Nelly Cuban restaurant – Little Havana Miami Calle Ocho
1950 SW 8 St
Miami FL 33135
“Welcome to my Little Havana” – I didn’t see any signs that officially marked out the beginning of Little Havana or Calle Ocho in Miami, but you can pretty much sense the borders of this vibrant ethnic neighboorhood. I was so happy to find this place – Not like I have anything against South Beach, but one can only take so much of the touristy food. Little Havana, is about 10 or 15 blocks long and is a self contained area packed with Restaurants, Clubs, Bars, Grocery Stores, Accountants, Doctors offices, Post Office and everything else you would need. Basically a Cuban version of Chinatown. During the Carnival celebration, Calle Ocho hosts one of the largest Cuban festivals with over a million visitors. Another fun fact: Calle Ocho earned an entry in the Guinness Book of World Records when 119,986 people formed the world’s longest conga line on March 13, 1988.
I drove down Calle Ocho a few times and decided to start with a hardcore local joint to get a real taste of the food and culture in Little Havana. I spotted “Nelly Restaurant” -shrouded in a protective steel security gate with its bright red ‘Comida Cubana’ sign next to the take out window, this restaurant literally called out to me. (I felt like I was back in Spanish Harlem). Inside, the restaurant is peaceful and relaxing, a mid day soap is playing on Telemundo on the TV above the food counter – the restaurant owner and a local customer exchange greetings in Spanish. I don’t think this place has changed much since it first opened – very simple and functional. Which by the way, is a great sign that the food is top notch. I check out the steam warmed food station and order a plate of chicken and a cuban sandwich. The chicken is juicy and the sauce is amazing. The cuban sandwhich (only $2 here vs $11 on South Beach) is also really good – they have a real panini press to grill the bread and melt the cheese to perfection. In my short stay in Miami, I’m so happy I found this neighborhood. So much for the South Beach Diet and touristy food. Who needs it anyway?