1. Mango: King of Fruits
Miami's subtropical climate is ideal for growing and harvesting exotic tropical fruits from all over the world. Some of these, like the mango (originally from India), have been here so long natives now call them Florida mangoes. And of the 2,000+ varieties available throughout the world, about one-quarter of these are genuinely Floridian, having been developed in South Florida's tri-county community. Among them, the Haden is probably most famous, but any backyard tree-grower will tell you that his or hers is "the best."
Mangos are the jewels of Miami — Photo courtesy of Jen Karetnick
The truth is, it's hard to go wrong with any Miami mango. You can find local mangoes at markets such as Robert Is Here--Robert Moehling prefers Kent and Keitt fruit--as well as taste a huge variety during the International Mango Festival at Fairchild Botanic Tropical Garden every July.
"Backyard" mango trees can grow to be quite large, with canopies (and fruit!) reaching over neighbors' yards — Photo courtesy of Jen Karetnick
2. Avocado: Queen of Fruits
Like mangoes (and papayas and lychee and other fruits), avocados are seasonal. But the season for Florida-born avos, which have as many as 60 varieties, lasts from August to May. You can buy actual avocado trees for your own backyard (as long as your climate is conducive) at places like the Tropical Fruit Nursery, which offers a good tutorial on the varieties.
Also known as "pear alligators," Florida avocado varieties number almost 60 — Photo courtesy of Jen Karetnick
3. Stone Crabs: Definitely Not Chicken of the Sea
Stone crabs also are only truly tasty when in season (some restaurants freeze them, but they get watery) from October 15 to May 15. As the infamous Joe's Stone Crab, an official 100 years old in 2012, proves, folks will line up for these delicacies, which are most luscious when steamed fresh, cracked and dipped into creamy mustard sauce.
Florida is famous for stone crabs, like these from George Stone Crab, a home delivery service — Photo courtesy of George Stone Crab
For out-of-staters and vacationers, George Stone Crab, a home delivery service with a kiosk at Miami International Airport, allows passengers to take home edible souvenirs.
4. You Say Raw Fish, I say Ceviche
Sibling business to George Stone Crab, My Ceviche, a quick-eats joint with James Beard-nominated chef Sam Gorenstein at the helm, supplies Miamians with another favorite foodstuff: ceviche, hunks of that morning's freshly caught fish or shellfish quick-marinated in citrus juices, peppers, onions and other flavors. It's a terrific meal or snack especially in the summer, when the body craves something cool and hot at the same time. If you can't get enough of it, buy local chef-owner of De Rodriguez Cuba on Ocean--and fellow JB nominee and award-winner--Douglas Rodriguez's The Great Ceviche Book and learn how to make it at home.
Chef-owner Douglas Rodriguez of De Rodriguez Cuba on Ocean penned this all-knowing tome on how to make ceviche — Photo courtesy of Jen Karetnick
5. Pucker Up for Key Lime Pie
Key limes are another Florida-specific treat. These tiny, yellowish-green citrus fruit contain a plethora of seeds and are a bit more bitter than the standard lime. They're said to be named for the Keys (small islands) of Florida where they grow well, though others argue that because these limes thrive all over the subtropics (Caribbean, Philippines, Mexico) that's not true. At any rate, the juicy tartness these limes impart results in the sweet-tart, custard-y key lime pie with a buttery, graham cracker crust.
A whole key lime pie — Photo courtesy of Kimberly Vardeman
Joe's Stone Crab serves a traditional, always-delish version, and the Ice Box Cafe, lauded by Oprah for its baked goods, makes a deep-dish version that could substitute for a meal.
6. Mo' Mo' Mojitos
If you're interested in sampling Cuban specialties, start with a mojito, perhaps Miami's most well-known cocktail. This drink combines muddled fresh mint with lime and sugar.
The mojito is a cocktail featuring fresh mint, lime, sugar and rum — Photo courtesy of Jeffrey Turner
The mixture is then shaken with white rum, most often the brand from Miami's reigning rum family, Bacardi, and then topped with a spritz of club soda. You can order a classic mojito just about anywhere, and specialty mojitos--flavored with different kinds of rum or tropical fruits--at the trendier bars and restaurants.
7. Black Beans and Rice: No Cuban Meal is Complete Without 'Em
Follow a mojito with a bowl of black bean soup or black beans served over white rice, called moros y christianos (the black represents the Moors, the white the Christians), which originated during the Moorish occupation of the Spanish peninsula.
Black beans, whether served as soup or as a side dish, is best complemented by white rice — Photo courtesy of Infrogmation of New Orleans
Many Spanish-settled Caribbean nations have their own version of beans and rice, but Miamians are loyal to the savory Cuban kind, which makes a terrific side dish for any kind of grilled steak, also called churrasco.
8. Beef Up with Churrasco
Originally known as an Argentine specialty, this dish frequently utilizes glank or skirt steak that's then marinated in a combination of cooked oil, garlic and citrus known as mojo.
Churrasco, cooked on a grill — Photo courtesy of Afrank99
Any self-respecting Cuban restaurant serves black beans and churrasco, but steak fans are partial to Little Havana in North Miami; Havana Harry's in Coral Gables; and Churrasco's, both in Doral. More traveler-friendly locations are the Gloria and Emilio Estefan-owned Bongo's, located downtown next to the American Airlines Arena, and its sister restaurant, Casa Larios, on Ocean Drive in South Beach.
9. Cuban Sandwich: The Best Invention Since Sliced--well, grilled--Bread
Cuban sandwiches are considered snacks by some, lunch by others.
The Cuban sandwich is a classic no matter where you order it — Photo courtesy of Fæ
We just consider these pressed sandwiches comprising ham, sliced pork, Swiss cheese, pickles and mustard yummy. Cuban sandwiches are commonly found in cafeterias and cafes all over the city, in typical hole-in-the-wall, counter-only locations, but for comfort as well as flavor, try one at Versailles.
10. Cage Cubano Gives You a JOLT
Likewise, cafe Cubano--espresso that's pre-sweetened--is expertly made at Versailles. Cuban coffee drinks, like Italian ones, have their specific names. If you like a latte, you'll love a cortadito or cafe con leche (sweetened coffee with steamed milk); if you prefer espresso, order a cafecito or, if you want to share the buzz, a colada, which is a large plastic cup of creamy-topped coffee that comes with shot-size cups for pouring out the liquid.
Cuban coffee, or cafe Cubano, is pre-sweetened espresso that packs such a punch most residents only drink a shot — Photo courtesy of Magnoid
If you've never had Cuban coffee, head straight to Puerto Sagua or David's Cafe, both on Collins Avenue in South Beach. Start with a cafe con leche, and never drink a colada by yourself--unless you need to be energized for three days straight.