Welcome to Hialeah

Occasionally derided as the land of agua, fango y factoria, Hialeah gets a bad rap. But amid the suburban sprawl, there is so much to love about the city. It’s got a long history, great food, and more than a few interesting gems hidden within.

It’s one of the oldest cities in South Florida, and the first city west of Miami. Even before Hialeah became incorporated in 1925, the area went through years of development by Missouri cattle farmer James H. Bright and New York aviator Glenn H. Curtiss. They also built an airstrip and flying school in the town after the Wright Brothers turned down an offer to build one themselves.

Back then, Hialeah was still mostly agua y fango, although by 1925, there were 21 factories amidst all that water and mud. Despite suffering massive losses during the Great Hurricane of 1926, Hialeah bounced back to became the City of Progress it is today, the sixth largest in the State of Florida. It was only just recently, and narrowly, overtaken by Orlando on the list of Florida’s top cities and has a population density almost as high as Miami itself. A city with such a long history is bound to have more than a few interesting spots, and Hialeah definitely does. From food, to parks, to a burgeoning art scene, those of us who live here know you’re missing out on a whole lot.

Chico’s: The quintessential Hialeah eatery

Open for well over three decades, Chico’s has served generations of tipsy, hungover, and party-tired Miamians, since it remains relentlessly open 24 hours a day nearly every day of the year.

You don’t just go to Chico’s for a kebob or a quick bite. Chico’s is where you go when you want a tremendous plate of vaca frita at three in the morning. It’s where you can have a pollo a la milanesa regardless of the time or your mental state. You’re always welcome at Chico’s, and the food is always every kind of delicious. And Chico’s isn’t the only place serving late night munchies to Hialeah.

Epicentro Café: Tasty Cuban bites day or night

This family-owned Cuban cafe may have the best SUPER pan con bistec in the county. The portions here are huge, the cortaditos are hot, and the croquetas are to die for. And to say it’s affordable would be an understatement. You can get a full breakfast, with cafe con leche, and even add a couple of croquetas, all for under $5. And it’s open 24 hours, so you can get your Cuban fix anytime.

Stephen’s Restaurant: A bit of old New York

Stephen’s is a blast from the past in more ways than one. Opened in 1954, the deli is a true throwback to vintage New York. It specializes in the classics, with succulent pastrami and corned beef that seems to melt in your mouth. If you find yourself in Hialeah in dire need of matzo ball soup, a grilled rueben, or homemade mac and cheese, Stephen’s has the comfort food you’re craving.

Flamingo Plaza: Thrift store heaven

While Miami has no shortage of thrift shops, there’s no place quite like Flamingo Plaza, historically known for it’s concentrated collection of stores specializing in used treasures. Just a few blocks south of Stephen’s, Flamingo Plaza features end-to-end thrift shops where you can find vast seas of vintage clothes, kitschy knick knacks, all the toys you wanted when you were a kid, classic furniture, stacks of books, records you never realized you wanted, and all manner of surprises. There’s so much to sift through, and discovering the hidden gems makes all the sorting worthwhile.

Hialeah Park: A legacy reborn

The Hialeah Park racetrack opened in January 1925, before Hialeah was even incorporated, and in a few short years it would become the playground of the elite. If you were a jockey of any importance, Hialeah was where you wanted to win a race. The track attracted everyone, from Truman, Kennedy and Nixon, to Winston Churchill, Frank Sinatra, Bing Crosby, and the Duke and Duchess of Windsor. For decades, it was the place to be.

In more recent years, the park fell into disrepair and was closed for an eight year hiatus before being revived in 2013. Today Hialeah Park continues the horse racing tradition, now with a thriving casino and plenty of free music concerts, like Jazz in the Park and Salsa Under the Stars.

Amelia Earhart Park: The perfect getaway

Amelia Earhart, so named because the famed pilot said her goodbyes in Hialeah before taking off on her final flight from Miami, is an outdoorsy person’s dream neighborhood park.

The park, recently named best in Miami by Miami New Times, features everything from barbecues to running tracks, mountain biking trails, and a petting zoo, as well as a recently opened watersports center and a couple of soccer fields. If you love taking in the sun, crave a picnic, or simply need to get away from the hustle and bustle of suburbia, Amelia Earhart is the perfect place to disconnect.

Leah Arts District: Hialeah’s culture scene

The beautiful new Leah Arts District marks a significant step in fostering Hialeah’s burgeoning art community. Created primarily through the efforts of Councilman Paul Hernandez and local PR guru JennyLee Molina, it’s yet another step in South Florida’s cultural renaissance. Featuring some beautiful murals painted by local artists, it just recently celebrated its inception with a huge block party.

There’s still so many more of Hialeah’s hidden gems to discover. What are your favorites?

Follow Abel Iraola at @abeliraola