By Nikki Novo
When your Cuban girlfriend’s parents bought a pig, you thought it was peculiar, but figured you’ve seen worse. A month and 20 pounds later, you and your buddy Babe learn what a La Caja China was. You may not get her culture, but you do love the way her hips move to salsa. Throw away that copy of Cubans for Dummies and show her you appreciate her roots (and the body it gave her) by heading to Miami’s most festive street, Calle Ocho.
Start your stroll between 14th and 17th Avenues, where you’ll find over a dozen galleries featuring renowned Cuban artists and works that represent their beloved country. Not to be missed are the Afro-Cuban collection by Molina at Molina Fine Art, the picturesque views by Marta Ismail and Mariano Rodriguez’s legendary rooster paintings at Maxoly Cuban Fine Art.
Moline Fine Art, 1634 SW 8 St; 305-642-0444. Marta Ismali Fine Art Gallery, 1516 SW 8 St; 305-642-8922. Maxoly Cuban Fine Art, 1600 SW 8 St; 305-631-0025
The smell of croquettes pouring out onto the street is making you delirious with hunger, so follow your nose to El Exquisito Restaurant. Reminiscent of the typical Cuban cafeteria, the 30-year-old neighborhood veteran has perfected all the classics, especially the local favorite masita de puerco (fried pork chop). Find everything from fried king fish and horse beef stew to plantain omelets and steak sandwiches (everything sounds so much better in Spanish). But always remember to tell mom-in-law her cooking is still the best you’ve ever had.
El Exquisito Restaurant, 1510 SW 8 St; 305-643-0227
Every Cuban man knows that after sipping cafecito the next step is a flavorful cigar. No need to smuggle them past customs, just down the block is a family tradition that made its way overseas — the Cuba Tobacco Cigar Company. Walk inside the expectedly smoky storefront and experience first hand the rich tradition of cigar rolling by a classically trained native of Cuba. Complete with dark wood cigar-rolling desks, plush brown leather seating and older gentlemen talking politics, this is as close as you’ll come to an authentic Cuban cigar experience in the States.
Cuba Tobacco Cigar Company, 1328 SW 8 St; 305-649-2717
She sat through the entire cigar rolling demonstration, now you owe her a dance. "It’s all in the hips," she says as you follow her to Hoy Como Ayer. The diminutive club boasts a reputation for featuring the best Latin live acts around as well as mixing a mean mojito. Take those to left feet to the dance floor and your guaranteed to score points with your Cubanita.
Hoy Como Ayer, 2212 SW 8 St; 305-541-2631