I haven’t done any international travel since I caught Covid in Ecuador last summer. Almost dying in that ordeal was enough to scare me away from visiting third world countries for a long time. International travel is still a mess. I also have some fairly serious lingering side effects from Covid (namely breathlessness, exercise intolerance, and crazy high blood pressure) that would limit the things I could do in the developing world.
For those reasons, I’ve been doing shorter domestic trips instead. I plan on writing some more about these trips to give you some travel ideas and inspiration.
A few weeks ago I was visiting an old friend in Naples, Florida. We decided to do a spur of the moment, ritzy two day trip to Miami. One of the advantages of not spending money on expensive international airfare is that I now have a little more cash in the travel budget and can afford some fancier short term destinations.
This isn’t a travel guide to Miami. I’m just reporting on some places we went where we had good food and service. All of these spots get my recommendation, but this is far from a comprehensive guide. I’m sure there are tons of other amazing places to see.
As my friend and I were talking about the trip, we determined that we wanted to spend most of our time in and around Little Havana. I had never visited the area and wanted to see it. She speaks fluent Spanish, loved traveling to Cuba, and was excited to re-live some of her experiences there.
The main focus of our trip was eating good food and relaxing. We are both big eaters and love enjoying exotic food. In between massive meals, we would do as much sight seeing as possible.
We started out at her house in Naples. On the evening I arrived, we had dinner at The Claw Bar. It was a great seafood place located within a large hotel resort downtown. The neat thing about the Claw Bar is that they also offer dining in a kind of hidden speakeasy-style environment.
The speakeasy is called “The London Club” and isn’t mentioned on the website. You have to call for reservations. Upon your arrival, you are escorted to a private elevator that takes you to the speakeasy section. It was an intimate room with an excellent live jazz singer. Lots of fun.
We started out the next morning with a leisurely drive on the back roads through the Everglades to get to Miami. We enjoyed the scenery and all the alligators. Some of the marine birds were stunning. Although I’ve spent some time in Miami, I really hadn’t seen much of the Everglades. It was well worth the longer drive to see such a unique environment.
As our trip had a Cuban theme, my friend surprised me on the drive with lunch reservations at a roadside Cuban family owned restaurant called The Havana Cafe of the Everglades in Chokoloskee.
The Havana Cafe was in the middle of nowhere, but was absolutely packed. It had a breezy shaded outdoor patio for dining. A solo guitarist played some Cuban music to make everything even more authentic.
I had the Shrimp Enchilado. Note the spelling. It’s not a Mexican Enchilada, instead it’s a Cuban dish made with shrimp, rice, and plantains. It was delicious. Here’s an inside tip. They serve oysters, but they aren’t on the menu. You have to ask your waitress for a special order to get them. They were rather unique in that instead of being served with lemon or lime juice, they were covered with a slightly spicy Cuban cocktail sauce. Not my favorite dish of the weekend, but it was still quite tasty.
With our hunger temporarily sated, we proceeded to Miami. Accommodation in Little Havana itself were limited. Some of the areas around the local hotels were a bit sketchy. We decided to stay at the downtown Novotel instead. It was only a few miles away from Little Havana, but was much nicer and in a safer neighborhood.
It was pouring rain when we arrived, so we checked into the hotel and took a brief nap until the rain ended. When we woke up, we were in the mood for some live music and a couple drinks before our late dinner reservation. We took an Uber (parking in Miami is a huge hassle) to a Cuban themed nightclub called The Ball and Chain.
The club has been around since 1935 and has nightly live music. When we were there, the music was being made by a six-person Cuban band. I don’t think any of the performers were younger than 60 years old. It reminded me a lot of the jazz clubs I visited on my trip to Cuba a few years ago.
Because of my other life as a tactical trainer, a lot of the folks who read this blog found it through my tactical writing and are interested in firearms and self protection. If you are carrying weapons, please note that a lot of the nightclubs in Little Havana do pat down searches and bag checks before allowing you to enter the establishment.
If you plan on going to a busy bar or club after 8:00 pm, expect to be searched or wanded with a metal detector. Theoretically, a S&W J-frame snub with a clipdraw can be clipped to the top of your underwear and be worn completely concealed even with a tucked in shirt. It’s not the fastest draw in the world, but it’s very discreet and can go a lot of places where a full sized gun can’t. Wearing a belt with a larger metal belt buckle just above the clipped revolver will justify the alarm if the metal detecting wand beeps.
We had a couple mojitos and ate some home cooked chicharrones for an appetizer. The music was great. The environment was fun and friendly. If you are looking for a taste of Cuba in the USA, this would be an excellent place to visit. I’ll definitely go back.
We then went to a late dinner at what turned out to be the best meal on our trip. We visited Amara at Paraiso. It was a very high class place with outdoor deck seating overlooking Biscayne Bay.
We had a couple of their deluxe craft cocktails and gorged ourselves on some stellar seafood. We had some delicious appetizers and then shared their whole fish entree. I’ve eaten whole fish in a lot of South American and Asian countries. This one was very different. The chef actually de-boned the fish before cooking it! That doesn’t happen in rural developing countries. I think I could get used to this!
If you are looking for a fancy restaurant for a special occasion, you won’t go wrong with Amara.
The next morning we went back to Little Havana to explore Wynwood Walls, an outdoor graffiti museum. We spent several hours at the museum and wandering around the nearby neighborhoods.
While exploring, we found a great Peruvian restaurant for lunch. I’ve been to Peru four times now and am in love with Peruvian food. Because of the Covid travel restrictions, I haven’t been back to Peru since 2019. I was itching for some Peruvian ceviche. Manta Peruvian Cuisine did not disappoint!
We did some appetizers and then I had the traditional Peruvian ceviche with calamari. It was as if we were back in Lima. They even had Peruvian Pilsen beer to wash it down. My amiga enjoyed her Peruvian “causa” and a couple Pisco sours. I’ve never seen causa served anywhere else in the USA. Manta did a good job with this somewhat unique dish.
We strolled along a bit more and then took the slow, scenic route back to Naples. The trip was low key, fun, and a great way to spend a long weekend. I highly recommend all the spots I mentioned.
One other side note for you gun folks…
Delta and American always require that you pick up your checked bag at the baggage office. Southwest will occasionally require it depending on the airport. In general, when you pick up your bags at the office, they are delivered after all the other bags are placed on the carousel. It usually adds 20-30 minutes to your trip.