MIami bills itself as "The Gateway to Latin America," but no neighborhood is more international than a stretch of SW 8th Street minutes... more » west of downtown. Calle Ocho -- 8th Street -- has been the heart of Little Havana since the first Cuban exiles arrived in the early 1960s. Today the neighborhood is 98 percent Hispanic with residents from all over Latin America.
Little Havana extends roughly from the Miami River to SW 16th Street and from I-95 to SW 27th Avenue, but the heart is between 12th and 18th Avenues along Calle Ocho. Here's where you will find a cluster of Cuban monuments, restaurants, shops, groceries, coffee bars, art galleries, tobacco factories -- and tour buses.
You'll find a good sampling of food, drink and cigars, but also pause to take in the Cuban Memorial Plaza at SW 13th Avenue, Máximo Gómez Park or "Domino Park" at 15th Avenue, Tower Theater (Spanish language and art films) also at 15th. (In case you're wondering, Máximo Gómez was Cuba's military commander in the country's war of independence.)
Cuban cooking is a blend of Spanish, African and Caribbean with tasty stews, roasted chicken with yellow rice, masitas de puerco (marinated pork chunks) and bacalao (salted codfish) among the favorite main courses. Expect beans and rice at every meal served separately or together as moros y christianos (Moors and Christians). Flan makes the perfect dessert.
Try a medianoche (literally "midnight"), a grilled sandwich of roasted pork, ham, Swiss cheese with mustard and dill pickles. Snack on tostones (fried green plaintains) or pastelitos (puff pastries filled with meat, cheese or guana).
Most of the stops are within a few blocks, but you'll need to drive to Versailles, the Cuban restaurant and political nerve center, farther out 8th Street at 35th Avenue. less «