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Hispanic neighborhood, universal smiles

Norma Castillo plays dominoes with her husband and friends despite her blindness. The rivets in the dominoes allow her to feel each one, and her friends and husband tell her whats going on, on the board. The Maximo Gomez Park in Little Havana is almost always filled with retirees and friends playing dominoes and chess, and is open daily from 8a.m.-8 p.m. Rachel Steinhauser // The Miami Hurricane

Little Havana: A densely packed, Hispanic neighborhood where Cuban nostalgia infiltrates the streets filled with historical murals.

Locals sip on a “cafesito” and old men play dominoes, reminiscing about the good ol’ days. The aromas of mouth-watering Latin dishes spread from frying pans to the streets, and the smell of tobacco lingers around bus benches and cigar factories.

Southwest 8th street, or Calle Ocho, is the cultural hub of Little Havana. The last Friday of each month, Viernes Culturales takes place, a cultural arts fair that celebrates Miami’s Latin community. It can be found between 14th and 17th street. During “cultural Fridays,” art galleries are open to the public, and visitors can enjoy outdoor music, cuisine tasting, walking tours and international films at the Historic Tower Theater.

The street is lined with some of the most delicious restaurants in Miami. Indulge yourself in a plate of ropa vieja and a sweetened colada (Cuban coffee sans the milk) at Versailles, La Carreta, El Pub and the trendy I Love Calle Ocho café. Try a frita from El Rey de las Fritas. These chorizo-infused patties are so juicy and delicious it’s no wonder The Food Network and Bobby Flay named them the best hamburgers in Florida.

Cuban cuisine not your thing? Get your taco fix at Taquerias el Mexicano, where a mural of La Virgen de Guadalupe welcomes you inside. Let your imagination run wild as flamenco dancers stomp to the rhythms of guitar strings and munch on Spanish tapas at Casa Panza. Treat yourself to a Coco Frio straight out of a coconut shell at Panarenos Fruteria or have a fruit smoothie and a sandwich with some friends at La Baguette, which is open 24/7.

For the perfect date, try the quaint Mr. Yum, which offers creatively mixed sushi rolls with ingredients such as green apple, cilantro and fried plantains. For the freshest catch of the day, check out the family-owned La Camaranera Garcia Brothers Seafood Inc. on 19th avenue and Flagler Street.

Once your belly is full, pick up some Cuban-themed coffee cups, domino sets and even Fidel Castro toilet paper at Little Havana To Go or Sentir Cubano.

Almost every block of Calle Ocho contains a cigar shop, such as Art District Cigars, where successful men sit around discussing business between puffs of smoke.

Little Havana also has a bustling nightlife scene. Sip on a Cuba Libre (rum and coke) and dance to live Latin music at Hoy Como Ayer, Kimbaracumbara or La Casa de Tula, which was rated by Miami New Times’ as the best Latin club of 2010. Not ready to show off your epic moves on the dance floor? Take a class at DAF Studio, which offers salsa, tango, Afro-Cuban dance and Zumba taught by Beto, the man who started the rhythmic phenomenon.

What puts this area on the map, however, is the Calle Ocho festival, Miami’s biggest block-party. It takes 22 blocks to fit all the famous Latin performers, delicious ethnic food and millions of people that travel around the world to celebrate their native Hispanic culture every March.

Without Little Havana, Miami wouldn’t have its vibrant, rhythmic heartbeat.

INFO BOX

The 411 on Little Havana:

Rough Borders: SW 22 Ave. (West), SW 11 St. (South), I-95 (East), Miami River (North)

Events to watch out for: Viernes Culturales (monthly), Calle Ocho Festival (March)

Main Attractions: Tower Theater, Versailles, Future Marlin’s Stadium, Domino Park

Population: 90 percent Hispanic

Fast fact: Named for the great number of Cuban immigrants that migrated here in the ‘50s and ‘60s.

June 17, 2011

Reporters

Ashley Brozic


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