Welcome to Miami, the croqueta capital of the world.
You can’t drive across our city without being exposed to this ubiquitous bite-size finger food.
So Miami.com editor-in-chief Amy Reyes and I did it — for journalism! In our Croqueta Tour, we visited five of Miami’s most talked-about croqueta makers in a single day.
I can’t stress this enough: We only ate croquetas for breakfast, lunch and dinner, despite our bodies’ supplications.
Locals know these deep-fried fritters of meat and flour are more than just a novelty.
Croquetas are the appetizer of choice at any Cuban party. (No one ever orders enough.) A midday snack between lunch and dinner — the original fourth meal. And any late-night party-goer knows the restorative properties of an open ventanita Cuban coffee window, the natural habitat of the croqueta.
(How to order Cuban coffee at the ventanita is a whole other story.)
Miami hosts an annual summer celebration in honor of the humble croqueta, Croquetapalooza, which this year takes place Aug. 25 at the Magic City Casino. (Tickets cost $40 and include unlimited drinks and food from more than 40 different restaurants hoping to be crowned croqueta king.)
Someone in a fevered croqueta craze even fashioned a Croqueta Cake — 100 delectable croquetas adorning a vanilla-Nutella cake, a Machiavellian idea popularized by Miami’s BreadMan Bakery.
So let us be your croqueta travel agents. (But please sign the liability waiver):
First stop: Islas Canarias
Neither of us ate breakfast so we could start our day right.
This is the croqueta that all other croquetas are judged by. They’re the perfect size, the perfect mini-submarine shape. They’re perfectly crispy on the outside and savory of ham and parsley — maybe a little too much parsley at times? — on the inside.
They’re regularly on Miamians’ list of our favorite croquetas and there’s a reason why: The progeny of late founders Raul and Amelia Garcia, the Andrades, do them proper justice. Fans will drive across the county to the far western province of Kendall to have these croquetas at their parties. Those fans will have the happiest guests.
13695 SW 26th St., Kendall
On to: Palomilla Grill
Islas was a warmup for a croqueta bacchanal.
Not content with making just one great croqueta, Palomilla Grill regularly offers several great flavors — and not all of them traditional.
The restaurant, originally called Trianon when the Rodriguez family opened it in 1975, has remained in the family and you can see the influences of the mother-son team, Emi and Alex.
Along with traditional ham and chicken croquetas, they offer ones made with ropa vieja (Cuban shredded beef), buffalo chicken and chorizo. Each is served with a mayo sauce you’ll want to take home. That helped them win Croquetapalooza in 2016.
6890 W. Flagler St., Miami
Starting to feel full: Versailles
We really had to power through, now.
If you’ve never had a croqueta before, there’s a good chance your first exposure will be at Versailles, at the edge of Little Havana.
This mecca of Cuban culture in Miami has, for years, been the gathering place for all things Cuban, particularly political. And it doesn’t hurt they have a Cuban coffee ventanita — halfway between downtown and the suburbs — that stays open until 2:30 a.m. on Fridays and Saturdays. Many a Miami late-nighter has made a pit stop at Versailles for a croqueta pressed between a pair of saltines.
The look on Amy’s face said, “Why did you make me eat those crackers?”
3555 SW 8th St., Miami
We get our second wind: Doce Provisions
At this point in our Croqueta Tour, it’s time to say goodbye to convention (Also to your Keto diet, Amy).
Doce Provisions won the judges’ choice at the 2017 Croquetapalooza precisely because it broke from the traditional. At this Little Havana restaurant, run by partners in life and the kitchen, Justin Sherrer and Cuban-born Lisetty Llampalla, the restaurant is a fusion of those worlds.
The croquetas here are made with chorizo and bacon, served over a mustard sauce and sprinkled with queso fresco. The flavors — ham, mustard, cheese — are reminiscent of a Cuban sandwich.
Amy looked shaken. (She actually begged for a salad because her body was in open revolt.) But I told her greatness awaited at our last stop.
541 SW 12th Ave., Miami
Please, no more: Sakaya Kitchen
This was the perfect way to bookend our Croqueta Tour: start with traditional, finish with flair. (Also, with antacids.)
Save your hate mail. I am fully aware there’s nothing traditional about Richard Hales’ croquetas. Like the chef himself, they fight convention in every obvious way: They’re square and they use Korean flavors.
That said, they show Hales’ devotion to incorporating his point of view — he is of Filipino descent, born in Tampa, around Cubans — but representing his love of South Florida, where he also owns a food truck and second successful beach restaurant, Bird & Bone.
Sakaya’s spicy pork croquetas are made in the classic way, creamy inside, crispy on the outside, and served with a ginger-soy dipping sauce you’ll lick off your fingers.
This is a classic example of food influencing other food — and proves Miami has the strongest croqueta game (and its devotees, the strongest stomachs).
3401 N. Miami Ave. #125, Midtown