If you’ve driven by the sunny yellow building with the cardboard boxes of fruit and glassless windows, you’ve probably mistaken Los Pinarenos as just another walk-up coffee counter in Little Havana. Your mistake.
Behind the rough-hewed wood counter, Guillermina Hernandez keeps some of Miami’s best Cuban tamales steaming in a slow cooker. For only $2, she’ll pull out one of the corn-husked treasures, snip the strings that bind it and top the hot dish with a generous spoonful of cool, fresh salsa made daily from chopped cilantro, garlic, tomatoes, jalapeño pepper and red onions.
Unlike Mexican tamales with their meat filling, the Cuban version has flecks of pork mixed in with the masa, or corn dough. The result is a mild, slightly sweet hunk of cooked meal, with a salty tang from the pork and a kick of spice from the salsa topping. You can perch on a stool at the counter among the dusty honey jars, the I Love Lucy clock and Elvis photos, or you can get it to go in a hot dog-shaped Styrofoam container.
Wash it down with a batido, or smoothie, made from mamey, mango, sapodilla or other seasonal fruit.
No menus, no credit cards. That’s how it’s been done since 1965, when Guillermina and her husband Angel first opened their fruit market on Calle Ocho. Son Angel Jr. supervises the overflowing boxes of papayas, mangos, star fruit, bananas and coconuts, the stalks of sugar cane and the buckets of flowers at the other end of the store.
Don’t forget to end it with a cafecito. After all, this is a walk-up coffee counter.