Local Life and Lore in Miami

Before you visit Miami, prime yourself on some of the local life and lore so you know what to expect.
By: Amy Driscoll and Larry Lebowitz
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Many people have tried Cuban coffee or its cousin, espresso, but Miami raises the high-octane delight to an art form. At least double the strength of the typical American cup of Joe, Cuban coffee is a daily morning ritual for most Cubans and Cuban-Americans and often served in tiny cups, or tacitas, at the end of a meal. Hardcore traditionalists still make it in stovetop pots, but most of the cafe Cubano in Miami is brewed in Italian-made espresso machines.

Here are a few tips to understanding Cuban coffee culture. First, you don’t sip or savor cafe Cubano. You shoot it like a shot of liquor. Finer Cuban restaurants will serve a glass of ice water to cleanse the palate before drinking the cafecito.

Many stand-up counters and cafeterias around Miami that serve smaller bites and pastries will also provide large orange coolers of ice water. Also, don’t be surprised if conversations at the coffee counters turn a little heated. Maybe it’s the humidity, maybe it’s the caffeine, maybe it’s just Miami, but politics and coffee seem to go together.

To order a coffee with the confidence of a local, you need to become familiar with these popular terms:

Cafecito: Espresso Cuban style. Served in a small cup, it is very strong and very sweet. Don’t be stunned if you see people adding even more sugar.
Cafe con Leche:
 The Cuban version of Cafe au Lait, add one shot of cafecito to a small cup of steamed milk.
 “Thinly cut” in Spanish, add a tablespoon or two of hot milk to cafecito.
 A larger container of cafecito served in a to-go cup with a lid and a handful of tiny, plastic thimble-sized espresso cups to share with your friends and co-workers after lunch or for a late-afternoon pick-me-up.
 The first few drips of cafecito are dripped into a pot with a few teaspoons of sugar. The person making the cafecito will whip this mixture into a sweet foam for the top of the drink. This foam is the espumita. 


  • What's in a Name? For the uninitiated, Miami is pronounced My-am-ee. But if you want to identify a descendant of old, Cracker Miami, listen for a slightly different way of saying it: Mi-am-uh.
  • Flowering Over. One of the little-known but delightful benefits of living in Miami is the cheap and plentiful tropical flowers. The Miami airport is one of the largest entry points for a wide array of exotic flowers, so there’s no need to deal with a florist. Haggle with the street vendors over armloads of gingers, calla lilies, sunflowers and roses, and arrange them yourself. You can find the best prices, especially on Sunday afternoon, at numerous street corners and on Lincoln Road Mall, as the sun starts to set.
  • Birds of a Feather. Miami has its own, rather less romantic version of the swallows that return every spring to the mission of San Juan Capistrano in Southern California. Every fall, a flock of vultures return to Miami and take up residence on the pyramid-style roof atop the historic downtown courthouse on Flagler Street. The courthouse was the tallest building in the city from 1928 to 1972. The vultures cast large shadows as they circle downtown during the day, sometimes dropping the flesh of small rodents and fish on the streets below.
  • Black Magic. Want to put a curse or spell on your landlord, boss or lover? For a fairly steep price, you can do this at the botanicas catering to Haitian followers of voudou and Cuban adherents of Santeria. Those who want to attract love, money or a lottery win can also buy potions, elixirs, herbs or candles for a few bucks.
  • Window Watch. Newcomers might notice the remnants of taped “X’s" on some windows in older parts of the city. It’s an old wives’ tale, but some believe that taping the windows will help prevent them from shattering in hurricane-force winds. Stick with hurricane shutters or high-impact windows during the summertime hurricane season.
  • A Place to Roost. A national emblem in many Caribbean countries, roosters roam free in several Miami neighborhoods, popping up randomly on street corners. Whimsical 6-foot-tall rooster sculptures known as gallos stand guard outside several Little Havana landmarks, including one dressed in a straw hat and the white tropical shirt known as a guayabera at the La Carreta restaurant on Calle Ocho. Others wear baseball caps, bullfighting capes and smoke cigars. Local stores sell toy roosters that say “ki-ki-ri-ki,” the Spanish equivalent of “cock-a-doodle-doo.”


One of the tougher adjustments for recent arrivals is the traffic, congestion and aggressive driving habits. Locals regularly rate themselves among the nation’s rudest in road rage surveys. The local highway and road names don’t make it any easier. Here’s a sampler of some of the confusion:

  • U.S. 1 goes by several names. In the northern parts of Miami-Dade County it is known as Biscayne Boulevard. South of the Miami River it becomes Brickell Avenue. On the south end of downtown it becomes South Dixie Highway until it reaches the 18-mile stretch that leads into the Florida Keys.
  • State Road 836 is the primary east-to-west toll road; the traffic reports will call it The Dolphin Expressway. Heading east on the Dolphin, past I-95, and the same road suddenly becomes Interstate 395, and then the MacArthur Causeway, and A1A, as it heads over to Miami Beach.
  • State Road 112 is another east-to-west toll road that is commonly referred to as The Airport Expressway. Heading east on this expressway, past I-95, it suddenly becomes I-195 and then the Julia Tuttle Causeway before turning into 41st Street (or Arthur Godfrey Boulevard) on Miami Beach.
  • State Road 826 is commonly referred to as The Palmetto Expressway. It was designed as a two-lane rural outer loop in the early 1960s. Today, some segments of the Palmetto are 12 lanes wide and among the most heavily traveled in the state.
  • State Road 874 is a toll road in the southwest suburbs of Kendall that links the Palmetto Expressway to Florida’s Turnpike. Some locals call the 874 the Don Shula Expressway.
  • State Road 878 is a tiny spur that links the Don Shula Expressway with US 1 near the Dadeland areas of East Kendall. It’s commonly known as the Snapper Creek Expressway.
  • State Road 924 is another toll road that links I-75 and the Palmetto Expressway in the northwest part of the county with Northwest 119th Street as it approaches I-95. It’s commonly referred to as The Gratigny Parkway.

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