By Mitchell Nover
Colombians know how to throw a party (if you were at, saw any pictures of, or heard any stories about Mel’s wedding in Cartagena, you know). The team at Pueblito Viejo (8285 SW 40th St, Miami) is no different, offering up a truly unique Miami experience and an amazing cultural find in Miami if you’re open to exploring outside of your comfort zone. That first look inside is certainly something you’ll never forget; it’s extreme sensory overload with with tchotchkes literally hanging from the ceiling. But once you get over your initial shock, start bopping to the Latin pop tunes, laughing along with the live troubadour roasts/performances (I think I was referred to as a Harry Potter look-a-like, which, complement appreciated), and give yourself over to the sweet smells of fried Colombian food, you realize you kind of never want to leave.
Menu highlights: While the Pueblito Viejo experience is actually much more than food, at the same time, the food is actually delicious. It’s traditional Colombian cuisine — no frills, no fancy stuff.
I started off my meal with a selection of appetizers (read: mostly fried finger food) that included Chicharrones & Tostones con Hogao, crispy pork rinds and fried green plantains served with a Colombian criollo sauce; Empanadas de Carne & Pollo, fried cornmeal dough turnovers stuffed with beef or chicken and potatoes; and an Arepa con Queso, another cornmeal dough specialty served with Colombian white cheese.
Although the call of the fried foods can be hard to resist off the top, you should probably go easy on the appetizers at Pueblito Viejo. Maybe get one or two to share because when it comes to the main courses, you’re gonna need that extra space. I know I did.
Exhibit A: the Bandeja Pueblito Viejo. Their version of the traditional Bandeja Paisa (a typical meal popular in Colombian cuisine) features most of the traditional components, like red beans, rice, fried pork rinds, grilled or ground skirt steak, fried sweet plantains, fried egg, and an arepa. Notice that this dish is generally described as a “meal,” but here it’s literally just one entree option. I’m full again just writing about it.
Then there’s the Cazuela de Frijoles, which is not too dissimilar to the Bandeja, it just comes with two plates, a larger bowl of beans, and a half avocado and a side of tomato and lettuce. Because, you know, balance.
Standout dish: For me, the top of the fried food list since I moved to Miami more than 12 years ago has always been a whole fried fish. And the Pescado Entero Frito at Pueblito Viejo does not disappoint. Served with a side of green plantains, lettuce, and tomato, the fish is perfectly crisp on the outside (with just the right saltiness, I might add) and supremely light, moist, and succulent on the inside. And the little paper parasol garnish just made me smile and kept me in party mode as I devoured this delicious little fish.
Are we boozing? Si, señor. And like everything else at Pueblito Viejo, the drinks are just as extra you’d imagine. I mean, is there anything more ridiculous than a giant margarita with a Corona sticking out of it? While I’d normally scoff at all the tourists sipping on these up and down Ocean Drive, there’s just something about the atmosphere at Pueblito Viejo that made me feel OK with partaking in this debauchery. And the fact that the price is so much more reasonable than those crazy amounts they charge on South Beach didn’t hurt either. And for the traditionalists out there, you can always get a plain old cocktail, bottle of Aguardiente, or a nice cold Colombian Aguila beer.
Check this place out if you like: crazy kitschy restaurants, which strangely there aren’t a lot (or enough) of in Miami. But for an “out of Miami” experience, you could try a spot like (my fave) Lekoké on Calle Ocho. While it’s a totally different vibe, it does offer an escape from the normal Miami scene for a night.
Mitch’s take: I love Pueblito Viejo. It’s such a great spot for a different kind of Miami night, whether your celebrating with friends, going for an out-of-the-box date night, or just looking to have a regular old good time. Everything about it is so over-the-top, but at the same time extremely approachable and enjoyable. And the food is so comforting and yummy. It’s a Colombian party that every Miamian should attend at least once.