“Hello, beautiful,” Manolo Guerra says generously as he approaches our table at Cafe Volare in Hollywood. Boy, if you’re a woman in need of a little attention, Guerra will make you feel like the center of his universe. But male customers are also greeted warmly, and it doesn’t take long to feel like a regular at this small, cozy cafe. Guerra says he named his restaurant for the ’50s hit Volare (“to fly”) because the song is about love. Bite into his chicken cacciatore and he’ll say softly, “It’s made with love.” Talk about a chef with commitment. A native of Ecuador, Guerra learned much about Italian cooking from his mother, who was born in Milan. He attended culinary school in London, and owned a Cafe Volare on Collins Avenue in the ’90s. He cooked at South Florida venues including Il Paparazzi in Miami Beach and Cafe del Mar in Fort Lauderdale before opening his Harrison Street cafe last year.
Cafe Volare has a limited, inexpensive menu plus nightly specials, but don’t bother. Guerra will ask, “What do you like? I’ll cook it for you.” Because he makes everything, often to order, the pace can be slow. While the cuisine is primarily Italian, Cafe Volare offers smoked salmon, cream cheese and bagel at breakfast, and a frequent dinner special is saganaki, or Greek flaming cheese. (You are, of course, expected to shout “Opa!” when he sets it afire.)
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Ambience: Six tables inside and a few more outside are covered with plastic-topped white tablecloths and flanked by a quirky mix of formal dining chairs and casual wicker seats. The charming Guerra and his friendly servers provide the homey atmosphere.
- Complimentary bruschetta – a bright snack melding the sweet-acid bite of tomatoes with garlic, fresh basil and a touch of balsamic vinegar
- House-made bread topped with melted Parmesan and mozzarella
- House-made empanadas and pastilitos
- Delicious, homey chicken cacciatore – chicken on the bone cooked with onions, peppers, mushrooms and white wine; framed by boiled potatoes and steamed carrots; and served with spaghetti in a light tomato sauce
- A generous, flavorful plate of Lobster Volare – half a steamed Maine lobster in the shell with mussels, shrimp, lots of lemons and spaghetti in a fra diavolo sauce
- House-made gnocchi and ravioli
- Light & elegant spinach and Parmesan ravioli served with tortellini and smothered in a rich alla vodka sauce
- Wonderful apple tart & ricotta cheesecake
- A heavenly tiramisu made with Colombian coffee, a splash of amaretto, sambuca & whipped cream