Posted Sept. 20, 2012
By MARI CENTENO
MIAMI, Fla. — Many people who visit Miami make their first stop in South Beach; however, most don’t think to visit one of Miami’s most Latin spirited neighborhoods known as La Pequeña Habana (Little Havana).
Located just west of downtown Miami, Little Havana attracts people from all over, whether you are a Miami resident or a tourist most people tend to share a common interest: to get a unique taste of Cuban cuisine and culture.
Miami resident Shayla Garcia frequents Yambo, a Cuban cuisine restaurant located in Little Havana.
“This place has great authentic food for a reasonable price, plus my family and I really enjoy its friendly atmosphere.”
Although predominately a Cuban neighborhood, Little Havana is known to offer its visitors an opportunity to take part in the social, cultural, entertainment and political aspects of a Latin community.
Strolling down Calle Ocho (Calle 8) on an early afternoon allows you to truly experience an authentic Cuban neighborhood.
The most famous part of Little Havana is Calle Ocho (or SW 8th Street). This particular street in Miami is so famous that it even has a yearly festival named after it. The Calle 8 Festival is known to be the center for all Latino heritage focused entertainment. Every year the March festival hosts a variety of artists, food vendors, local businesses and the thousands of people visiting each year.
Calle 8 is the main attraction and it’s where visitors can find a variety of authentic Latin restaurants and shops. As you make your way down Calle 8 make sure to tune in to the home cooked aromas escaping from the restaurants, the sounds of the Latin rhythms from the local shops and of course residents speaking in their native tongue – Spanish.
Little Havana is an exciting destination to visit anytime of the year. With things to see and do just about everyday you can really catch a glimpse of how both residents and tourist interact with each other. On a hot afternoon you can be sure to catch both residents and tourist making their way through Calle 8, each helping to bring Little Havana to it’s vibrant life.
“During the summer we have a lot of Hispanics that come from South America and also Canadians. During peak season which is October to April we have a lot of Europeans and people from all over the world,” said Ashley Diaz, a tour guide who works for Big Bus Tours Miami.
However, people not only come from all over the world, many visitors are closer than you would expect.
“I am Puerto Rican and Cuban and what attracts me to Little Havana is the fact that it is a very humble community. You can find almost anything associated with Cubans and their rich culture,” said Jasmine Lopez, who visits regularly from New York City.
Little Havana’s vibrant energy is what brings people to visit each year. Many people may not have the opportunity to travel abroad and to immerse themselves into a deep and rich cultural life like that of Little Havana, and that itself is an incredible experience.
Still though, Little Havana is not just a tourist destination. The residents and local business all have an incredible story behind them. They are the one’s who help Little Havana transform into the attractive destination it is today.
“For us this is like a little piece of Havana in the states. Even the neighbors have their own story about how they came to the states. There is a lot of stuff that we do here that makes us feel good and comfortable to be in this neighborhood,” said Peter Bello, owner of Little Havana’s official cigar shop, Cuba Tobacco Cigar Co.
“For the cigar industry the best place in Miami is Little Havana. Anyone who smokes cigars they always look for cigars in Little Havana because they want to learn about the Cuban culture and they can find the finest cigars here in Little Havana,” added Bello.
It is very clear to see that Little Havana offers its visitors an opportunity to experience its deep passion and appreciation of the Cuban culture coming from the residents and business owners.
Many of the business owners in Little Havana all have a deep connection with their heritage which is what drives them to operate their businesses right on Calle 8.
“I’m Cuban, so I make Cuban ice cream. I love little Havana. It has the culture and everything that I love and the roots where I came from,” said Susie Batlle, owner of Azucar, an authentic Cuban ice cream shop on Calle 8.
In Azucar, you are able to find delicious flavors such as café con leche (Cuban coffee & oreo), domino (Oreo cookies ‘n’ cream), el mani loco (crazy peanut), noche buena (spiced sugar plum) and platano maduro (sweet plantain), but there are plenty more flavors that are sure to satisfy even the most pickiest eaters.
“Most of my flavors have a Latin flare. I make a mantecado, which is a Cuban vanilla. Everybody loves it around here and actually the guys at Domino Park perfected it with me, Batlle said.
Domino Park, located on the east end of Calle 8, is also known as Maximo Gomez Park it is the hot location for all Domino lovers, and even for the novice player Domino Park is something to definitely see.
The park is filled with abuelitos playing dominoes and talking about whatever seems to be happening in and around their lives. The sound of the dominoes crashing, the chit chatting between men and the energy felt and seen from these men provides visitors with a sneak peak of how Cuban men enjoy their free time among friends.
For those who have an attraction to the arts, Little Havana has plenty of it to offer. Just down the street from Domino Park is Futurama, a place where you can find a variety of paintings and sculptures from various artists who have a strong appreciation for Little Havana.
“Futurama 1637 is an artist retail showcase, but they are also working studios. We have 15 artists here. It’s kind of like an incubator to house these type of artists,” said Bill Fuller, who, with his partner Martin Pinilla, own Futurama 1637.
Both Fuller and Pinilla are vey passionate about Little Havana and Calle 8.
“We think that the greater Cuban brand is so impactful all over the world that people are really just trying to get a slice of it here,” said Fuller.
“At the end of the day you travel for the memories and the experiences,” added Pinilla.
Memories and experience is exactly what you will leave with after spending a day in Little Havana. It is the center for authentic Cuban culture, food and entertainment. Although it may be a little bit of a culture shock when walking through Little Havana, don’t panic, remember enjoy yourself, you are there to experience and enjoy a vibrant, friendly and genuine Cuban atmosphere.
“This Little Havana. There is nothing like it. I’ve never seen anything like it. It doesn’t matter what time it is there’s always people outside eating, drinking and carrying on. It makes it a very diverse type of place and the culture is amazing here,” said Batlle.
IF YOU GO
Although Calle 8 is a predominately Spanish-speaking neighborhood, most locations have someone who speaks English.
The park offers things do both day and night.
Make sure to check out Viernes Culturales / Cultural Fridays, Little Havana’s free monthly arts and culture festival.
801 SW 15th Ave., Miami, Fla. 33135, 305-859-2717.
Azucar Ice Cream Company
1503 SW 8th Street, Miami, Fla. 33155, 305-381-0369.
Mondays-Wednesdays, Sundays 12-9 p.m., Thursdays to Saturdays 12-11 p.m.
1637 SW 8th St., Miami, Fla. 33135, 305-407-1677.
Mondays-Fridays 10 a.m.-7 p.m., Saturdays and Sundays by appointment.
Cuba Tobacco Cigar Co.
1528 SW 8th St., Miami, Fla. 33135, 305-649-2717.
Mondays-Sundays 10 a.m.-6 p.m.
1643 SW 1st St., Miami, Fla., 33135, 305-649-0203.