The Iconic Rio Cristal in Westchester, Florida

Walking through the doors at Rio Cristal in Westchester is like stepping back to a time when waiters remembered you and what you liked to eat. Back then, everyone had a favorite waiter or waitress who took care of them.

Rio Cristal in Miami, Florida
Rio Cristal in Westchester, Florida

I don’t think much of the decor has changed in the almost half-century that it’s been open.

Eating at Rio Cristal

Pansito from Rio Cristal in Miami, Florida

Within a few minutes of sitting at the table, pansito (toasted bread) arrives at your table. It’s the perfect snack while you look over the menu and decide what you’re gonna eat.

If you’re not starving, then I’d suggest ordering the pan con bistec. The same delicious toasted bead comes with lettuce, tomato, seasoned steak, and their housemade mini-french fries.

Pan con Bistec from Rio Cristal in Miami, Florida
The Very Underrated Pan con Bistec

There’s even a great picture of the famous Super Rio Cristal Steak that would look great in my kitchen (UPDATE: it is now my possession). The steak with the mound of fries is so iconic that when I ran into the late food writer and historian Josh Ozersky a few years back at the South Beach Burger Bash in South Beach, he was gushing about “the steak with papitas” from Rio Cristal.

#51 Bistec from Rio Cristal in Miami, Florida
#51 Bistec

Of course, I’m talking about the #39, but for us folks who live a life of excess, the #51 Super Rio Cristal Steak is where it’s at. How Super is it? Watch the video from Abuela Mami.

courtesy of AbuelaMami

Your meal at Rio Cristal always ends with a cafecito and a flan. There are no ifs, ands, or buts when it comes to this. Careful consideration must be made when deciding what to eat. You do not want to miss out on this flan. In Westchester, it’s considered a crime to skip it.

And in the world of Burger Beast, it’s unacceptable if you haven’t visited Rio Cristal.

Rio Cristal
9872 Bird Road
Miami, FL

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Tuesday 12 pm – 9 pm
Wednesday 12 pm – 9 pm
Thursday 12 pm – 9 pm
Friday 12 pm – 10 pm
Saturday 12 pm – 10 pm
Sunday 12 pm – 9 pm

Now, let’s jump right into some Rio Cristal restaurant history.

Lila’s and Rio Cristal History

In 1961, Jose C. Acosta, known as Pepe to his friends, opened a restaurant in New York named after his sister Lila. At this restaurant, he created his famous palomilla steak, which was covered in a large mound of small french fries.

Three years later, he left Manhattan behind and moved to Miami. There, he would reopen his restaurant, Lila’s, and introduce the famous steak to everyone in Little Havana.

He sold Lila’s in 1972, thinking it was time for him to retire, but he didn’t have it in him. Pepe opened another restaurant in 1974, but a smaller one this time to keep himself entertained.

Inside of Rio Cristal in Westchester, Florida
Inside of Rio Cristal

He named his new creation after the famous restaurant from the Güines in Cuba, Rio Cristal. Many families, including my own, would have their one weekly dinner outing at the now-legendary restaurant in Westchester.

Pepe passed away in 2014, but his legacy lives on at Rio Cristal.

Is Rio Cristal Closing After 40 Years?

On August 6th, 2020, I announced that after 46 years, the majestic Rio Cristal in Westchester will be serving its last meal at the end of August.

Why Is Rio Cristal Closing?

I spoke to Ely Acosta, the founder’s daughter, and asked her why Rio Cristal was closing. She mentioned that her mother and brother, who run the restaurant’s day-to-day operations, had tried their best to make it work during these trying times.

Miami city officials have not made it easy on them and every other restaurant in the magic city with their flip-flopping on dining-in rules. The Acosta family tried to hold on and almost closed in July but decided to ride it out until the end of August.

Since my friend Miami Stadium and I broke the news of Rio Cristal‘s closing, I have been inundated with folks wanting to start a GoFundMe page. I spoke to Ely about it and while she is appreciative of the support, it will not change anything. They are closing.

Then, the community came out in droves to support Rio Cristal. Ely bought Rio Cristal from her mother and brother to become the sole owner of the South Florida landmark restaurant.

While Ely is no longer the owner years after the closing scare, the couple who purchased Rio Cristal have vowed to run it the same way since it opened in 1974.

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