Being of Cuban descent and having eaten varieties of Latin American food throughout my entire life, there isn’t much that can surprise me within this genre of cuisine. My understanding of most Latin American food is greasy, usually fried, comfortable, and predictable. When I was asked to visit Bernie’s LA Café, my expectations were not very high. Boy, was I mistaken! Named after proprietor Bernie Matz, also known for Lincoln Road’s Café at Books & Books, Bernie’s LA Café has been considered the Best Organic Latin American Cuisine and the owner of the Best Cuban Sandwich by the Miami New Times. Bernie’s is the kind of restaurant that offers something for everyone with its array of vegan, vegetarian, and straight up meat-loving options.
I started out my Bernie’s experience with several appetizers: Avocado Salsa, Mango Bang Bang Shrimp, Bernie’s Fish Ceviche, and an assortment of tacos. The Avocado Salsa looks like a chunky guacamole at first glance; however, it packs a punch of fresh, tangy flavor. The Mango Bang Bang Shrimp, my personal favorite, is a crisp, sweet, tangy take on any shrimp dish. The Ceviche was made with fresh Mahi Mahi and offered a perfect marriage of texture and flavor. One of the most difficult tasks at Bernie's is choosing just one of the assorted varieties of tacos over another. The 3 tacos are all served in double-layered corn tortillas, with avocado salsa, salsa cruda, and a chipotle yogurt sauce that is to die for! The tacos come with several options: rib-eye steak, grilled chicken breast, slow roasted pork, grilled vegetables, grilled organic tofu, grilled fish, grilled shrimp, and carne asada (thinly sliced, grilled beef). The pork is marinated and slow-roasted overnight for approximately 8 hours to achieve that fall-off-the-bone texture and mind-blowing flavor that any meat lover would crave. Deciding on the best taco is very difficult, but I was able to narrow my top 3 favorites to the grilled fish, slow roasted pork, and rib-eye steak. Mind blowing!
Bernie’s offers a variety of artistically assembled salads that are pleasing to the palate, as well as to the eye. Served in large, asymmetrically shaped bowls that leave you zero option but to take in the visual, the salads are arranged in vertical layers, highlighting each individual component. The Ensalada De La Casa is composed of mixed greens, tomatoes, carrots, chopped pears, and sliced strawberries in a balsamic vinaigrette that forms a symphony of flavors dancing along your palate, singing for the next bite. The SoBe Cobb salad offers a more savory, though equally as delightful, option with tomatoes, chipotle pecans, bleu cheese, avocado, and hard-boiled egg.
As previously mentioned, the Cuban Sandwich was named the Miami New Times’ Best Cuban Sandwich. I was skeptical since, in my opinion, my father makes the “Best Cuban Sandwich,” but I kept an open mind. The combination of Bernie’s perfect slow-roasted pork, ham, Swiss cheese, pickles, and mustard is served on Cuban bread and pressed, giving it that perfect crunch with an inner meaty texture that you just cannot achieve in a home kitchen. I’m almost sorry to say that Bernie’s Cuban Sandwich blows my dad’s Cuban sandwich away. Sorry Pop!
Now for the entrees! My table ordered several plates to sample. We had the Grilled Marinated Florida Shrimp Enchilado, Ropa Vieja (shredded flank steak), Carne Asada, and Picadillo (Cuban beef stew). Each of these was served with white rice and beans and a choice of fresh-cut fries, maduros (sweet plantains), or greens. None of these plates disappointed me. They tasted familiar as well as refreshing. My personal favorite was the Shrimp Enchilado with the maduros.
After all of this, there was no way that I could fit dessert in. My dining partners, however, had other plans, ordering not one, but THREE desserts: a Chocolate Chip Cookie, Cuatro Leches, and Flan. Having the sweet tooth that I do, I simply had to taste each one! The chocolate chip cookie was very tasty with a nice buttery texture. The flan was exceptionally sweet and perfectly made. The cuatro leches was my favorite one, dripping with sweet milk, condensed milk, and evaporated milk, and topped with my absolute favorite thing: dulce de leche. No one could ever go wrong ordering this.
Bernie’s LA Café is a perfect choice for inexpensive, casual dining that provides a culinary treat on South Beach. Walking distance from the sandy beach, anyone would be smart to forego the barrage of expensive restaurants of Ocean Drive and head straight to Bernie’s for a meal that provides the most bang for your buck.
Bernie's LA Cafe
1570 Alton Road
Miami Beach, FL 33139