When someone mentions the word “Miami,”a myriad of images ranging from art deco architecture to thong bikinis and Cuban cigars naturally come to mind. A visit to Miami will put the stereotypes to rest, allowing visitors to experience the real thing, which is just as colorful as it looks on T.V., and quite a bit more lively than one could imagine.

Begin your Miami experience with lunch at Las Cullebrinas, a sit down restaurant with an extensive menu and a sprawling upstairs bar and loft that serves authentic Cuban food. Entrees include “Vaca Frita,” which is grilled shredded beef with onions, served with plantains and “moros,” or rice mixed with beans. Another worthy entrée is the fried pork served on a bed of avocado sauce with cassava, also known as yucca (a starchy vegetable similar to a potato in texture).

The portions are huge, so two adults can easily share, especially once you have Cuban bread and rice and beans on the side. In my naiveté, I asked for hot sauce to put on my black beans and rice. Our server looked at me as if I had just sprouted horns. “Hot sauce?” she asked, as if this was a foreign word. Which, perhaps, it was. We finally got the message across and she brought back a bottle of tobasco that had probably been around since the late ‘90s. Lesson learned, Cubans do not put hot sauce on their rice and beans. Evidently, lime juice is the chosen condiment for moros or arroz con frijoles.

Post Cuban-food-coma; make your way to the Coconut Grove area, a quaint town South of Miami where various festivals occur as often as there are days of sunshine in a given year. Head to Coco Walk, where chances are a local art festival will be available to explore. Viewing South Florida through the eyes of its local artisans is the perfect way to walk off lunch and find some out of the ordinary souvenirs to take home.

After a leisurely walk, cross the bridge past the million dollar yachts and mansions located on Biscayne Bay. Everything you have heard about South Beach is true. Men here wear speedos and some women opt to go topless; and the environment was pretty laid back. Games of volleyball are a regular occurrence, as are the many street vendors and couples sharing quart-sized mojitos at outdoor cafes.

Speaking of cocktails, a grande margarita is a wonderful way to wind down a perfect day in sunny South Florida. Stop by Paquitos, a local homestyle-Mexican joint in Aventura, to have a festive happy hour. This seemingly small restaurant nestled in the corner of a strip mall is deceivingly large, as it offers an additional section dedicated to salsa and merengue dancing.

The clincher here is the extensive tequila selection and their salsa: spicy and pungent with large chunks of onion and cilantro. Coupled with a few Texas margaritas and you may find it hard to finish your generously portioned entrée. I was not overly adventurous and ordered soft chicken tacos, as tequila was what my palate was craving.

We were the only gringos sitting at the bar amidst the hip gyrating couples. By my second drink, I was still not brave enough to get my white butt on the dance floor. I vow to return again, maybe next time braver or drunker, to thoroughly embarrass myself and get someone to teach this Chiquita to salsa. “La proxima vez, yo sera mas aventura.”

I tell myself, next time, like the name of that part of town, I will be more adventurous. Heck, maybe I’ll even go topless on South Beach. For now, I will sip my margarita and plan my next “viaje a Miami“.

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What & Where:
Las Cullebrinas
(9090 SW 40th St, Miami; 305-227-2550)
Coco Walk (3015 Grand Ave, Coconut Grove)
Paquitos
(16265 Biscayne Blvd., Aventura; 305-947-5027