Miami is home to some of the best Latin American restaurants in the country, featuring everything from Peruvian cuisine to gourmet Mexican fare, from milanesa to mofongo.
You’ll find a Cuban cafeteria in every single neighborhood in the county, and coming up not far behind are the casual Nicaraguan eateries commonly known as fritangas, which feature a number of Nicaraguan staple foods at a low cost.
Patrons dine as though seated in an outdoor Spanish colonial courtyard — Photo courtesy of El Novillo
However, if you’re looking for more than just a quick bite and want the full Nicaraguan restaurant experience, El Novillo is the place you’ll want to visit.
Unassumingly located inside a busy shopping plaza on the popular Bird Road, El Novillo is a diamond in the rough, combining excellent service, striking décor and quality Nicaraguan meals.
Walk through the heavy, wooden doors and your host will lead you into what feels like a Spanish colonial courtyard, much like those found in Granada and other parts of the Central American country.
You’ll take your seat among colorful murals, perhaps under an archway or beside the bubbling fountain in the center of the restaurant, providing for an ambiance unlike any other restaurant in town.
From there, you’ll enjoy fresh-from-the-oven complimentary garlic bread and some time to peruse the menu. Whether it’s your first or fiftieth time here, appetizers are a must.
Indulge with some queso frito (Nicaraguan-style fried cheese which, trust us, is nothing like fried mozzarella but just as addictive). Or for something truly authentic, try the vigoron, a typical Nicaraguan dish of pork cracklings and boiled yucca served with a crisp, vinegary cabbage slaw.
El Novillo is well-known for its churrasco steak, a Nicaraguan specialty cut from lean tenderloin and served with chimichurri sauce (a savory and delectable mix of parsley, garlic, olive oil and spices that complement the steak perfectly).
A few variations on the churrasco can be ordered, including the El Novillo Churrasco (their classic 12 oz. steak), a chicken churrasco and even a grilled portobello mushroom churrasco perfect for vegetarians.
Other popular dishes from the grill include carne asada (charbroiled skirt steak), achiote pork tenderloin, the chef’s special Nicaraguan fajitas (in either chicken or tenderloin with sautéed vegetables) or Taconazo “El Novillo” – a charbroiled cut of tenderloin made to resemble a high-heel that comes marinated in a buttery mushroom sauce.
It would be a disservice to yourself to leave El Novillo without dessert — Photo courtesy of El Novillo
Once your meal arrives, your server will bring over large dishes filled with delicious sides. You’ll choose from gallo pinto (traditional Nica-style rice and beans) or white rice, and either maduros (melt-in-your-mouth sweet plantains) or tajadas (long-sliced plantain chips that are perfect with cheese and slaw).
Your table also gets access to a tray of various salsas and toppings to mix and match in your meals, including tart pickled onions, a sweet and tangy tomato and onion sauce, and their supreme chimichurri sauce.
The best deals happen during their executive lunch, but go for Friday Happy Hour at 5 pm and fill up on their free appetizer buffet and drink specials, plus live music to boot. Rotating live entertainment also happens on weekends at 7:30 pm, making it an excellent off-the-beaten-path choice for date nights.
Oh, and don’t forget to finish off with dessert and an El Novillo Rum, the Nicaraguan version of an Irish coffee – espresso and Flor de Cana rum (the national liquor), topped with whipped cream and cinnamon. Delightful with just a hint of debauchery.
For those of you wanting to experience a different side of Miami’s gastronomy, away from over-priced South Beach parking nightmares and pretentious Brickell crowds – on a side of town few tourists ever make it to – there’s always El Novillo.