A lot of places in Miami claim to serve the best frita (aka Cuban hamburger) in town. One small chain had a moment of glory on a famous-chef TV show. After a day of sampling, I cast my vote for El Mago de las Fritas. Mago means magician, for whom you have a front row seat if you grab a stool at the counter, behind which the fritas are grilled and assembled by the gent whose diner this is.
Like a regular hamburger, they are made of ground beef; but you might not guess so at first bite; the seasoning is that radical. It’s more like chorizo sausage — paprika-red and peppery and rugged-textured. On a big, soft Cuban bun, garnished with maybe a fried egg (“a caballo”) and Swiss or American cheese, then piled with crunchy little potato wisps, it’s a great signature dish of Miami.
Beyond its superior frita, El Mago goes the extra mile in many ways. Fruit juices are fresh and utterly refreshing, especially watermelon. When I ask for house hot sauce, which apparently the staff does not usually offer to strangers, the waitress who brings me the bottle (it IS hot!) reminds me to try the creamy-looking sauce in another squeeze bottle. It looks like mayonnaise, but in fact is more: mayo, plus mustard, plus BBQ sauce, plus ginger. It’s for the frita, but also wonderful on the piles of potato wisps that fall from the sandwich.
This humble strip-mall storefront with its handful of tables and diner-like counter is a welcoming place. The price is right and the fritas are definitive. It’s a terrific Roadfood destination in Miami.