Memories of a Cuban American kid growing up in Miami’s Little Havana: The Pizza Palace

As the photo above clearly shows, the Pizza Palace restaurant was an iconic building impossible to miss or forget. Located in the heart of Miami’s Little Havana around SW 30th avenue and 8th street (Calle Ocho), the Pizza Palace was just a few blocks away from the childhood home where I grew up. As a kid, I passed by this odd building countless times on foot, on my bike, or in the family car. It was a quirky structure in a quirky neighborhood that, to my mother and grandmother’s chagrin, served one of my favorite dishes: pizza (¡eso no es comida!).

I came across this image on social media and I must say it brought back a flood of nostalgia from my childhood growing up in Little Havana.

I have many memories of riding to the Pizza Palace on my bike with my friends in the summer. We would get a slice of pizza and a coke and if we had enough change leftover, we’d drop it in the jukebox to hear a song. For some reason, one particular memory from thePizza Palace stands out to me. It was a summer day, and I was there with my neighbor and childhood friend Mandy grabbing a slice and a Coke for lunch. I had a quarter leftover, so I went over to the jukebox to see if any new music had arrived. And there it was, a new song from one of my favorite groups at the time, Foreigner, that I had never heard before. I slipped in the quarter and pressed the keys for the song Double Vision.

To this day every time I hear Double Vision I am magically transported back to that summer day in 1978 at the Pizza Palace. I can’t explain why that particular memory stands out above the rest, since there wasn’t really anything else particularly interesting about it, but I’m not complaining. It’s always great to breathe in and smell in your mind a slice of pizza just taken out of the oven on a hot summer day in Miami.

The Pizza Palace only offered outdoor dining. Although all the tables were under cover, it was hot. Really hot in the summer. You would basically walk up to the counter and order your food while chefs behind the register tossed the dough and the hot pizza ovens behind them burned at a million degrees. It was your typical Italian family-style restaurant that I assume served other dishes, but I don’t recall ever eating any of them. We went there to eat pizza, primarily by the slice. If I remember correctly, back then you could get a slice of pizza and a coke for about a buck, fifty. A bit pricey for us, but not entirely unaffordable.

Another memory from Pizza Palace that stands out to me was having dinner there with my parents and my siblings one night when I was younger. It stands out mainly because it’s the only occasion I can recall of our family ever going to a pizza restaurant. As I mentioned earlier, my mother (as most Cuban mothers) never considered pizza real food, so it was rarely served, much less sought out in a rare outing to a restaurant.

I don’t remember the exact time of year when this happened, but it must have been in the fall or winter because I don’t remember it being hot. In fact, I remember the weather being quite pleasant that night when the entire family sat down at one of those outdoor tables for what turned out to be a once in a lifetime event of eating pizza with my parents. The rest of the memories of that night are fuzzy to me, but I do distinctly remember marveling the sight of my mom and dad eating pizza for dinner (¡eso no es comida!).

The Pizza Palace building is long gone now. I don’t know when it was torn down, and I believe there’s a strip mall in it’s place now. But my memories of Pizza Palace will last for as long as I live, especially when Double Vision ever plays on the radio.

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