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Surprising literally no one, a made-in-South Florida original — the frita Cubana at El Mago de Las Fritas in Miami — has clinched the best hamburger in the state of Florida.
On that count, we agree: the Cuban sandwich, known in Miami’s Little Havana neighborhood as a frita Cubana, is a delicious, exquisitely simple comfort-food bomb.
And the pinnacle of fritas can be found sizzling on the flattop at chef Ortelio Cárdenas 37-year-old restaurant El Mago de las Fritas. A greasier twist on the hamburger, El Mago’s frita Cubana is a beef-pork blend well-seasoned with paprika, cumin and pepper, then topped with a squirt of ketchup and a tumbleweed of fried shoestring potatoes.
The whole mess, with some exceptions — frita eaters like topping their burgers with cheese and fried eggs (a caballo) — is piled onto a Cuban roll. That’s as simple as it gets. There’s no garlic aioli, no thick-cut artisanal bacon, no truffled goat cheese.
“In Little Havana, you can get a Frita pretty much anywhere,” writes Food + Wine in their glowing recommendation of the Little Havana staple. “But begin at El Mago de las Fritas, translated as Frita Wizard, or Frita Magician.”
The other reason fritas should win best Florida hamburger: They’re 100 percent local. There may be debate among locals on which city invented the humble Cuban sandwich (it’s Tampa, not Miami, by a long shot), but the origin of the frita Cubana is indisputably Miami — by way of Cuba.
The first fritas were born on Havana’s sidewalks in pushcarts called puestos, but after the Cuban Revolution, Cuban immigrants brought the street food to Miami in the 1960s. At El Mago, which opened in 1984, owner Cárdenas learned to make fritas from his brother-in-law, Victoriano Gonzalez, who started Miami’s other major frita joint, El Rey de las Fritas (translation: The Frita King).
And El Mago’s humble Cuban hamburger may have stayed a Miami secret, if not for President Barack Obama. During a fundraising stop in 2010, he detoured to the West Miami joint for a well-publicized round of fritas. And in 2020, the city of West Miami named a street after Cárdenas.
Once you’re there, frita magic isn’t far behind.