Bella Cuba offers traditional and updated Cuban fare

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The Place: Bella Cuba, an institution neighboring Lincoln Road Mall for 11 years, was recently renovated — with a new ceiling and wood panels installed. The walls remain white with paintings of Cuban musicians, fruit (look for the papaya raft with paper sails) and nostalgic black-and-white photos of street scenes with old cars. There is a five-seat bar at which you can get a flaky guava and cream cheese pastelito plus beer, wine, sangria, mojitos and margaritas. There is a counter at the front window and tables on the sidewalk.
The History: Owners Juan Carlos Jimenez and wife Larisa met when the Soviet Union had a student exchange program with Cuba and he went to the Ukraine to study engineering. They married and went to Cienfuegos in southern Cuba. When their youngest son was almost 5 they went on a trip to visit Larisa’s family in Uzbekistan (she is Ubeki and Russian) had a stopover in Shannon, Ireland, and loved the lush greenness and decided to stay. They opened Bella Cuba, the first Cuban restaurant in Dublin, and won the president’s Best Ethnic Entrepreneur award in 2010. Son Omar met President Mary McAleese at the presidential palace and brought her bread pudding she had loved at the restaurant. Omar and older brother Alex ran the Dublin cafe when their parents went to Miami to open the Bella in Miami Beach. Omar studied hospitality management at the Dublin Institute of Technology and considers himself Irish-Cuban-Russian. He came to Miami Beach in 2014 to help his parents and is now in charge. Chef Alex Hernandez is Cuban-Venezuelan, and chef Ariel Lopez is Guatemalan.
The Food: Find home-style cooking here with some fusion fare like Cuban eggrolls stuffed with pulled pork and black beans, Cuban sliders with picadillo and chorizo, Caribbean salad with greens, red onion and avocado and guava vinaigrette, mixed vegetable rice with saffron, and breaded and fried calamari rings and coconut shrimp with mango salsa. Traditional dishes include ropa vieja (shredded braised beef) cooked with tomatoes and red wine; slow roasted pork served with yuca in mojo, tostones and black beans and rice; slow cooked oxtail stew so tender it falls off the bone; and chicken stew with potatoes, olives and peppers. As a nod to Ireland there’s also fish and chips made with beer battered grouper, good with a Miami- brewed Hatuey beer. There’s also seafood paella, sandwiches including a Cuban and corn husk wrapped tamales with pork sofrito. Finish your culinary trip to Cuba with coconut flan or a cigar rolled in Calle Ocho.
You Didn’t Know This: Portuguese Jewish refugees fleeing persecution brought battered and fried fish to London in the mid-16th century at the same time Belgian housewives began exporting fried potatoes to London and fish and chips were born, sold from “chippies” splashed with malt vinegar and wrapped in newspaper that became an affordable meal to fuel factory and mill workers during the industrial revolution. Fish and chips soon spread to the rest of the U.K. and is the national dish.
Linda Bladholm blogs at lindasfoodadventures.com at simplesite.com on what she cooks, where she eats and who she meets along the way.

If You Go
The Place: Bella Cuba
Address: 1659 Washington Avenue, Miami Beach
Contact: 305-672-7466
Hours: 10 a.m.-11 p.m. Sunday-Wednesday, 11 a.m.-midnight Thursday-Saturday
Prices: Soups $4.70-$10.70, appetizers $6.90-$10.70, sandwiches $11, entrees $16.50-$26.90
FYI: The restaurant is across the street from Soundscape Park and near the Fillmore and makes a great pre or post concert dining destination.

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