You know those creepy Learning Channel programs that track an inmate on death row during his final days, films his last goodbyes, final night, and the last meal of his choosing? Years ago, I got roped into one. I was mesmerized by the whole ordeal, shocked at how matter-of-factly the inmate went about his routine as if his world wasn’t going to be rocked by Ole Sparky in less than 24 hours. In fact, I even started to feel bad for the guy. Then he ordered his last meal: a chicken salad. Not even a chicken salad sandwich or anything. Just lettuce, chicken, and dressing. I immediately stopped feeling bad for the murderer I was rooting for and came to my senses. Your last meal and you’re rolling the dice with a chicken salad? He probably had a glass of water with no ice to boot. Yikes…
Miami is famous for three things: the weather, the Cuban influence and cocaine. Miami’s Cuban influence often highlights the best of the city. Top notch coffee, delicious cigars, a sometimes unintelligible language, and of course first-rate food. Of all the Cuban restaurants in Miami that I’ve been to—I can only guess that there are close to a thousand such establishments—one stands out just a shade over the rest: Sergio’s, on Coral Way and 32nd Ave (there are actually 3 other locations). (Excuse me?) (Google it yourself). It’s a well known spot, not ever over-crowded but always with a loyal following present. Not as famous as Versailles, not as commercial as La Carreta, Sergio’s has been atop my Cuban Restaurant Power Poll since 1996. If you want the best croqueta’s you’ve ever had, go to Sergio’s. If you want the best batido de mamey money can buy, head to Sergio’s. The breakfast special of scrambled eggs with ham, Cuban toast with butter and café con leche, is like 4 dollars. My favorite part might be the little window outside, where you can order a little coffee, some snacks and shoot the shit with some locals.
I went to college in Philadelphia for 4 years, and lived in New York for 3. Those years were filled with countless weekend trips to Miami, and they usually began with me going head first to Sergio’s. I’ve invited down friends from Connecticut, Pennsylvania, upstate New York—all get a dose of Sergio’s before they’re allowed to hit up the beach. Maybe it’s nostalgia (my dad started taking me here when I was like 9, labeling it the best place in Miami. And of course when you’re 9 and your dad says he’s the Easter Bunny, you’ll believe him). Maybe it’s extreme loyalty (I rather be beaten with a bamboo stick than say the words “Versailles is my favorite Cuban restaurant”). Maybe it’s bias (I’m the same guy who stuffed the ballot with votes for myself when I ran for Class President). Regardless, in a city with plenty of competition, Sergio’s is my favorite. I love the place. And if I were on death row, and my world was ending, there is only one order that I’d consider: 4 croquetas, vaca frita con arroz y frijoles negros, un batido de mamey…and screw it, a flan. Sure beats a chicken salad.