700 Collins Avenue
Miami Beach, Florida
April 5, 2010
Now I know many Miami-ites will argue that you can't get good Cuban in South Beach. For that you need to venture to Little Havana, and believe me I would have loved to make the trip and judged for myself. But the fact of the matter was that our trip time was short and we chose not to rent a car. Therefore, we had to localize our eating adventures to places quickly accessible from our hotel, which centered us around South Beach food. We had also heard that if you want traditional Cuban in South Beach, Puerto Sagua was the place to go.
Puerto Sagua ended up being one of these lovely mom and pop restaurants that have so much character because haven't changed there decor since they opened and they know there popularity isn't based on a restaurant "concept" as we call it now, but is simply based on comfort and good food. I'm also fairly sure some patriarch in the family (likely the guy who nodded us to our seats) also has the mantra "if it aint' broke don't fix it". This place is definitely not one of the uber-trendy, see and be seen restaurants that generally gets featured when writing about South Beach. In fact, it's just the opposite. As you walk up to the restaurant it looks a little dingy on the outside and the lower wall is covered in these "colorful" tiles reminiscent of the 1960's. If I hadn't done my research, I'm pretty sure I would have missed this great experience.
Now that I reflect back, I think this language piece was one of my favorite things about Miami. Throughout our stay I definitely heard more Spanish than English, which gave a feel of being in another country and often in another culture without the international vacation price tag!
Anyway, back to Puerto Sagua. As we entered we saw the place was packed and wondered if we'd get a spot anytime soon. As we were looking around the man behind the corner (who looked like he was likely in charge of the place) gave us a curt nod towards two spots at the counter. His mannerisms reminded us very much of the Soup Nazi from Seinfeld. Because of this we quickly and obediently sat down and took a no nonsense approach to looking over the menu.
Because of our counter seats we got a good view of how the kitchen worked around us. The sandwich press was right in front of us and it seemed to have a non-stop 1-2 Cuban sandwiches crisping up in it. I would love to know how much Cuban bread they go through in a day. They keep long loves of the bread in a trash can beside the press and just pull it out as they need it. It was funny to see this because, at first glance, we thought they were taking bread out of the trash for the sandwich! But just in the short time it took us to order and eat our dinner the bread can needed to be refilled. I would have taken a picture of this process, but I was slightly afraid (likely an unfounded fear, but a fear nonetheless) that the man behind the counter might take my camera. :)
Another lady came around to serve us and she seemed to speak more English and was a bit more hospitable. She likely had spent many years at Puerto Sagua and was no stranger to the non-Spanish speaking tourist. For once, Erik and I ordered the same thing. We shared a tamale and both went with the roasted half chicken, rice and beans, and sweet fried plantains.
Honestly, I could have done without the tamale. It was okay, but nothing spectacular. It was a little dry in the center and the flavors a little bland for my taste. It did look pretty good though. But in this case, unfortunately, looks were deceiving.
Bill Total: Again, so sorry. We paid cash and I can't find the receipt. I definitely need to get better organized for this blog! For South Beach, the prices were very reasonable. I'm thinking it was around $10 for the chicken, but that's only a guess.
Overall Rating: 3 1/2 buckeyes