Sometimes we want dinner to feel like a party, but a lot of restaurants think this means sticking sparklers in mediocre sushi rolls and letting an electric violinist in white jeans run around the dining room. The overlap of places where Pitbull has filmed a music video and places you’d actually want to eat at is almost too small to see. But if you whip out your magnifying glass and look closely, you’ll find Cafe La Trova - a rare place where dancing, drinking, and eating work together almost perfectly.
Cafe La Trova is located on Calle Ocho, exactly where you’d hope to find a place with a fantastic daiquiri only 20-feet away from a very fun dance floor. The menu here is heavily Cuban with some Latin hybrid dishes thrown in that are also worth ordering, like the paella croquettes that come with a little shot of seafood caldo on the side. We always get that along with at least one order of the hand-cut steak empanadas that are good enough to justify ordering twice and stuffing in your pockets for the ride home. If you’ve got some friends to split bigger plates with, the crispy whole boneless snapper is the entree equivalent of a conga line, and everyone can take turns ripping it apart with a fork.
When it comes to drinks, stick to cocktails because La Trova doesn’t have a bad one on their menu. The Daiquiri Clasico is probably the one drink we’d take along if we were left on a desert island, but if you want something a little more theatrical, get the La Chancleta, which comes on a little wooden flip-flop and is cheesy in a fun way - unlike an Ocean Drive margarita, which is cheesy in a possibly toxic way. You can also get any of these at the little bar in the back, which was inspired by ’80s Miami with a soundtrack heavy on yacht rock, neon lights, and a miniature drug smuggling plane that hangs over the bar.
From there, you can bounce back and forth to the main dining room, where there’s usually a band playing everything from Celia Cruz to random disco covers. People may dance, but you can also just sit back, watch, and order another daiquiri. Or head back to the ’80s bar to discover you actually really love Michael McDonald. There’s no shortage of options at Cafe La Trova, and as long as you’re willing to embrace a little bit of the chaos, you should have as much fun here as Pitbull himself.
These are great and also make us wonder what other delicious things we should consider sticking inside croquettes. Oreos? Cacio e Pepe? Someone let us know who’s in charge of this so we can write letters.
We suspect the tender, juicy steak and caramelized onions would taste awesome even if they were stuffed in an old sock, but we’re glad this comes in empanada form.
It’s easy to have too much meat here, but this squash empanada is a very solid veggie option to mix things up.
There’s nothing technically wrong with this, but it’s a little too small to split and there are better tapas options here, like the octopus or ceviche.
If you’re at a big table with people who are about to split a bunch of different things, you might as well get this because it’s fried cheese - and good fried cheese too. But if there are only a few of you, skip it to save room for one or two of the entrees.
We see a ton of crispy whole fish around Miami, but this one might be the best. The fried skin is obviously delicious, but what’s underneath that - which is really tender, tasty snapper - is what sets this one apart.
If there is a good metric to measure a Cuban spot by, it’s always the arroz con pollo. And everything about Cafe La Trova’s hits the mark - from the juicy half chicken a la plancha to the great saffron-infused bomba rice, which you should absolutely mix with the chicken for an endless parade of perfect bites.