It’s not like South Florida has a shortage of Cuban restaurants or ones serving fried chicken and fish. But a pair of local chains — one relatively new, another more established — offer consistently good and inexpensive iterations of these two super-popular cuisines.
South Florida is full of terrific independent Cuban restaurants as well as solid chains like Havana 1957, La Carreta, Las Vegas, Padrino’s and more. We even have a fast-food darling, Pollo Tropical, that serves a primarily Cuban menu while not actually using the “C” word.
Cuban Guys, a four-location chain founded in 2012 by Jorge Llapur, Isaac Sklar and Enrique Santos, wears its heritage proudly.
“Half of the people in the restaurant business told us that putting ‘Cuban’ in our name was a terrible idea. And the other half said it was a great idea,” said Llapur, a former Boston Market regional manager. “But it’s always been my dream to bring Cuban culture and flavors to non-Cubans.”
Cuban Guys’ bright, clean and colorful Miami-Dade restaurants — designed by co-founder Sklar, an architect — offer all-day breakfasts, sandwiches (fritas, Cubanos, medianoches, pollo, pan con lechón, pan con bistec, vaca frita and more), rice, beans, croquetas, fritters, beverages (including beer) and sides that are fresh and tasty at very reasonable prices.
And you know that if the guys’ food fell short, they’d hear about it from a knowledgeable local clientele. But each location does brisk business, a confirmation of the chain’s legitimacy.
Co-founder Santos, a popular broadcaster, is the face and voice of the chain, doing marketing with local Spanish-speaking media and being prominently featured on the restaurant’s menu and website.
Llapur said that they want to expand into Broward and Palm Beach counties, mirroring the territory he was responsible for during his Boston Market tenure. Cuban Guys is looking at Pembroke Pines first, which makes sense, given its high concentration of Miami-Dade expatriates, many of them of Cuban descent.
Hook Fish & Chicken
Like brothers and sisters, restaurants of the same ilk may band into a loose confederation, allowing each other their freedom while maintaining the family’s traditions and values. Others may spin off on their own.
That’s sort of the case with Hook Fish & Chicken, whose original owners sold their stake a few years ago, according to Sam Shaldeh, manager and part-owner of the restaurant’s Sunrise location. Now, his Hook Fish & Chicken runs independently of Hooks in Lauderdale Lakes and Miami Gardens, but they share a website and informally work together.
Other locations (in Deerfield Beach, Palm Beach Lakes and Pittsburgh) are not part of this confederation, but they operate under the same name, use similar trade dress, and apparently honor the others’ territory and autonomy.
Hook’s menu is pretty specific: fried chicken, fish, seafood, sides and soft drinks. If you’re seeking broiled, steamed or grilled food, look elsewhere. But its fried fare is crisp, grease-free and delicious. The breading, according to Shaldeh, is Hook’s own formulation.
“Everything is made from scratch and cooked to order,” he said. “We don’t use eggs or milk, and all ingredients are purchased locally.”
They serve whole, un-split chicken wings — no separate drums and flats here — and shrimp are plump and meaty, too.
“We’re especially proud of our conch,” Shaldeh said. “It’s our specialty. We have customers who drive great distances for it, and snowbirds from places like Michigan who tell us it’s their favorite. We put a lot of time into preparing it — tenderizing and marinating it for 24 hours — and use a secret batter. We get compliments every day; it’s really something special and unique.”
Where: Hialeah (two locations), Kendall, North Miami Beach.
Founded: 2012 in Hialeah.
Essentials: Cuban-style breakfasts, sandwiches, desserts and beverages.
Hook Fish & Chicken
Where: Lauderdale Lakes, Sunrise and Miami Gardens, plus Deerfield Beach, Palm Beach Lakes, Fort Myers and Pittsburgh.
Founded: 2003 in Lauderdale Lakes.
Atmosphere: Casual and utilitarian.
Essentials: Fried chicken, seafood, fish, sides and soft drinks.