A Third-Generation Cuban-American Restaurateur Honors her Roots While Forging into the Future

In the past few years, Miami’s restaurant scene has grown exponentially, with local chefs and restaurateurs sharing their unique cultures and stories through the plates they serve.

As a Cuban-American and third-generation restaurateur, Eileen Andrade grew up in the kitchen of Islas Canarias, an iconic Cuban restaurant opened in 1977 by her grandparents, Raul and Amelia Garcia and now run by her parents.

At first, Andrade had aspirations in fashion, with her brother, Jonathan, showing more interest in the restaurant industry (a third sibling is a doctor), but when a stylist job didn’t pan out, Andrade rethought her future. “I asked my mother if I could work at the restaurant and I absolutely loved it,” she said. Soon, the fledgling chef worked her way up. “My culinary school was working the line. I worked all the stations and our chef took me under his wing,” says Andrade. Andrade continued her culinary experience in Korea, where her then-girlfriend was living.

In 2011, Andrade and her brother Jonathan opened CubanCube, a food truck that offered Cuban fare, including the croquetas that Islas Canarias is famous for. In 2014, Eileen — with the help of her brother Jonathan — opened Finka Table & Tap. For the first time, the young chef allowed her culinary creativity to shine with a menu that blended Cuban, Korean, and Peruvian flavors. Located southwest of the City of Miami in the suburban Kendall neighborhood, Finka swiftly became a local hotspot for its craft cocktails and savory dishes like sriracha pork ribs and Cuban fried rice. 

Just recently, Andrade opened Amelia’s 1931, named for her grandmother. The restaurant initially opened in 2018 as a small, casual Cuban diner. Though the tiny restaurant proved popular, the chef admitted that its diminutive size just wasn’t lucrative enough. Add a global pandemic to the mix and Andrade made the decision to close it and rethink the business model. “We were busy, but it was too small for it to make sense,” she says. Then, as if by serendipity, the adjacent drycleaning business closed, making the space available. “I remember it was on my 30th birthday and I thought, what a great birthday gift,” she shares, adding, “I’m 34 now, so the renovations took a bit longer than expected.”

The transformation of Amelia’s from a humble diner to an upscale dining establishment was worth the wait and the expense. 

Guests enter what seems to be an old-school dry cleaner shop to find a washing machine and hanging clothes — a tribute both to the original tenant and Andrade’s seamstress grandmother (some of the clothes actually belonged to Abuela Amelia). The clean laundry serves as a curtain into Amelia’s lounge.

The lounge area is filled with comfortable vintage furniture — much of it sourced from friends and family or procured by Andrade’s girlfriend, Lauren. Amelia’s now offers a full cocktail program. “People know our Finka cocktail program is great, but Amelia’s definitely has an elevated bar program compared. Our beverage manager, Alex Aportela, really geeked out on this menu,” says Andrade. Cocktails include the Yass Queen, made with Earl Gray-infused vodka, all-spice dram, fresh lemon juice, and orange blossom honey syrup, sprayed with Ardbeg mist and topped with grated nutmeg; and the Cereal Killer with clarified Japanese whisky, lemon, honey, Cheerios, and strawberry champagne air.

The dining room features hand-stenciled walls and custom-made booths and lamps. Andrade said this attention to detail was key to her vision. “we spent a lot of time to give the Kendall neighborhood something it doesn’t have.”

The menu incorporates Andrade’s signature Asian/Cuban flavor profile with dishes such as escargot with umami butter and Cuban bread points; gochujang paella with clams, shrimp, octopus, halibut, and peas; and pan-seared halibut with pickled Thai chili, haricot vert, black garlic beurre blanc, and arroz con pato.

Andrade says that having two restaurants just a few miles from each other is the key to her hands-on approach to restaurant ownership. “My regulars who go to both restaurants are sometimes amazed that they see me at both. But you have to make the rounds to keep that spark and magic. I think it’s important. I have wonderful managers, but when you own something it’s different.”

The young restaurateur says that she and her girlfriend have aspirations to open a bar together, but stresses it’s “down the line — like in four years or so”.

For now, the chef is happy to cultivate her restaurants and cater to her guests. The strategy seems to be working: Finka just celebrated its ninth anniversary. “What I have now is a good balance. I think that’s the key. Don’t spread yourself too thin. You have to have the time to care about what you have.”