Photo by Chandler Jones.
Luis Delgado said his Caribbean food is all about quality, with everything served fresh.
Luis Delgado was 5 years old when he began selling Caribbean food. He made limber, a homemade Puerto Rican ice cream, using ingredients like coconut, mango, tamarind and passion fruit and then sold it for 25 cents a cup on the street.
By the time he was 8, he was cooking full meals, and by 11 he was using a wok.
Delgado credits his culinary skills and most of who he generally is today to his grandmother, Margarita Valasquez. Delgado said during his childhood Valasquez was always there, usually cooking.
By sunrise each day, Delgado’s grandmother could be found making coffee and toast for the local mechanics in their apartment complex, he said. He remembers watching as his grandfather would speak about God while the aromas of his grandmother’s cooking filled the house.
“When I was young, I was always nosy,” Delgado said. “I was always following her around asking, ‘How do I do this? What’s that?’”
Twenty years later, Delgado was living in Birmingham and couldn’t find any Caribbean food in the city – or in the state. So he opened Miami Express Café to represent the flavor of his culture.
His Hoover location, located inside Riverchase Car Wash on Lorna Road, opened in March.
“I see myself as an ambassador for our community when it comes to the food and the culture,” Delgado said. “My food is just a testament of us and something different here in Alabama. People are liking it.”
The restaurant received a 93 percent rating and more than 90 reviews on Urbanspoon.com.
For Delgado, each morning begins with a trip to the grocery store, where he brainstorms on the potential special of the day. He buys meats and veggies daily, and everything is made from scratch.
“It’s all about quality,” Delgado said. “I like to serve everything fresh.”
His cooking boasts a Creole twist on Caribbean dishes.
“It represents not just where I was born, but also where my friends were born,” Delgado said. “My Jamaican friends, my Haitian friends, people from St. Thomas and St. Croix, Bermuda, they’re all here. All the islands have a different flavor. Miami Café is going to show people that Caribbean culture.”
His kitchen creates custard treats; jambalaya; mofongo, a mound of mashed plantains accented with an array of seafood, meats or vegetables; and pastelon, a Puerto Rican-inspired lasagna dish with plantains and picadillo.
Miami Express Cafe doesn’t store any food overnight, so Delgado donates the leftovers. He said overall he has given away more food than he has sold, much like his grandmother.
“I don’t believe in throwing away food,” he said. “I give it away to people that need food. I don’t want anybody to go hungry. That’s my heart.”
Delgado works as the single cook to all of the restaurant’s orders and models most of his menu around a recipe book his grandmother gave him.
But Delgado is always willing to try new things.
“If they want something different that they are just craving I try to make it,” he said.
You can even find American-style Chicken Salad and Beef Brisket on the menu — all things he would be proud to show his grandmother.
“My grandmother can’t wait to come over here,” Delgado said. “But I’m afraid of that because she’s going to come and take over this kitchen.”