Mention Cuban food to most folks and classic dishes like roast pork and ropa vieja come to mind.
So you’re excused if you’ve never heard of a frita.
Fritas (say free-tahs) are often called Cuban hamburgers. First created in Cuba, ground beef patties are seasoned with smoked paprika and sometimes mixed with ground pork or chorizo. They’re cooked like old-time burgers on a flat top grill, topped with crunchy shoe string potato sticks and served on soft Cuban rolls.
"They’re almost an underground food," says Sef Gonzalez, who explores fritas, burgers and other unique fare on his Burger Beast blog. “In the last few years, they’ve been getting some momentum and people are talking about them.”
So much so that Gonzalez is hosting what he hopes with become an annual event — Burger Beast’s Frita Showdown, 7-10 p.m. Wednesday, August 14 at Miami’s Magic City Casino. He’s invited five classic frita-making restaurants to face-off in a competition for best frita. They are El Mago de las Fritas, El Rey de las Fritas, Luis Galindo’s Latin American and Sergio’s — all in Miami — and Cuban Guys in Hialeah.
They'll be judged by Ingrid Hoffmann, cookbook author and host of shows on Cooking Channel and Univision; Miami chefs Giorgio Rapicavoli (Eating House) and Alberto Cabrera (Bread + Butter); and culinary event producer Randy Fisher.
It's an only-in-South Florida event, says Gonzalez, because fritas can’t be found anywhere else but here, Tampa and New Jersey. As far as he knows, fritas are no longer available in Cuba, where they were once sold as street food by vendors known as friteros.
But Gonzales is so intrigued with fritas that he’s working on raising money to produce a documentary that explores the humble sandwich’s history from Cuban street food to Miami darling, where you can now get them topped with American cheese or bacon and Swiss.
Gonzalez likes his with a sunny side up fried egg — a caballo style. But he was recently at Shula Burger in Kendall where The Shula Frita burger comes with chorizo, Swiss cheese, potato sticks and smoked paprika ketchup.
“Not for me,” says Gonzalez, although he’s hearted to know a piece of Cuban culture is alive and well. Not just at Shula Burger but by a generation of young chefs raised on this singularly South Florida food item.
The Frita Showdown is 7-10 p.m. Wednesday at Magic City Casino, 450 NW 37th Ave., Miami. Tickets, if still available, are $40 FritaShowdown.com/tickets.