I don’t venture to Little Havana on 8th Street very often unless I hear about or read great reviews on a restaurant. Cardon y El Tirano at 3411 SW 8th Street fit that bill. The New York Times discovered it and the Miami Herald gave it an excellent review. Eater said it was one of Miami’s best, so off we went to see for ourselves.
Cardon is located in a strip mall and the restaurant was previously an after-hours strip club. There is still evidence of a stripper pole on the floor. I would call the decor rustic casual. Mismatched chairs and tables, rustic wood, copper light fixtures make for a fun evening. They play great blues and jazz in the background but it is a little distracting with the flat screen tv playing old movies from the 50’s and 60’s. We were laughing hysterically at a Sci-fi movie that had the worst special effects.
We got a warm welcome as soon as we walked in. We ordered a saké with lime juice and basil that was fabulous. The menu had tapas style dishes that were meant to be shared. Chef Anton Francisco is Venezuelan-born with Italian grandparents. The menu crosses cultures and cuisines from Latin America and the Mediterranean with a modern and playful twist. For instance, we really enjoyed our first app of picadillo cigars. They were lamb empanada torpedos cut lengthwise served with a yogurt sauce in a glass dish that resembled an ashtray, with black lime sprinkled on the plate to resemble ash. Not only is it a clever presentation but it is a very satisfying dish. The pretzel dim sum with mustard sauce reminds me of a cross between a soft pretzel and a hot dog. The arepas trio with a shredded beef skirt steak on an avocado mousse, queso Guayanes with ancho chili is another standout dish and a visually appealing one at that. They are cooked to order as all the food is here, crispy on the outside and inside pillowy perfect. The shrimp presented with the heads and tails on are sweet and moist and perfectly cooked. Our one disappointment was a fish dish that was on the dry side.
For dessert, there are a few choices. The Plantain Bombolini on a smear of Nutella with pistachios, caramel and avocado ice cream is good, with a nice sweet and salty balance, and the chef’s mother makes a rich, moist carrot cake that is quite good as well.
I found the meal to be creative, flavourful and eclectic. The place fills up and there is basically one server plus the chef’s brother who runs the bar and helps with serving. Cardon y El Tirano isn’t all about the glitz like so many places in Miami, instead, it’s modernizing the Little Havana area food scene by bringing new, interesting choices to locals and tourists alike.