It's tangy, zesty and sometimes sweet. The taste of Nora's Cuban food will knock you off your feet.
Story and photos by Amber Glasper
It’s tangy, zesty and sometimes sweet. It has style, soul and it moves to its own beat. It quenches your hunger and knocks you off your feet. It’s “arroz con pollo” (chicken and rice) and “plantanitos maduro” (sweet plantains) and so much more. It’s the taste of Nora’s Cuban food.
For 64-year-old Nora Garcia, cooking is more than a lifelong passion — it’s a way to stay connected to her Cuban roots and to share their flavorful and decadent secrets with others through her food.
“Since I was a little girl I loved to cook,” she says. “In my house it was a symbol of love and respect for your family, friends and whatever guest we were honored to have eat at our table.”
Growing up in Havana, Cuba, Garcia had many heartfelt moments at the dinner table with her family, where they’d often laugh, joke and relate the happenings of their day while enjoying a succulent meal of her mom’s famous grilled chicken with white rice, black beans and fresh bread that she spent hours in the kitchen making.
Her love of food along with the pure enjoyment she saw in her mother’s eyes each time she fixed a meal inspired Garcia to learn to cook.
At 15, Garcia’s mother taught her to make her first dish, “arroz con frijoles negro,” (rice with black beans).
“At first I thought I could never get my cooking to taste anything like my mother’s, but with lots of practice I finally was able to get it just right,” she says.
Garcia frequently entertained friends who, like her husband, Antonio, couldn’t get enough of her cooking. Guests often asked Garcia to prepare her grilled pork chops, her steak smothered in grilled onions or, for dessert, her mouth-watering flan.
“Everybody always told me I should open my own restaurant because I’d make a fortune selling my food,” she says. “I knew that living in Cuba my restaurant would never amount to much.”
At 19, Garcia and her husband won the Cuban lotto which granted them departure from Cuba. They traveled by plane to Florida and started a new life.
“Coming to the United States was a dream all on its own because it not only gave us hope, but it allowed us to reunite with family again, like my son,” she says.
After comfortably living in Miami for 25 years, Garcia and her husband decided it was time for a change.
Her husband, who had retired from the construction business, thought that opening a restaurant for he and his wife to run was a wonderful idea, Garcia says.
They were immediately attracted to the restaurant’s location at 801 Madrid St. in Coral Gables, because the outside appearance of the building resembled the architectural style of many buildings in Cuba.
Her husband named the restaurant Nora’s, because it was inspired by her dream, she says.
Although Nora’s is a small family operation and is by no means glamorous with its vibrant red and yellow interior and homey atmosphere — where customers dine right at the lunch counter — people still can’t seem to get enough of the food or of Nora.
Regla Echevarria, 35, says that Nora’s serves the best Cuban food in town no matter what time of day.
“Whenever I go to Nora’s I always order the grilled chicken smothered in onions with white rice and black beans and sweet plantains,” Echevarria says. “There is nothing like eating good food while enjoying Nora’s great company, because at Nora’s you’re not just a guest, but like family.”
Echevarria has been a loyal patron of Nora’s for almost six years and often enjoys bringing her family and friends into the restaurant.
With only two people now working in the restaurant, Migalys Hernandez and Nora — her husband having passed almost three years ago — Nora’s has managed to maintain the loyalty of its customers under any conditions.
“My restaurant is like my home. We treat everyone that comes through the door like family, and since I started cooking almost 50 years ago, I always love to hear people tell me how great my food is,” she says.
Although she has many loyal customers, some of her biggest fans are her own family members.
“My family comes to the restaurant daily to visit and to enjoy the home cooking that many of them have grown up on over the years,” she says. “If I had to pick one of my family’s favorite dishes when they come to the restaurant, I’d have to say it’s my grilled chicken.”
Although cooking can be a very tedious chore at times, it never gets old or boring for Nora.
“One thing about owning a restaurant is that it takes up a lot of time, so be prepared to live there, but what makes it all worth it is the love that goes into cooking and the love you receive because of it,” Nora says.