There once was a restaurant in South Miami called Casa Lario’s. It was tucked away a block off the walkable main stretch of Sunset Drive, across US1, that is the epicenter of South Miami dining and entertainment. Casa Lario’s was my favorite Cuban restaurant and then, one morning around six or seven years ago, it was gone without warning. The faithful arrived for their morning café and croqueta that morning and had to leave heartbroken and confused. It was a lively place with a band playing on Friday nights, the ventanita was always busy, and the food was abuela approved. I felt this one more than any restaurant closing in memory because I’m not sure I had a favorite Cuban restaurant before Lario’s. Whether it be a collection of good memories or just tasty food served with a warm familial Cuban charm, I missed the place.
With the same surprise as its disappearance, a new Cuban restaurant appeared at the same location not too many years ago: CasaCuba.
I haven’t dined in or ordered a meal beyond a sandwich there but I’ve heard through the Miami ventanita chisme (gossip) channels that it’s very similar, if not the same, as Casa Lario’s. I’ll be the judge of that soon enough but I have had their Cuban cafecitos (perfect every time I’ve had one) and ventanita snacks several times over the last year or two, including the fabled Cuban fried cylinder of love I’ve dedicated this space to, their croqueta.
The CasaCuba croqueta is a crispy one. You can probably hear the crunch from the parking lot. Speaking to the quality of its execution, it’s not going to choke you despite featuring a coarser crumb. I wish I knew what was used to bread these things. I’ve always suspected it’s a blend of the familiar Gilda cracker meal, that is ubiquitous in Cuban households, and stale Cuban bread, but I don’t know for sure. Maybe I should ask someone. CasaCuba’s might be more on the bread-y side but, whatever it is, this one is crunchy and it feels good.
The crust is also fried to a pleasing golden hue and gives you a memorable textural experience while melting away into the hammy filling.
And this one is ham-forward. It doesn’t have as much going on flavor-wise as others. I don’t see any herbs or detect much beyond the well-seasoned ham but it doesn’t need more than that. The filling is light and not as dense as you think it is at first peak. It contrasts well with its crunchy crust and delivers a satisfying, but not overpowering, ham flavor that pairs nicely with a sweet Cuban coffee.
This is what defines the CasaCuba croqueta to me. It’s a quality croqueta on its own but it’s a perfect compliment to their excellent cafécito or café con leche. Their pastries are also pretty good.
I’m not sure if CasaCuba is just Casa Lario’s under a different name, or just a really good tribute to a place I know was well loved in the neighborhood. I’m just happy it’s there and serving up new memories with the same familial feeling and quality.
This is the only ventanita in South Miami you’ll find me but do you have any other favorites in the neighborhood I should check out?