As you stroll down Calle Ocho the bold colors, reggaetón music and mouthwatering smells become more apparent the deeper you venture. This northern Miami community feels more like an extension of Havana, Cuba than a traditional southern American town.
Little Havana, formerly called Riverside/Shenandoah, grew in population by becoming homes to many Cuban natives around 1960. The rise of Fidel Castro’s Communist system frightened many Cuban natives. The Mariel Boatlift granted refugees a chance to escape to Florida in hopes of a better life.
A Swift breeze can carry aromas of damp soil and rich tobacco through the streets of 6th avenue. “Mom and Pop” family-run stores add to the authenticity of this culturally rich area. Each store has its own unique family feel to it.
One of the most popular local stores is Sentir Cubano. As you enter you’ll find the entire store littered with various kinds of trinkets from Cuba. Straw hats, dominoes, maracas, cigars and Cuban flags, to name a few. Sentir Cubano offers its residents and guests a glimpse into traditional Cuban life during the country’s prime.
Cuban Memorial Boulevard is another interesting place to wander around. Just a few blocks off Calle Ocho, this area is known for its Eternal Torch of Brigade 2506. A memorial to the freedom fighters, the men and women who fought in the 1961 Bay of Pigs Invasion in Cuba.
A great place for breakfast, lunch or dinner is Versailles, Cuban Restaurant since 1971, this family-run business conjures an authentic atmosphere, flavors and smells of Cuba. Back in the 1970’s this restaurant became a second home to most Cuban exiles living in Miami. Offering a familiar taste of comfort and a providing a safe place to talk politics and gossip about everyday life.
The menu is Spanish based with influences from the new world. Black beans, sweet plantains, yucca fries served with a cilantro sauce and a classic grilled Palomilla steak are some of the most popular items. The hustle and bustle of this restaurant is sure to leave you craving another visit.
Before leaving Little Havana you’ll have to make sure to grab yourself a traditional Cubano. This coffee is made by slowing mixing demerara sugar into a shot of Café Bustelo espresso. Little in size, the power of this small shot of espresso will have you buzzing for hours.