.
Azucar Ice Cream Company
Artisanal Cuban scoop shop Azucar Ice Cream Company isn’t hard to find, what with a mammoth ice cream cone sculpture overhanging its entrance. But deciding which of the unique Miami-inspired flavors to try might prove a challenge. There are several dozen varieties that tempt with equal pull, like café con leche (a Cuban riff on cookies-n-cream), sweet plantain and caramel flan, but the seasonal offerings like pineapple sugarcane and orange blossom almond, are extra rewarding. Then there’s the signature Abuela Maria—a decadent swirl of guava, cream cheese and Maria cookies. Whenever possible, Azucar Ice Cream Company sources locally grown seasonal fruits and vegetables from regional farmers market growers.
Café La Trova
At Café La Trova, Old Havana hedonism reigns supreme. Decked out in vintage furnishings and black and white photos, the dining room is an exuberant portal to Cuba’s halcyon days. The centerpiece is the restaurant’s stage, which hosts Trova guitarists and bongoceros as they perform traditional conga and rhumba music into the early morning. If the tunes don’t transport you to Cuba, the stage’s backdrop—a weathered Havana facade, complete with a laundry clothesline and 1950s car—will. Founded by James Beard Award-winning chef Michelle Bernstein and world-famous mixologist maestro Julio Cabrera, Café La Trova has earned a wealth of accolades since opening in 2019, including consecutive rankings as a World’s 50 Best Bar. In 2020, Cabrera and his team of cantineros (rigorously trained bartenders suited in red collared vests and bowties) also clinched the coveted Tales of the Cocktail Best American Bar Team Award. While the Cuba Libres and mojitos are expertly crafted, so are Berstein’s tapas-style Cuban delights, like sweet corn and chicken empandas and crispy fried boneless snapper with salsa escabeche.
Hero image courtesy of Life House