Meet Cristina Bustamante and Ani Mezerhane, the pair behind Abuela’s Counter

📸: Photo provided by Abuela’s Counter

Hey ladies! Introduce yourselves and tell New Tropic readers what it is that you do. 

We are Ani Mezerhane and Cristy Bustamante of Abuela’s Counter. We both come from large Cuban families filled with traditions and memories of fun gatherings filled with lots of food and love. Nothing makes us feel more connected to our Cuban roots than being in the kitchen and making meals for — and sometimes forcefully teaching our kids how — to prepare traditional Cuban food.

Right now, we are working on Abuela’s Counter. We focus on teaching the new generation how to make the meals they grew up on. For some reason, many of us believe that we can’t make these dishes. The constant stream of “oh my god, that was so easy” and “wow, I can’t believe I made something so delicious” is almost as satisfying as the food itself — almost!

Since we’re already talking about food… if you could eat only one meal from a local restaurant for the rest of your life, what would it be?

This is shameful self promotion, but I’d have to say our natilla. You see, I (Cristy) failed making this dish like 10 times before Ani showed me the right way. Not only is the natilla great, but I can still taste the triumph!

If we have to leave the house…

Ani: Croquetas from Islas Canarias.

Cristy: Pan Con Bistec from Enriquetas.

Outside of the obvious stops above, share your other top three destinations for where you’d go on your perfect Miami day.

Cristy: On a perfect Miami day, hitting a Cuban bakery — La Rosa or El Brazo Fuerte — and taking boxes of Cuban sandwiches, croquetas, pastelitos and heading out on the water. Elliot Key, or just finding a quiet spot to anchor, throw out floats and just hang out with family and friends. Good music, beers — it’s the best way to see the city. Then docking and heading to Panther Coffee for my daily fix. Then — since this is a perfect day — I have energy and we are showering, changing and heading to Mandolin, because in this fantasy it was easy to snag a last minute reservation.

Ani: I’d start my day at the Versailles ventanita for a cafecito with leche evaporada and pastelitos. Then I’d go walk the Key Biscayne bridge in the morning. Next, I’m grabbing a strawberry pavlova from Piononos for later, because I earned it after that walk. Then I’d get on a boat and see Miami from the water because there is no better way to see it. Afterwards I’d head to Coconut Grove after docking for a walk around my favorite part of town. Finally, I’m heading to Cafe Abbracci with my family because we have been eating there my whole life and it’s always the best.

How does Miami help you do what you do or influence your work?

We love everything about this city, from the eclectic collection of people to the Palmetto (we’re not perfect.) It’s in every part of what we do. Miami was a haven for our families when they escaped Cuba and allowed them to find a new place.

We grew up here. Miami is where we celebrated milestones. It’s where our Abuelas and moms taught us about everything in the kitchen and life. You can feel Miami in all our recipes and you can definitely hear it in our accents when we talk.

Wax poetic for a minute and tell us: what brings you two alive about this city?

We have to go with the food. The food scene in Miami has grown with the city. It seems that each year Miami gets blessed with more and more amazing restaurant openings. It’s exciting to see all the top chefs coming to Miami and bringing a little bit of their perspective to our neighborhoods.

However, it’s the little holes in the wall — the ones that have been there for years — that have our heart. The local restaurants where you know the men and women who are behind the counters and the ventanitas — they are the soul of the city. They make it feel alive.

What are your favorite Miami memories?

We both grew up heading to either Versailles or La Carreta at Bird and 87th to bang on pans to celebrate pretty much everything. The Marlins winning the World Series, the Heat Championships, and each time Fidel was rumored to have died.

It doesn’t get more Miami than banging pots and pans in the street.

What’s an unpopular opinion you have about the city?

Lately it feels like it’s growing too fast, and we don’t want Miami to lose what makes it Miami.

What are your favorite local social media accounts to follow and why?

@mariatettamanti offers a hilarious guide to all aspects of Miami life. @literallymiami — I think every other local to know has mentioned Only in Dade, which is great, but this is literally Miami bro! And finally, @eileenandrade, because #chefgoals.

If you could give any one piece of advice to locals, what would it be?

Ani: Go to the beach! It’s right there and we never go.

Cristy: Bring an umbrella.

What’s a project you’re working on and how can our readers help you with it?

Our main project is connecting with our heritage. Right now, it’s through food.

We beg you, if there is a meal you remember that reminds you of your family, or just something you love, but you’ve never tried making it — give it a try. If you get stuck, message us, we’re happy to help!

What are you looking forward to between now and the end of the year?

We are getting ready for our next cooking class. We are shooting content for Thanksgiving and Christmas, and hopefully 🤞 launching our YouTube channel. But generally hoping to help anyone out there who is scared to give cooking a try. The holidays are a great time to get in the kitchen and try something new.

That’s a wrap on this week’s Locals to Know, sponsored by Abuela’s Counter. Know someone who ought to be featured or would like to be featured yourself? Reach out by sending an email to [email protected] with the subject line “TNT Locals to Know 2022.” If chosen, you might just see yourself or a friend in a future newsletter.