There are certain experiences in life that sneak up on you and forever change the way you see the world: the moment you realized you were, in fact, not smart enough to be astronaut, the first time you watched an R-rated movie you were definitely not ready for, and when you found out that Donnie from the The Wild Thornberrys was voiced by Flea from Red Hot Chili Peppers.
Eating seafood at La Camaronera is another one of those. Your first meal here could be followed by a burst of anger towards all the seafood lies you’ve been fed your whole life, including the belief that the best stuff is always within walking distance of the beach. Because three miles west of Biscayne Bay is the true seafood mecca of Miami.
La Camaronera is a small, cash-only spot in Little Havana that’s very easy to miss from the road since avoiding an accident on Flagler requires 1,000% of your attention. It’s a casual setup inside with one big, loud room, an open kitchen, and small tables that are good for groups of two and four. If it’s too crowded (and it often is), there’s also a counter that runs the length of the space where you can stand and eat. Even if they had tables inside the dumpster out back, people would probably plug their noses and take a seat - because when the food hits the table, you really stop paying attention to anything else.
The menu consists of the kind of seafood that just belongs in hot oil - think oysters, shrimp, conch, and lobster - but they’re known for one sandwich in particular: the pan con minuta. It’s an entire lightly fried snapper filet (tail included) on a Cuban bun with diced white onions, ketchup, tartar sauce, and it’s a deep-fried miracle. The snapper is just crispy enough on the outside, but still incredibly juicy and tender on the inside. The onions add texture and the ketchup and tartar sauce form a surprisingly great condiment duo. If it’s your first time here, don’t even look at the menu. Get this.
It’s hard not to order a pan con minuta every time you’re here, but you absolutely should branch out and try some more of the menu after your baptism by snapper. The camarones fritos (fried shrimp) are another popular dish here very worth ordering. The shrimp are butterflied to increase the surface area that gets fried, which is an ingenious bit of seafood engineering. The sandwich de langosta (lobster) is also a worthy runner-up to the pan con minuta, and after you’ve finished, you get to eat any little chunks of fried lobster that tumbled out of the sandwich like a free second course. If you’re trying to stay away from fried things, grab some shrimp tacos, which are great mostly because it seems like La Camaronera is incapable of failing in any task involving shrimp.
And when all that’s left on the table are just crumbs and tails, it’s time to accept that you’ll never look at seafood the same way again - just like how watching The Blair Witch Project forever changed your relationship with camping. Because what you previously thought was a 10 now tastes more like a 7 compared to the pan con minuta and shrimp tacos you already want to eat again.
These are conch, in case you need a translation - but they’re delicious in every language. They come in a handful of little balls that are soft on the inside and crispy on the outside. The best part is you can still taste the conch through the batter.
That snapper would be good enough on its own, but when this thing comes together, you get the greatest fish sandwich we’ve ever had - just perfect from the soft Cuban bread right through to the little diced onions.
We know it’s hard to skip the pan con minuta, but you won’t regret ordering this. It’s very good, and when you finish, you get to eat any fried pieces of lobster that fell off the sandwich. It’s the sandwich equivalent of an encore.
We’ve had a lot of fried shrimp in our day, and about 99% of them would lose in a fight to these guys. The best part about them - other than the perfect crunch - is that they’re butterflied, a smart little trick than ensures more of the shrimp gets breaded and fried.
We’ve talked a lot about how good Camaronera is at frying, but these tacos show they’re every bit as skilled on the flat top. The small shrimp come out slightly blackened with peppers and onions on three soft tortillas. We could probably eat five.
This is a whole lobster that’s cut up into pieces, fried, and then put back into the shell. And yes, it’s exactly as good as you’re imagining it is right now.