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Miami's ventanitas: Focal points for friendships and political discourse
The little windows are more like institutions than coffee shops.
Take a stroll down any street in Miami's Little Havana district and, chances are, you'll stumble across a ventanita: a small window serving piping-hot coladas and cortaditos to customers who eagerly chat away about everything from local gossip to Cuban politics.
Ventanitas have become a staple of life in Miami. Much like the role of the local bar, they serve as social spaces where people from all backgrounds can meet, relax, and chat. All serve cafecitos, while most offer a range of croquetas, bocaditos, empanadas, and guava pastelitos.
Since arriving with the first wave of Cuban immigrants in the 1960s, ventanitas have revolutionized the way Miamians drink coffee and have continued to thrive despite the emergence of coffee chains such as Starbucks.
According to Miami food expert, Mandy Baca, ventanitas have endured thanks in large part to the unique sense of place and familiarity they offer.
"While the Starbucks experience can be stale and homogenized, ventanitas provide a sense of community," she writes for Thrillist.
"You'll get up-to-date on Miami slang, hear about how VapoRub works for every ailment, catch up on domino champion rivalries at nearby Máximo Gómez Park, learn the best recipes for ajiaco or flan, and get insider information on where to play bolita."
Some have even witnessed marriage proposals and christening celebrations at them.
The original social network
In Little Havana, there are approximately two ventanitas per block.
And while some may be more well-known than others (for example, Versailles describes itself as "The World’s Most Famous Cuban Restaurant"), each one serves the same role: to foster social relations and provide a space for Miamians to mix.
"The magic of café cubano is that it opens up conversations," says Grace Della, the founder of Miami Culinary Tours. "Cuban coffee is meant to be shared. If you're pouring one, you're inviting other folks to come and talk to you."
For Cubans in particular, ventanitas have become focal points for exile life. They are places that not only provide a feeling of home, but where they can openly discuss politics and share opinions as strong as the cafecitos on offer.
"I like going because people are always talking about Cuba and I feel at home – like a fish in water," says Rosita González, a Miami resident who arrived from Cuba at the turn of the century.
However, as well as being pillars of the Cuban community, ventanitas have become firmly ingrained in the fabric of Miami's culture, making them important features for everyone.
This is embodied by the city's declaration that 3:05pm is Miami's official coffee break time – known as "3:05 Cafecito".
"The name itself is in Spanglish," says Jenny Molina, the daughter of Cuban immigrants, who kickstarted the trend after posting about it on social media, "and it really says a lot about our culture as US Hispanics, as first-generation Americans, how we have evolved the conversation and are still holding our traditions and heritage close – but with a twist.
"The window of a Cuban restaurant is the original social network. It is where, on any hot afternoon, you might find a relative, an old friend, the Mayor of Miami or Dwayne Wade. Sharing a colada is an act of friendship and solidarity. What is Miami without cafecito?"
Our favorite ventanitas in Miami
Each ventanita in Miami has its own distinct personality and all offer something a little different.
These are just a few of our favorites – but they are by no means the only ones worth visiting:
Enriqueta's Sandwich Shop
Situated in the slightly quieter Wynwood area, Enriqueta's Sandwich Shop serves a veritable array of breakfasts, Cuban sandwiches, and daily specials. You can take a seat inside or order at the ventanita, and the queues are not usually too long.
For just $6.50, you can fill up on café con leche, tostada, and a freshly squeezed orange juice. Or, if you're feeling a little more peckish, we recommend opting for a pan con bistec, media noche, or pan con lechon.
Sanguich de Miami
If you're after a classic Cuban sandwich to go with your colada, look no further than Sanguich de Miami.
A restaurant and ventanita, it offers delicious sandwiches alongside a playful menu that includes dishes such as Cuban nachos made with plantain, pickled onions, shredded lechon, and house-made garlic cilantro aioli.
If you are craving something iced, try their colada batido with a strong hit of Cuban coffee.
Tinta y Café
Tinta y Café is a modern coffee house with a slightly more relaxed ventanita than you'd typically find in the heart of Little Havana.
You'll notice a scattering of deep conversations between customers on the patio and, if it's hot, you can also sit inside to enjoy a slightly cooler atmosphere.
Their sandwich selection includes guajiro, a favorite that can be ordered with pork or chicken, and comes with Swiss cheese and sauteed onions drenched in a delicious mojo de la casa. The iced coffee also pairs well with their melt-in-the-mouth croquetas.