Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Our First Cuban Bite of Miami

Puerto Sagua
700 Collins Avenue
Miami Beach, Florida
April 5, 2010
7ish pm

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. 
From my research, I found  out that this place has been open since 1968 and was one of the first Cuban restaurants to open in the Miami area.  Currently, this place is popular with locals and tourists alike and is generally pretty busy when entering.  It would best be described as a Cuban diner.  Locals tend to sit at the counter and talk over a great cup of Cuban coffee, while tourists tend to come in groups and gravitate more towards the tables.  Spanish is the first language spoken, but there is always enough English to get an order in or get your point across. 

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. 
However, the chicken dish was very good.  Now I must say that this chicken is not unique in any way; but it is your classic moist, fall of the bone, roast chicken that is surprisingly hard to find done well.  And oh was this one done well!  The rice and beans were also flavorful and perfectly spiced with garlic and other traditional Cuban ingredients.  The plantains were buttery sweet with a wonderful caramelized coating. 
Overall, I loved the familiar diner feel of the place, but at the same time feeling a bit like I was in another country.  The food was heartily good. 

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

Puerto Sagua on Urbanspoon


Miami Culinary Tours said...

Although Puerto Sagua is an excellent selection, next time you visit Miami and you cannot venture out to Little Havana (which I actually highly recommended it, you can take the hop on hop off bus), but in South Beach try David's Cafe which is just a few blocks from Puerto Sagua. They serve excellent traditional Cuban cuisine.

Annabelle said...

Hi Miami Culinary Tours. We would have loved to see Little Havana, unfortunately we had limited time and with it being our first trip to Miami we just decided to stick to South Beach. Another time, for sure and maybe we'll take a tour :) We did make it to David's and I posted about it a few posts later. I fell in love with the sandwich maker and his love for his apparent love for his life!