Bella Cuba is a traditional Cuban restaurant at 1659 Washington Avenue, in South Beach. It is just north of Lincoln Road, and, in fact, the building in which it is located is actually on Lincoln Road. It just happens to be on the Washington Avenue side. Being off Lincoln Road, and on the block that is not part of the pedestrian mall may not give the eatery the exposure it deserves. This is an excellent restaurant flying a bit under the radar.
We were immediately welcomed, and, as we dined early and only a few tables were occupied, offered our choice of tables. We selected a table by the window with a great view of Symphony Park. We were quickly given our menus, mini-rolls of Cuban bread, and our sparkling water. Servers are young and enthusiastic, smartly dressed in black pants, yellow guayaberas , and rakish fedoras. We each ordered a mojito, offered in two sizes, small ($9.00) or regular ($15.00). Full of fresh mint and lime, expertly made and remarkably strong, they were delicious. But beware: they are huge. Small is actually large, and regular is gigantic. (No complaints here though).
We started with the seafood island soup, a large bowl of intensely flavored broth filled with fish, and shell fish. It arrived piping hot, and we were perfectly happy to linger over the bowl inhaling the steamy, fresh fish aroma as it cooled. It was superb. We also had the sofrito steamed mussels, a good quantity of plump shellfish in a similarly aromatic broth of white wine and sofrito.
For entrees we had the Cuban style churrasco, a generous portion of perfectly cooked flank steak with a lovely coarsely chopped chimichurri, served with yucca and morro rice. We wanted to see how the kitchen handled fish, so we ordered the yellow tail snapper. It was a large block of fish, fresh, delicious and beautifully pan fried with a crisp exterior and a moist, tender interior. It was served atop delicious mashed potatoes, and had a lovely light coconut sauce, adding a touch of tropical sweetness, but never too sweet.
The original Bella Cuba opened in Dublin in 1999, and is said to be the only Cuban restaurant in Ireland. The Miami Beach location opened in 2005. It is It is fairly small, seating 65 diners, mostly at well spaced tables of 2 or 4, with a few similar settings outside on the sidewalk. Outdoor tables, and a few inside tables at the window (like ours) get a great view of the New World Symphony Park, directly across the street, and the Symphony building itself just beyond. The building wall facing Bella Cuba is a giant projector screen as well, showing live feeds of the symphony when they are playing, and frequent movie nights. The night we were there, they were showing an interesting power point show of the buildings construction. (This would be the ideal place to drink or dine before or after one of the popular presentations).
The room is pretty straightforward, high ceilinged, with a tile floor, and wood blinds. Table tops are seathemed, with small shells, fishing net and sea glass embedded in acrylic, and comfortable rattan chairs. Black and White photos of old Havana, and large oil paintings of the Cuban countryside adorn the walls. Evocative traditional Cuban music plays, and the overall feeling is of a modest, inviting beach side dining spot in 1950’s Havana.
The menu is large, but not so large as to be confusing or distracting, and not one of those that tries to offer multiple cuisines and spreads the ability of the kitchen too thin. It also sticks pretty closely to typical and traditional Cuban fare.
To start there are four soups like the expected black bean soup ($4.90), a less familiar malanga cream ($5.95), and a seafood island soup with fish and seafood ($10.95). Optional starters could be one of the ten appetizers ($4.95 – $9.95). (A gourmet appetizer selection, meant for sharing, is $17.50). Options include a pork tamal ($5.95), Beef pastelitos ($6.95), chicken and ham croquetas ($6.95), ceviche ($9.95), and sofrito steamed mussels ($9.95).
Five salads are offered ($6.50 – $12.95), including grilled chicken salad with guava dressing ($9.95), churrasco steak salad with chimichurry dressing ($11.95), and warm prawn, mango and garden salad, with pan-fried tiger shrimp ($12.95).
Three 3-egg omelettes are available from 11:00 AM until 6:00 PM ($8.95 – $9.95), such as tortilla Cienfueguera, with chorizo, tomatoes, coriander and pequillo peppers. Sandwiches offer five types ($8.95 – $9.95), all served with salad and fries, including the expected Cuban sandwhich, media noche, and pan con lechon (pork ).
Twelve meat entrees are available ($12.95 – $28.00), with all of the expected favorites, including palomilla steak ($13.95), ropa vieja ($14.50), roast mojo pork ($14.95), churrasco ($18.95), and Caribbean rack of lamb with a orange, mustard and rum glaze ($26.95). Four rice dishes are offered, ($14.95 – $26.95) including two vegetarian selections. Among the rice dishes are drunk chicken rice with a beer finish ($14.95), stuffed red peppers with goat cheese in a tamarindo sauce ($17.95) and seafood rice ($26.95) with mussels, prawns, fish and a half lobster tail in saffron sauce.
Fish and seafood dishes range from a simple fish and chips ($15.95), a nod to the restaurant’s Irish roots, to seafood enchilada ($26.95) in a sofrito and tomato sauce. Other selections include Florida yellowtail snapper in a coconut sauce ($18.95), and tiger shrimp with piquillo peppers and rum ($19.95). Traditional Cuban sides ($3.95) include mariquitas (plaintain chips), tostones (fried green plaintains), yucca, either boiled or fried, and, of course, black beans. Deserts ($5.95), include flan, either coconut or caramel, bread pudding, tres leches and bunuelos.
The wine list offers a reasonable selection, well paired with the food, including 8 wines by the glass. Bottled beer ($4.00 – $5.50) including the Cuban style Hatuey. Liquor is also served, including a house recommendation, the classic Cuban mojito.
Bella Cuba is a bright and lively dining choice for authentic Cuban cuisine, well prepared and nicely presented. It is a great choice for visitors and locals alike, but especially for guests who want to experience authentic Cuban food while in Miami. Its proximity to the Symphony, the Convention Center and Lincoln Road is also a big plus. Portions are large, prices are fair, and the location is convenient, yet a bit tucked away. It does not disappoint, and can be well recommended.
Review done by Henry Ruiz from Albion South Beach Hotel