Most visitors coming to Miami, if they think of "ethnic" food, will think of Cuban food. And Miami indeed has plenty of Cuban food. But that one-note school of thinking fails to capture the diversity of Latin American peoples that have come to call Miami home - Argentina, Uruguay, Peru, Colombia, Venezuela, Honduras, Nicaragua and many others (without even considering the Caribbean, which is entirely another subject of discussion) all make their presence felt in the culture and cuisine of South Florida. And a good bit of that diversity is reflected in just a few blocks very close to my home.
The city of Miami Beach is situated on a series of man-made islands along the coast of Miami, and the "North Beach" neighborhood is essentially the northern periphery of the city. While tourist-inundated South Beach basically runs south to north from 1st Street to about 23rd Street, and the predominantly residential Mid-Beach area runs up to about 63rd Street, North Beach picks up north of 63rd Street up to about 85th Street, where it yields to the municipality of Surfside. This stretch is not nearly as flashy as South Beach. Most of the beachfront condos are still awaiting updating, and the only substantial incursion of new development is the Canyon Ranch at 68th and Collins Avenue.
This more modest neighborhood has become home to many of Miami's Latin American populations. Argentinians, in particular, many of whom came to Miami over the past ten years amidst economic strife in their home country, have so taken a shine to North Beach that some have dubbed it "Little Buenos Aires", but North Beach is actually a happy melting pot of people from all over Central and South America. Lucky for all of us, they've brought their recipes with them.
The first stop for my "5 Countries in 5 Blocks" tour is El Rey del Chivito. "Chivito," some of you may note, means goat, yet "The King of the Goat" offers no goat on the menu. According to the owner of El Rey del Chivito, the story goes that an Argentine tourist went to a restaurant in Uruguay and asked for a roast goat sandwich. Having no goat, the restaurateur served her a steak sandwich instead, which he began calling a "chivito." As other tourists began asking for additional toppings on the sandwich, they all stayed a part of the recipe, which now typically includes a thin grilled steak, bacon, fried ham, cheese, a fried egg, onions, lettuce, and tomato, all on a lightly toasted bun - slathered with mayonnaise, of course.
It is an over-the-top, heart-attack-on-a-bun kind of a sandwich. It is also absolutely delicious, though clearly something to be consumed in moderation. This is not simply a "This is Why You're Fat" style gross-out fest. The multitudinous components of the sandwich really do make for a truly delectable combination. I just try to limit my intake to about one a year, and recently learned, while paying a visit with National Geographic writer Andrew Nelson as he tweeted his way through Miami, that half a sandwich will actually do just fine. I just can't imagine who is putting away the "Super Chivito Emperador," the super-sized version they also offer on the menu. The fries, unfortunately, are disappointingly limp, though they do serve as a handy vehicle for the greasy goodness that drips off the sandwich.
While the chivito is unquestionably the official sandwich of Uruguay, and apparently unique to the country, Uruguayan food otherwise - at least what's available here - looks much like that of its neighbor Argentina. The menu at El Rey del Chivito also offers typical parrillada items, as well as a grab-bag other things: steaks, grilled chicken, hamburgers with various toppings, a few salads, a couple pastas, pizzas (there is a strong Italian influence to Argentine cuisine). Another curious item you'll see in both Uruguay and Argentina is faina, which is a thin chickpea-based bread customarily served with pizza in both countries. You can order it on its own or on top of the pizza, in which case it's called a "Pizza a Caballo" (on horseback).
This is perhaps more of a curiosity to be experienced than a delicacy to be sought out, as the pizza at El Rey de Chivito was only fair to middling, and the faina didn't really do much to elevate it for me.
But a chivito at El Rey del Chivito is always a fine and immensely satisfying sandwich. Just keep in mind that between the egg and bacon, the ham and cheese, and the steak, it can serve as breakfast, lunch and dinner all in one.
[Edited to add: I just noticed that the first picture of the restaurant wall, above, has some great stuff in it. There's a picture of Elvis, "El Rey del Rock", next to a picture of the owner, Aron, "El Rey del Chivito" wearing crown and robe; and also some diagrams and lists showing where the different cuts of beef come from. I'm going to have to give that a closer inspection next visit.]
El Rey del Chivito
6987 Collins Avenue
Miami Beach, FL 33141