Miami’s vibrant Cuban culture is largely defined by its music, food, culture – and coffee!
And perhaps nothing embodies this Cuban-Latin cultural fusion quite like the la ventanita, or little windows, found on street corners throughout the city.
I did not know this history, and living in Miami at the moment of writing, I just noticed that, like in Havana, Cuba, where I lived for two years, there are the same kinds of tiny windows scattered around everywhere here in Miami!
These tiny storefronts serve everything from coffee, the Cuban cafe con leche, and pastries to handmade cigars and newspapers and have become an essential part of the city’s bustling street life.
Yet, very few people know the whole history behind these iconic windows!
What Is A Ventanita?
In this article, you will find out all about the origins of the ventanita, take a look at some of Miami’s top spots to grab a cafecito; the amazing Cuban coffee, and even “travel” to Havana to see how this tradition has spread beyond Miami’s borders.
During the 1960s, after the Cuban revolution, a Cuban businessman named Felipe Valls arrived in Miami and opened a coffee stand, the kind that is now popularly known as the ‘ventanita’ or ‘little window.’
Cuban ventanitas are not just little coffee windows but also a quick-service storefront that often sells crunchy pastries, Cuban sandwiches, and other small bites.
People nowadays come here to enjoy their cafecito, pastelito, or croqueta, and chat; charlar.
These small storefronts can be found on street corners all over the city of Miami and are a staple of the vibrant Cuban culture in the area. While ventanitas can be found all over Miami, not everyone knows what a Cuban ventanita actually is!
I was surprised to see them in Miami, this southern US city of many names. When I lived in Havana ventanitas were everywhere, so I assumed it was a Cuban thing!
Obviously, it actually also is; it has just emigrated with the Cubans!
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The Top 5 Ventanitas For Cuban Coffee In Miami
When it comes to ventanitas in Miami today, there are many to choose from, each with its own unique flavor and atmosphere.
Here are the top five ventanitas in Miami that are a must-visit for anyone looking to experience authentic Cuban culture.
- Versailles Restaurant, the original ventanita in Miami! A classic, Versailles Restaurant has been serving up traditional Cuban food and cafecito since 1971. The ventanita at Versailles is always bustling with both locals and tourists, making it a great place to people-watch and soak in the atmosphere.
- La Carreta: With several locations throughout Miami, La Carreta is another classic spot for a cafecito and a pastelito. The ventanita at La Carreta is always busy, but the service is quick and friendly.
- Enriqueta’s Sandwich Shop: This quaint little spot in Wynwood may not look like much, but Enriqueta’s is a hidden ventanita gem. The menu is small but delicious, and the atmosphere is cozy and welcoming.
- David’s Cafe Cafecito located in South Beach, is a favorite among locals and tourists alike. The ventanita is always busy, but the staff is efficient and friendly, making it a great spot for a pick-me-up coffee before hitting the beach.
- El Exquisito Restaurant: El Exquisito is the place to go for authentic Cuban food and drinks. The ventanita at El Exquisito is always busy, but the food is worth the wait. Be sure to try their famous croquetas and empanadas.
These are just a few of the many ventanitas in Miami that are worth checking out.
Whether you’re a longtime resident or a first-time visitor, exploring the city’s vibrant street culture through its ventanitas is a must-do!
To recap, the concept of the ventanita originated in Cuba and was brought to Miami by Cuban immigrants in the 1960s.
Felipe Valls has been credited with opening the first ventanita in Miami, and he opened a restaurant that was called the Versailles (yes, like in France).
Initially, the ventanitas naturally became a place for Cuban immigrants to share their culture and connect with others from the homeland in their community, and you will read more about the ventanita history later in the article.
But first, the restaurant Versailles that Felipe Valls opened in Miami in the 60s is still considered to be one of the most famous Cuban restaurants in the world!
Ventanitas today are more than just small storefronts. They still represent the cultural fusion of the Cuban community wanting to stay connected to their home country’s culture from the new world in Miami.
Over time, these ventanitas have also become an essential part of Miami street life that the city is known for, and have even spread beyond Miami’s borders to other parts of the world!
When you are visiting, whether you want to grab a quick cafecito on your way to work or enjoy a leisurely breakfast with friends, the ventanita has become an essential part of Miami’s vibrant street culture.
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The History Of The Ventanita
Ventanitas has become an integral part of iconic Miami’s unique street culture over more than 60 years since the first Cuban immigrants arrived on the shores of Miami in the 60ies.
But where did the concept of the ventanita come from?
When Cubans began arriving in large numbers in the 1960s, they brought with them a strong coffee culture and a love of socializing and mingling in public spaces.
These small walk-up windows, often attached to Cuban cafeterias and restaurants, have been serving up café cubano, pastelitos, and other Cuban delicacies for over half a century.
The ventanita served as a natural extension of this culture, allowing people to grab a quick cafecito, a hot Cuban coffee (which is really good coffee!), or snack and chat with friends and neighbors without interrupting their day too much.
Over time, the ventanita has become much more than just a functional window for serving food and drink.
It has evolved into a symbol of Miami’s unique cultural identity of its own accord and is a gathering place for locals and tourists alike.
Many ventanitas are even decorated with colorful murals and feature live music and other events throughout the year, making them true community hubs.
As you explore Miami’s ventanitas, take a moment to appreciate where this now so integral addition to the Miami culture came from.
And don’t forget to try some of the delicious food and drinks on offer!
What Can You Buy In A Ventanita? Let’s Take A Closer Look
As you approach a ventanita in Miami, you’ll be greeted with a menu of tantalizing options showcasing the best of Cuban cuisine.
From café con leche to pastelitos, croquetas to empanadas, there’s something to satisfy any craving.
These small windows do pack a big punch when it comes to flavor and atmosphere and are a must-visit stop if you are looking to experience the vibrant culture of Miami’s Cuban community.
The offerings at a ventanita often go beyond just food and drink, just like in Cuba. You can also find a variety of goods for sale, including newspapers, lottery tickets, and even cigars.
This is a testament to the importance of ventanitas in the daily life of the Cuban community, serving not only as a source of sustenance but also as a hub for socializing and commerce.
As we explore the history of ventanitas in Miami, remember the many ways in which these small windows have had a significant impact on the lives of Cuban Americans.
And as we’ll see in the next section, this cultural phenomenon is not unique to Miami alone.
Ventanitas In Havana Cuba
Ventanitas in Havana also has a special place in the hearts of Cubans.
These small windows, which first appeared in the 19th century, are not just a place to grab a quick coffee or snack—they are a symbol of Cuban culture and community in Cuba today as well.
In Havana, ventanitas can be found on nearly every street or street corner, serving as a central gathering place for locals and tourists alike.
It’s normally not uncommon to see groups of friends chatting and laughing over cortaditos, or families enjoying pastelitos on a lazy Sunday afternoon.
But ventanitas in Havana also serve a more practical purpose, providing access to everyday items that are difficult to find today. Dry goods like pasta, soap, toothpaste, foodstuffs, and anything that can be resold can be found in a ventanita in Havana and Cuba now.
A lot of these are technically a part of the black market in Cuba, but without it, people would hardly survive in 2024 as the Cuban economy is at rock bottom.
The enduring popularity of ventanitas in Havana is a testament to the deep cultural roots of this tradition, as well as a supplement to the formal shops and stores in Havana to make sure goods are circulating.
From the busy rugged streets of Old Havana to the vibrant and elegant neighborhoods of Miami, these small windows have been important in the everyday lives of Cubans for generations.
As we wrap up our exploration of the history of ventanitas in Miami and Havana, it’s clear that these small windows have left an indelible mark on the communities they serve in both countries!
FAQs Ventanitas & Cuba Travel
What Is The Meaning of Ventanitas?
Ventanita means little window in Spanish.
What is a Cuban Ventanita?
A Cuban ventanita is a little window with a little shop behind it, where someone sells at least strong Cuban coffee. In Havana you will also often be able to buy other items like sandwiches, snacks, or even household items.
In Miami, the ventanitas are very similar to a normal cafe today, only they still have the little window to the street where you can order your cafecito!
Who Invented the Ventanita?
The person who has been credited for bringing the ventanita concept from Cuba to Miami is Cuban exile Felipe Valls Sr, the founder of Versailles restaurant.
However, who actually invented the ventanita, IN Cuba, I don’t know! It probably just evolved a long time ago because it was a handy and social way to get a shot of coffee and a chat!
Why Is Versailles Restaurant Famous?
Versailles Restaurant started out as a tiny little ventanita brought over from Cuba, and the founder Felipa Valls Sr has been able to grow it into what it is today.
So the modern day Versailles is considered important for preserving the heritage of Cuban cuisine among the diaspora, and for the rest of the world, in Miami!
Why are US citizens not allowed to travel to Cuba?
This is NOT correct. US citizens ARE ALLOWED to travel to Cuba.
Americans can choose a reason for Cuba travel among 12 pre-approved reasons for traveling to Cuba, determined by the US Government.
Can US citizens travel to Cuba as a tourist?
Technically, US citizens are NOT allowed to travel to Cuba as a tourist. Americans choose between 12 pre-approved reasons for Cuba travel, among which the most common one is “to help the Cuban people”.
What are the 12 requirements to travel to Cuba?
You can read about the 12 pre-approved reasons to travel to Cuba for US citizens here.
The easiest and most common reason for Cuba travel is “to help the Cuban people”. There is no paperwork or application process connected to this, you just choose your reason and state that reason if anyone asks.
What happens if a US citizen travels to Cuba?
Nothing happens if a US citizen travels to Cuba, apart from hopefully, the US citizen will have a fabulous holiday and encounter with Cuban culture.
Selected airlines sell this visa/tourist card, or you can buy one online.
What documents do I need to travel to Cuba?
You need the following documents to travel to Cuba:
- Passport valid for 6 months after date of entry
- Cuban tourist card / tourist visa
- Proof of travel insurance, including health insurance
- Fill out the d’viajero.cu digital document before your journey
Do Americans need to be vaccinated to enter Cuba?
No, there is no requirement for specific vaccines prior to entering Cuba. Your country’s health department probably has recommendations for what vaccines you should consider before entering Cuba.
How Do I get a tourist card for Cuba?
You might also be able to buy a Cuban tourist card from your airline or at the airport prior to departure.
It is possible to buy a Cuban tourist card at Miami International Airport at the check-in counter with American Airlines and Delta Airlines.
How Do I Get A Tourist Visa For Cuba?
- Buy one online from Easy Tourist Card
- Buy one from your airline if they offer this
- Buy one at the airport of departure if they offer this
- Buy one from the Cuban Embassy in your country
Is Travel To Cuba Allowed Right Now?
Yes, Cuba travel is allowed right now. There are no COVID or health restraints from entering Cuba right now.
There are no political constraints from entering Cuba right now for most international travelers.
American citizens need to, in addition, choose one of the 12 pre-approved reasons for traveling to Cuba (Americans can not travel as “tourists”) and follow some simple guidelines for traveling in Cuba.
Wrap-Up The Story Of Ventanitas!
In conclusion, the ventanita is more than just a small window in Miami.
It’s a symbol of the Cuban culture and history cherished in Miami for decades, which the city is so well known for.
From grabbing a quick coffee to enjoying a tasty snack, these little windows offer a unique glimpse into a rich tradition.
Whether you’re a local or a tourist in Miami be sure to visit some of the top ventanitas and experience the essence of Cuban culture.
As the saying goes, “When in Miami, do as the “Cubans”do (not sure if that is a real saying, but I like it).” Either way, in the ventanitas in Miami you will get probably the BEST coffee possible (the Cuban kind), maybe a Cuban sandwich, and kinda get a taste of the entire Cuban heritage without even leaving US soil.
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