When you’re hungry for a Cuban frita in Miami, there are a fair amount of choices for places to go. El Mago de las Fritas sets itself apart from all the rest with their food and their atmosphere. El Mago, Ortelio Cardenas, has been working the flat top himself, six days a week for over 26 years. The restaurant is small with a lot of character; a counter top, a few tables, picture frames and quotes littering the wall.
El Mago, since he cooks everything himself, tends to stay away from a menu going beyond fritas, steak sandwiches and the like. However, he does have certain items that he makes once a week such as bacalao on Fridays and ajiaco on Saturdays. I was told that some people come in weekly just for those items. They are made in one large batch in the morning and not replenished—when it’s done it’s done.
I was able to try three dishes when I visited; the first thing I tried, of course, was the frita. I’ve had plenty of fritas, but this one really stood out to me. First off, the bread that it came in was super tall, and it was nicely toasted. The patty had a deep, rich smokiness to it, most likely from a good dose of cumin and other spices. It’s cooked on the flat top with a special sauce that gives it a good depth; it was intensely flavored and delicious. It wasn’t atomic red either, as I’m used to seeing, which was actually nice. It was served with shoestring potatoes in it, which are processed and fried fresh everyday on premise, a combination of raw onions and onions cooked with the frita; and let’s not forget the all important tiny squirt of ketchup, heck of a sandwich.
The pan con bistec came next; good chewy bread, crisp on the outside and pressed. The steak was tender and extremely flavorful. Nice sharp acidity, herb flavors came through nicely and good seasoning. It was also served with a mountain of shoestring potatoes in it and a combination of deeply caramelized onions and raw onions. This was a great sandwich that can hold it’s own against any other steak sandwich.
Luckily, I went on a Saturday, which means that I got to try the ajiaco. Ajiaco is a rich stew made with corn, root vegetables and some sort of meat, and this one just so happened to be amazing. Very rich, thick broth heavily perfumed by sweet corn and subtle herbs with big chunks of boniato, squash, potatoes, yucca, pork and beef. It’s perfectly seasoned and perfectly cooked. All the vegetables and meats are tender but not mushy; they are all identifiable. It comes with lime wedges on the side to cut through some of the richness and add some brightness. Simply presented, a bowl and a spoon, but why fancy it up when it’s that good.
I highly recommend visiting El Mago de las Fritas if you’re looking for a good traditional Cuban frita. I’ll be revisiting soon to try the bacalao, I’ve heard nothing but great things about it, and judging from what I have tried from them, I wouldn’t doubt it.
5828 Southwest 8th Street
Miami, Florida 33144
El Mago de la Frita,