Sef Gonzalez, the man behind the local blog, Burger Beast, is on a personal campaign to bring more frita awareness and appreciation to Miami.
A frita cubana is a Cuban-style hamburger, typically made with a patty of either ground beef or a ground pork (chorizo)-ground beef mix. Either way, the patty gets a boost from a combination of spices, which typically includes smoked paprika. Spindly French fries, onions and often some kind of tomato-based sauce top the burger, which is capped with a Cuban roll. Some restaurants scatter the canned potato sticks on their fritas, although Gonzalez eschews this practice.
Many frita places in Miami now offer a layer of American cheese. However, this is an abomination to many diehard frita fans.
Gonzalez remembers one time he was waiting in line to order at Cuban Guys restaurant in Hialeah. The young woman behind the register asked the customer in front of Gonzalez if he wanted his frita with cheese or without cheese. The customer was incensed. In Spanish, he exclaimed, "With cheese?! That does not have cheese in Cuba! How can you offer me that?!"
While those who know and love fritas are passionate about them, even in Miami the Cuban burgers aren't as well known as other Cuban staples like cafecito or croquetas.
"If I had to guess," Gonzalez says, "I would say that 15 percent of Miamians know what a frita is. As far as I know, after the '60's, Miami was the only place you could get them aside from a few places in Tampa and New Jersey."
Gonzalez has become a one-man frita campaign. He write articles about frita joints. Recently, he hosted a Frita Showdown at a restaurant in the Magic City Casino. Gonzalez handpicked five of his favorite classic frita spots for the event: El Mago de las Fritas, El Rey de las Fritas, Cuban Guys, Luis Galindo's Latin American and Sergio's. (See the array of fritas in the slide show above.)
The Cuban burgers were judged after a blind tasting by chefs Alberto Cabrera (Bread +Butter Counter) and Giorgio Rapicavoli (Eating House), TV cooking personality Ingrid Hoffman, and food events expert Randy Fisher.
El Rey de las Fritas won the coveted spatula trophy.
Gonzalez plans to host another Frita Showdown in 2014. He's also working on a documentary project about the object of his obsession, but he needs to raise the funds for production first. The colorful family stories and drama of Miami's frita world at least lend themselves to a solid telenovela series.
Do fritas trigger memories of growing up in or around a Cuban Kitchen? Share your stories.