Experience best described as ‘Global Gastronomical Fusion’
At Frita’s Cuban Burger Cafe on a Friday night, you can hear music thumping from the Green Parrot, as the tunes and people spill out onto the street; that crowd should be making the half-block walk for some amazing grub. Owner Marcia Weaver serves up the perfect fare: from the delicious burgers themselves, to seafood and tacos, to legit homemade desserts.
As you slip into the world of bold color and heavenly scent that is Frita’s, you will start to feel the Cuban-Mex fusion taking hold. You will be transported to a family barbeque in Havana, or maybe Tijuana — possibly at a fun-loving abuela’s house — and your stomach will start to growl. The tiny location has both indoor and outdoor seating, but as is often the case in Key West, form follows function. Marcia does the baking and juicing inside the casita (that’s right, fresh fruit frescas daily!), while grill-master and origami enthusiast, Mathias, does all the protein outside, in a state fair-style carnival wagon. To say the atmosphere is fun would be an understatement.
Marcia’s “Cuban Cigars” are the best, and only, Cuban-Asian fusion dish I have ever tasted. A crispy egg roll wrapper hugs ham, pork, swiss cheese, and pickles, and is topped with tangy mustard sauce. When I asked her where she got the idea for this combination, she informed me that she was once an actual cigar roller, and “just had to be rolling something!” If Marcia so chose, she could sell this recipe to any number of casual dining chains and make a fast fortune.
We also sampled the roasted chipotle corn, a street food masterpiece, and the chicken empanadas, which came highly recommended. With just the right amount of queso fresco, and a spicy chipotle kick, the roasted corn needed only a squeeze of lime to achieve on-the-cob greatness. And the empanadas delivered on their promise of comfort food perfection. (The empanada variety rotates daily, so stop in repeatedly to find your favorite.)
Our main course consisted of a Cuban Burger “a caballo,” topped with a fried egg and Manchego cheese, and the crunchy, flaky hogfish tacos. The chorizo-like pork element of the burger (Cuban burgers are 50 percent beef, 50 percent pork), along with the egg and sweetly spicy Frita Sauce, generously topped with finely julienned potatoes, gave it an almost breakfast feel. The mellow Manchego balanced these elements. The hogfish tacos were equally delicious. The fish itself was flaky, but not fall-apart, and topped with fresh pineapple and mango, and Frita’s signature slaw. A distinct jalapeño kick was present, as well. If sweet with a little spicy is your go-to, then you want these in your life, immediately.
The menu at Frita’s Cuban Burger Cafe is surprisingly large for such a small place, and we could try only a fraction of what we would have liked. The Key West Shrimp Burger perked my interest, as did the Perro Cuban Hot Dog. Marcia showed us an order of Cuban pork tacos, a house favorite, on their way out. The guava-glazed pork, topped with brilliant purple cabbage smelled amazing. Whoever ordered those are lucky they did not arrive with a bite missing.
With a welcoming environment and superb service, Frita’s will have you planning your next visit before you leave with your to-go box, your full belly, and your origami swan from Mathias.
Chance Parker originally hails from Texas, and is currently the wine director at Prime Steakhouse in Key West. He has more than 15 years experience in fine dining and catering, and is a certified sommelier, as well as certified specialist of wine.
Frita’s Cuban Burger Cafe
425 Southard St.
Open 11 a.m. to 11 p.m.