Moreno’s Café captures the spirit of Cuba in Miami Beach

Moreno's Cafe photos by Linda Bladholm for the Miami Herald
Moreno's Cafe photos by Linda Bladholm for the Miami Herald

You’ll see tables and chairs along 20th Street at Liberty Avenue in Miami Beach, then a sign made out of old Cuban license plates spelling out “Moreno’s” with “Cuban Café & Bar” in smaller letters above it. You have found a hidden gem, wedged between the Riviera Hotel and a wall lined with towering travelers palms, so you feel you could be in an old bar somewhere in Cuba. 

And there is a wood bar that was built to look old, with vintage radios and glass jars and, of course, all the makings for a mint-muddled mojito. The flooring is Cuban tiles made in Hialeah, and fans help circulate the air.

The food at Moreno’s is based on the recipes of the Cuban grandmother and mother of one of the owners, with a few other elements tossed in, like a Spanish tortilla with chorizo, potato and peppers that is baked in a Graham cracker crust. 

Owned by Jorge Moreno, who is Cuban American, and business partner Nathan Lieberman, Moreno’s came about as an idea two years ago. Moreno, who is a musician (he won a Latin Grammy for best new artist in 2002 and once sang a duet with Celia Cruz), was always hanging out at Lieberman’s Miami Beach restaurant Fung Ku, until Lieberman’s dad suggested he open his own place. 

Moreno is continuing the tradition of being a restaurateur, as his grandfather Antonio ran one of the most popular eating places in Havana in the late ’50s, located in the Hotel Nacional when folks dressed up to go out to dinner. At night there are live bands at Moreno’s, with Moreno jumping in to jam on guitar, vocals and bongos whether it is Latin fusion or rhythm and blues.

Start the day with an omelet breakfast sandwich; French toast with guava cream filling; a pancake burrito rolled around pecan-smoked bacon and mozzarella topped with guava sauce; or scrambled eggs with mushrooms, peppers and onions garnished with cilantro and served with maduros and avocado slices, all good with a cortadito. 

For lunch and dinner there are tapas, salads, sandwiches and entrées served with rice and black beans, sweet plantains or tostones and a choice of a side salad or fries. Tostones habaneros is a popular tapa, a choice of shredded pork, ground beef, chicken or shrimp with melted mozzarella and aioli. 

There’s also sweet plantain mash topped with mojo-marinated shredded pork with guacamole and mozzarella on Cuban crackers and ceviche made with mahi in a blend of lemon, lime and orange juice with onions and cilantro or pineapple and mango chutney (a larger portion can be had as a main dish). 

Abuela’s palomilla brings a thin pounded pan-fried sirloin steak with grilled onions, but the top seller is the lechon asado or slow roasted pork marinated in herb-lime sauce. There’s also ropa vieja (old clothes) bringing sautéed shredded beef in tomato sauce; vaca frita (pan-fried shredded beef); rotisserie chicken marinated in mojo; and grilled shrimp in garlic lime mojo.

Desserts such as rice pudding, guava cheesecake and a chocolate cigar are made by Fireman Derek’s for a sweet end with a Cuban touch.