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D escribing the frita as “a hamburger” would be a little like describing Pitbull as “some Cuban guy.” It’s something so uniquely Miami, it needs a category of its own. The spicy ground-meat sandwich is a Cuban culinary staple, and one that inspires fierce debate in the 305. But one thing Miamians agree upon: The frita made by the little man they call “El Mago” is the city’s finest.
Ortelio Cardenas, a Cuban immigrant, opened his landmark shop in 1984, a few miles southwest of Miami International Airport on Calle Ocho and Red Rd. Since then he has received visits from famous chefs, numerous celebrities, and even President Obama. The reason he’s become the iconic fritador in a town full of fritas? His skew a little different.
Traditional Cuban fritas are made by combining beef and chorizo with family-specific spice blends, then frying them on a grill with onions and topping them with crispy shoestring potatoes. The whole thing cooks in about four minutes, and while thinner than a traditional burger, fritas bring considerably more flavor and crunch. El Mago’s are all beef, and while they’re still served on traditional Cuban rolls, most customers say his are less greasy and therefore more delicious.
Since El Mago has become a Miami institution, the next generation of the Cardenas family is getting creative. El Mago's daughter, Martha Belkys Cardenas, who’s slowly taking over the family business, stays true to the family recipe. But now she’s branching out into fritas with eggs, chicken fritas, and, most recently, vegetarian fritas. -- Matt Meltzer, Thrillist contributor
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