18 July 2006

Chowing on Cuban Food Across Florida

In the past month, I have had the good fortune to hit two of the best Cuban restaurants in Florida - Puerto Sagua in Miami and Rolando's Cuban Restaurant in Orlando. My trip to Rolando's was somewhat unexpected, so I don't have the pictures to document the visit, but I like the place enough, and plan to make it a point to go more often, so I will try to photograph my next visit. I will save the teasing for one of my frequent posters, "Clothier" until the next time.

A couple of weeks ago, I took a weekend trip to Miami to meet up with a few friends, eat a couple of good meals, and catch a ballgame at the Worst Stadium in the Majors. Following the game, the group of us made off to South Beach for one of the oldest Cuban restaurants in south Florida. Puerto Sagua is located on Collins Ave (A1A) and is very easy to find. There is a convenient, city-owned parking lot right across the street that charges about a buck an hour.

This was my first visit here, and now I cannot imagine making any more trips to Miami without including this restaurant in my itinerary. There are two dining areas; one comprised of a counter with surrounding stools, and one a traditional dining room. They do their best to pack folks in here pretty well. My understanding is that there is often a wait for a table at the most peak hours. Fortunately, we were seated right away. One thing most of White America will notice first is that they are likely one of the few English-only speakers in the joint. Puerto Sagua definitely caters to a very Spanish clientele, but welcomes non-Spanish speakers in kind.

The three of us put away some food. Two of us had arroz con pollo (chicken with yellow rice) with maduros (fried ripe/sweet plantains). I added sopa de pollo (chicken soup), which was prepared with large chunks of chicken, thin noodles, carrots and potatoes. Also, notice in the picture the freshly baked Cuban bread. It is light in the middle, but crusty on the outside.

One of the guys in the group drew some odd looks when he ordered the Seafood Enchilada. The rest of us thought that enchiladas were a Mexican dish, but as the only member of the group who had ever been to Havana, he assured us that they served such a dish in Cuba. This was one of the most interesting meals I had seen in quite some time. If there was a piece of seafood that somehow managed to avoid making it into this dish, I don't know what it is. I could spot clam, shrimp, fish, and even a lobster tail in that broth. The plain white rice soaked up the juice from the broth, as well, making for what looked like a delicious meal.

Make no mistake about it - this place is the authentic, real deal. Check out the pictures of the dining room and the truly bizarre 3-D mural of downtown Havana. We did not cap our meal with a traditional Cuban espresso drink, but by the time we finished, I think we were all stuffed. The total bill, including the one pricey seafood dish, came to about $50 plus tip for three. Puerto Sagua qualifies as one of the great South Beach bargains!

For details on the trip to Rolando's, please continue below the fold...

This past weekend, I had the good fortune to hit central Florida's best Cuban restaurant, Rolando's in Casselberry. Rolando's has also been serving up Cuban for a good while, and the family-run business keeps quality the top priority. The dining room features white clothed covered tables, which gives an air of fanciness, but after just a few minutes seated at your table, you know that Rolando's offers a very casual environment with fast and friendly service. Where Puerto Sagua seemingly caters to the local Hispanic crowd, and accommodates non-Spanish speakers, Rolando's menu is primarily in English with Spanish translations.

A group of three of us ordered the plantain chips and mojo, fried eggplant, and a beef empanada as appetizers for the table. One of the guys commented that it was the best mojo sauce he had ever had. I had never tried it before, and will only say that you had better like garlic! It was some potent stuff. I am not a fan of eggplant, in general, so I shied away - but, to be truthful, it seemed a little out of place. The empanada was good - crunchy exterior with moist, flavorful ground beef. I stuck with my Cuban standard for my entree, arroz con pollo with maduros. The chicken was fall-off-the-bone tender and very moist. The rice was flavorful, but not overpowering. The plantains were wonderful. My buddy had one of their combination plates, which included ropa vieja, another beef dish, and a pork dish (I wish I knew or could remember the names - or find a Rolando's menu online - sadly, I cannot!). His meal came with mofongo (white rice cooked with black beans) and maduros. His wife had a traditional grilled chicken dish, that was also accompanied by mofongo and maduros. We all capped our meal with a coffee drink, that I think was called "cortadito," but I am not sure. It was Cuban espresso with sugar, and some milk (it was not cafe con leche). My buddy's combination meal was the most expensive of the group - and still under $15. My arroz con pollo (white meat version) was under $10.

One of the hidden highlights of the Rolando's meal was the bread. This was not the style of Cuban bread pictured above, but rather a cross between Cuban bread and a dinner roll, all in the shape of a traditional biscuit. The basket that was brought to the table for three of us was polished off in short order by just two of us (fortunately, one didn't much care for the bread).

The proliferation of Cuban restaurants is one more reason to enjoy living in Florida. I was very fortunate to be able to catch two of the very best in all the land (maybe two out of the three best, if you want to throw La Teresita in Tampa in the group). I have a friend who believes strongly in seeking out the most regional foods in his travels. In other words, trying to seek out the best NY-style Kosher deli foods in, say, Charleston, the home of Low Country seafood boils, would be utterly ridiculous. If you are looking to find some of the most regional foods available in Florida, make sure you tackle some great Cuban!

Puerto Sagua
700 Collins Ave.
Miami Beach, FL

Rolando's Cuban Restaurant
870 Semoran Blvd (SR 436)
Casselberry, FL

Edit: Puerto Sagua was featured in the Dining Out: Best of 2006 post.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...


Mr C