Versailles Restaurant: Come for the Cuban Sandwiches, Stay for the Community

The iconic Miami restaurant, a gathering place for local Cuban Americans and hungry tourists alike, is celebrating 50 years
By Bill Lindsey
Bill Lindsey
Bill Lindsey
Bill Lindsey is an award-winning writer based in South Florida. He covers real estate, automobiles, timepieces, boats, and travel topics.
November 5, 2021 Updated: November 5, 2021

Since its opening 50 years ago in Miami, Versailles has become arguably the world’s most famous Cuban restaurant. The accolades are well-deserved, with its wide array of house specialties including picadillo, chicken chicharrones, an epic café cubano, and the best Cuban sandwiches north of Havana.

cafe and cubano
Sip a café cubano, or cafecito, with your pastries. (Courtesy of Versailles Restaurant)

The location on Southwest 8th Street—Calle Ocho—is far from the nonstop action of South Beach or even Downtown Miami with its forest of gleaming skyscrapers and views of cruise ships headed for tropical destinations. Located in the heart of Little Havana, just west of a car dealership and across the street from a cemetery, Versailles has a setting more akin to a pharmacy than a world-class restaurant. Yet it is in fact world-class, with patrons streaming in every day to grab a fast cafecito from the walk-up ventanita or pack the tables in the mirrored rooms, where they’re served by a wait staff that greets both regulars and newcomers like family.

versailles waitress
Inside the mirrored rooms, patrons are served by a wait staff that greets both regulars and newcomers like family. (Courtesy of Versailles Restaurant)

“This year, we celebrate 50 years of having the privilege to serve our community and patrons around the world, giving them a taste of our Cuban culture,” said Luly Valls, a third-generation owner and granddaughter of founder Felipe Valls Sr. “It fills me with pride, seeing the fruits of all the hard work my family has poured into Versailles.” On the eve of the anniversary celebration on Nov. 10, the Valls family is encouraging patrons to submit personal stories, photos, and other materials for an archive curated by HistoryMiami Museum related to Versailles and the Cuban exile experience.

A key factor in the restaurant’s success is its importance as a rallying point for Cuban expatriates. When the doors first opened in 1971, Cubans were arriving on Freedom Flights while others desperate for freedom risked their lives to cross a 90-mile gauntlet of dangerous, shark-filled waters on homemade rafts. They found a taste of home at Versailles, making it a popular place to meet and discuss politics. Since then, the restaurant has become a community fixture for three generations of Cuban Americans.

To this day, politicians and those vying for local, state, or federal office make the pilgrimage to Versailles to seek favor and win votes. But in the end, it’s the authentic Cuban food that draws patrons from around the globe: Versailles has the real thing, as proven by the throngs of Cuban regulars who come back time after time to enjoy meals just like their abuelas made.

versailles food
Take your pick from the expansive, affordable menu. (Courtesy of Versailles Restaurant)

If You Go

The Must-Orders: Café cubano (Cuban espresso) and their signature Cuban sandwiches
The Crowd: More than 2,000 diners per day
Location: 3555 Southwest 8th Street, Miami, Fla. 33135
Hours: 8 a.m. to midnight Mon.–Thurs., 8 a.m. to 1 a.m. Fri. and Sat., 9 a.m. to midnight Sun.
Contact: 305-444-0240; VersaillesRestaurant.com

Bill Lindsey
Bill Lindsey is an award-winning writer based in South Florida. He covers real estate, automobiles, timepieces, boats, and travel topics.