The litter, laundromats and dollar stores are still there, but the first five blocks of Calle Ocho are developing a culinary kick as bankers, young residents and late-night partiers branch out from Brickell. These three restaurants offer an affordable evening in East Little Havana.
- Truly a diamond in the rough, family-owned Las Tapas de Rosa is hidden in a dingy strip mall — a good thing because the parking lot frees you from searching for a meter. Step inside to buttery walls, brick-red tablecloths and wooden shelves lined with olives, artichoke hearts, honey, even espadrilles imported from Spain. Home-cooked meals, Madrid-style, emerge from the kitchen of Rosa Rodriguez, who opened her cozy restaurant five years ago with her husband, Alberto Garcia, after he retired as Miami bureau chief of the Spanish news agency EFE. Daughter Gloria Garcia handles the floor, offering friendly, bilingual advice. Nibble on complimentary marinated olives and crusty white bread while you peruse the display cooler of sausages, cheese and prepared foods. There are Spanish standards such as chorizo-peppered tortilla and daily specials of seafood paella (Tuesdays) and oxtail (Fridays). The real treat here is the small dishes that come out sizzling: fried chickpeas with Spanish sausage, cured ham and vegetables, octopus with hot paprika and olive oil, shrimp with garlic, fried potatoes in a spicy brava sauce, garlic mushrooms and fried calamari. Leave room for the torrija casera dessert, a thick slice of baguette soaked French toast-style in egg, milk and cinnamon, then fried and drizzled with sugar, lemon and brandy. If this doesn’t make you sweet on Eighth Street, nothing will.
- When dining at La Moon, be prepared to walk. And walk. There are only a handful of street meters outside this popular Colombian eatery. But you’ll need the exercise to reverse the damage you’re about to do. La Moon specializes in greasy, jawbreaker hamburgers and Colombian hot dogs topped with four sauces, cheese, fried potato sticks and pineapple jam. Did we mention the dogs are insanely delicious? The classic perro Colombian is about as long as your forearm and so sloppy it requires at least four napkins. Sauces are the secret here. Even a side of fried yuca sticks comes with an amazing cilantro dressing. The dogs are a cheap meal, as are appetizers like the salchipapas (fried hot dogs in a sea of fries with pink sauce). There are also salads, two pasta dishes and a slew of meat and seafood entrees. Clean and simple, with tables inside and out, this is a favorite of late-night stumblers because it stays open until 6 a.m. four nights a week. Rock en español is pumped throughout. Earlier in the evening, you’ll find families.
- Blade Runner meets Lady Gaga’s boudoir at black-ceiling Sushi Sake. A black granite and red bamboo bar backed by flashing red and green LCD lights sets the stage. Dollar sake drinks are offered on Wednesdays, karaoke on Thursdays. Oh yeah, there’s sushi, too. Rolls are dressed to impress like the Black Jack (tuna, eel, avocado, asparagus and masago) and the Marlins (seared scallops, asparagus and crab salad topped with avocado and eel sauce). Our favorite: The Angel, with shrimp tempura, crab salad, masago and cream cheese topped with avocado, spicy mayo, eel sauce and crunchy panko crumbs. A tall glass of hot pink cotton candy comes complimentary with the check. The Eighth Street location opened its doors in mid-May in a strip mall better known for fast food. It still has service issues — we waited 45 minutes for our meal. But with its late-night hours, affordable dishes, bar drinks, and glitter-and-glitz decor, Sushi Sake will fit right into the Brickell scene.