Welcome to Miami: A Newcomer's Eating Tour

Traveling to Miami for the first time? Cover all your bases with these top restaurants for every craving.

©Felipe Cuevas

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©Felipe Cuevas

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Photo By: Candace West

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Photo By: Candace West

Photo By: Candace West

Photo By: CANDACE WEST

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Photo By: Candace West

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Welcome to Miami

Many think life in Miami is like living in a postcard: sun, surf, beautiful people, partying all through the night. In some ways, it is. Miamians certainly know how to have a good time and take advantage of the local bounty, but behind these picture-perfect restaurants and bars are serious culinary skills. From sparkling outdoor bars to Old Florida seafood houses to Italy-approved pizza and Miami-style ice cream, here are some Miami restaurants and bars worth writing home about.

Hot New Restaurant: KYU

Within a year of its debut, this modern Asian small plates concept had earned national recognitition. It should not have been a surprise. Founded by two Zuma veterans, the Wynwood spot is so hot, it can take months to score a reservation between 7 and 9 p.m. But that doesn’t mean it’s stuffy or pretentious: Chef Michael Lewis focuses on the Japanese barbecue style known as yakiniku, but with an American twist. Sustainable meats star in options like duck breast “burnt ends” and beef short ribs with sweet soy and garlic. Start with steamed buns full of soft shell crab or tuna tataki with fermented chile.

Ice Cream: Azucar

From Italian gelato to Argentine helado to Coney Island frozen custard, warm-weather destinations inspire great takes on ice cream. And Miami is no different with its sabor Latino, ideally sampled at Azucar Ice Cream Company. The shop specializes in tropical flavors, including sweet plantain, mantecado (Cuban vanilla), coconut flan, guava, avocado and the signature Abuela Maria, vanilla swirled with ruby-red guava, cream cheese and chopped Maria cookies. Although you can find the scoops at outlets throughout the city, the Little Havana storefront is the most-fitting place to sample the homemade Cuban ice cream, ideally on a weekend when salsa bands play under bright green palms, creating the mood and flavor of Havana. 

Iconic Restaurant: Joe's Stone Crab

A century is a long time, but for a restaurant in a city that has only been around that long, it’s an eternity. Joe’s Stone Crab started slinging claws to eager crowds before Miami Beach was even incorporated as a city, and it’s still one of the most-beloved spots in all of South Florida. Though the waits are long — there are no reservations — the service is impeccable, parking is cheap and the food is legit. The namesake local crabs are obviously the draw, but insiders know that everything is great, including jumbo lump crab cakes, lobster, the famous fried chicken and even the classic New York strip.

Go to: Joe's Stone Crab

Hotel Restaurant: Fi'lia

James Beard Foundation Award-winner Michael Schwartz is one of Miami’s most-coveted chefs. Whatever he touches turns delicious, including pizza at Harry’s Pizzeria, farm-to-table gastropub fare on a cruise ship, sushi, breakfast food and plenty of other concepts, including his beloved namesake, Michael’s Genuine. Set within the SLS Brickell, Schwartz’s Fi’lia specializes in vivacious Italian, including pies, house-made pastas, comforting mains (think: chicken parm and wood-grilled leg of lamb) as well as a tableside Caesar for which servers grill fresh bread for croutons.

Tacos: Taquiza

Miamians are obsessed with Taquiza’s tacos. Perhaps it’s due to the tortillas. Chef Steve Santana, a veteran of popular South Florida spots Eating House and Broken Shaker, uses ancient techniques to alkalize the responsibly sourced landrace blue corn used for his dough. That process, called nixtamalization, allows the body to absorb the rich nutrients in the kernels, and gives each tortilla a buttery, earthy flavor. Those impeccably crafted tortillas cradle an array of traditional ingredients, such as beef barbacoa, chicken and esoteric picks like grasshopper and beef tongue.

Go to: Taquiza

Sushi: Makoto

Set in the tony Bal Harbour Shops, this chic Stephen Starr-owned sushi restaurant is helmed by one of the best itamae (translation: sushi chef) in the United States, which is a posh step up from typical mall dining. Makoto Okuwa, a protege of Masaharu Morimoto, has picked up numerous awards for his five-star preparation of pristine fish, much of it flown in from Japan. His style is traditional Tokyo-style nigiri with creative flair. Fluffy, sticky mounds of rice are topped with perfectly seasoned slices of fish like aoyagi (orange clam), golden eye snapper and fatty tuna. For novices, Okuna offers an innovative selection of rolls, heartier noodle dishes, grilled robata entrees and steaks.

Barbecue: Shiver's BBQ

Miami is not the first place most Americans think of when it comes to barbecue. As the largest agricultural state east of the Mississippi with the largest cattle ranch in the country, though, Florida deserves some recognition. Taste the state’s rich and relatively unknown ‘cue tradition at Shiver’s BBQ in Homestead. For more than six decades, the family-owned and -operated destination has hickory-smoked meats for around 12 hours. Pulled pork, beef and pork ribs, chicken and brisket lure barbecue fans from around the region. Each platter comes with a choice of two sides, including black-eyed peas, collard greens, cheesy hashbrown casserole and sweet potato souffle.

Go to: Shiver’s BBQ

Cajun: Phuc Yea

What started as Miami’s first pop-up, back in 2011, has morphed into the city’s hottest Viet-Cajun restaurant. In a cool mid-century space in the MiMo District, the restaurant combines far-off places and local accents, with Indochine-inspired decor, local art and a cool lantern-lit garden. Co-owners Aniece Meinhold and Cesar Zapata fuse bold Cajun flavors and fresh Vietnamese ingredients for dishes like prawns with sriracha remoulade, squid ink jambaya with Chinese sausage, and a Cajun cod bao.

Tasting Menu: Alter

Since opening his creative New American restaurant in a former Wynwood warehouse, back in 2015, Chef Bradley Kilgore has consistently ranked as one of Miami’s best culinary minds. The best way to experience his work is through his tasting menus. Each one highlights locally sourced ingredients in creative presentations like bone marrow creme brulee, parmesan ice cream and cobia crudo with olive snow. Carefully curated wine pairings are designed to go along with the whimsical menus. Make sure to book a seat at chef’s counter for the ultimate in culinary immersion.

Go to: Alter

Burger: Kush

Set in the graffiti-decked streets of Wynwood, Miami’s exploding arts district, beer-and-burger haven Kush seems to mimic its edgy neighborhood, with exposed-brick walls and low tables made from recycled kegs. The watering-hole ambiance is matched with an impressive selection of often-local craft beer and a menu packed with regional ingredients, including beef from Cowart Ranch that is ground in-house daily. Though all of the burgers are excellent, the Frita tastes like Miami in sandwich form. A riff on the classic Cuban burger, this pressed sandwich adds guava jelly, melted Gruyère, crisp potato sticks, bacon and special LoKal sauce to the well-seasoned patty. 

Coffee: Panther Coffee

What started as a coffee-pedaling bicycle has morphed into Miami’s most-beloved coffee shop mini-empire. Owners Joel and Leticia Pollack moved to South Florida from Portland, Oregon, energizing Miami’s third-wave coffee scene and cementing Wynwood’s status as the go-to for hip food-loving Floridians. The company now has three locations, but its first, in the middle of Wynwood’s thriving art district, is worth the pilgrimage. There, see canvas bags of beans piled high, bearing the names of the small farms from where they were sourced. Some may say Finca el Kilometro in Nicaragua, others Gera Farm, from the Highlands of Ethiopia. Watch them roast in small batches behind the counter while waiting for your brew. Each location offers information sheets on the growers with tasting notes on the beans. Guests order their brew however they prefer: pour-over, cappuccino, espresso, cortado, etc. Those in the know opt for lattes and the world-class Nitro cold brew.

Go to: Panther Coffee

Fritas: El Rey de las Fritas

Along with a number of iconic Miami dishes, the frita arrived in Magic City by way of refugees fleeing the Cuban revolution in the 1950’s. A Cuban riff on the classic hamburger, traditional fritas feature a beef patty accentuated with cumin, paprika and pepper, crowned with papas fritas (fried matchstick potatoes), nestled between slices of featherlight and crisp Cuban bread. El Rey de las Fritas has been hailed as one of the city’s best frita purveyors since the original outpost debuted in 1976. The four shops and one wandering food truck offer patties of ground beef and chorizo highlighted with a “secret formula” of spices and numerous topping combinations. The Original Frita Cubana follows tradition with raw onion and julienned fries.

Go to: El Ray De Las Fritas

Ramen: Momi Ramen

The Magic City is known for its nightlife, so there’s no dearth of options when it comes to wee-hours dining. But even in a crowded field, this Brickell noodle shop stands out. Open until 3 a.m., Momi Ramen serves steaming bowls of perfectly hearty late-night sustenance. Ramen noodles are made fresh throughout the day, using flour sourced directly from Japan. The dense tonkatsu broth — made from pork bones and chicken — simmers for 18 hours. Sift through the noodles for glistening slabs of pork belly, a soft-boiled egg, oxtail or added vegetables like shoyu-simmered mustard greens. Of course, you could choose pork fried rice or crisp gyoza in lieu of ramen, but the heady broth tastes pretty ideal after a night on the town.

Chinese: Blackbrick

This is the opposite of average takeout and delivery. Since coming onto the scene in 2014, Blackbrick, aka Midtown Chinese, has racked up accolades from local and national publications for its modern take on regional Chinese cuisine. Chef Richard Hales offers a menu nearly as expansive as China itself. Dim sum options include delicate crystal shrimp dumplings, chicken siu mei, cumin-lamb dumplings and barbecued pork buns. Noodles are made in-house for dishes like the dan dan mian, which tosses spicy Szechuan pork ragu with bucatini. The menu also includes less-common protein sources, including rabbit with Szechuan peanuts, oxtail with hard-cooked eggs and General Tso’s Florida alligator. 

Fast-Casual: My Ceviche

What started as a nondescript takeout shop nestled against the SoBe Hostel has since morphed into a six-location cevicheria known for its impeccable, inexpensive ceviche. Whole fish is brought straight from the Atlantic, prepped in-house and then “cooked” in lime juice. The result is some of the best ceviche in town, for a fraction of what it would cost at sit-down restaurants. The namesake dish blends diced wild-caught fish, red onions, cilantro, jalapeno and tomatoes in a choice of citrus sauces, such as the tradicional, coconut and aji amarillo. Sweet potato and yellow corn come on the side. For a heartier option, try seafood-centric tacos, burritos, bowls, and when in season, stone crabs.

Brunch: Eating House

A meal at Eating House in Coral Gables is a gastronomic grab bag. The menu changes regularly, and there’s no real underlying cuisine or theme. On any given day, one might find fish sauce-scented tomatoes, fried chicken and brown butter miso. The one true motif: Everything Chef Giorgio Rapicavoli makes is delicious. It’s busy all the time, but the place really draws the crowds for brunch. Fans rave about the Cap’N Crunch pancakes, covered with condensed milk syrup, candied cereal and vanilla butter. Look, too, for dishes like Carbonara Egg Benedict, shrimp ceviche and braised pork with rice and beans, plantains, chimichurri and sunny side up eggs.

Celeb Sightings: Prime 112

Prime 112 may feature all the usual steakhouse suspects — 16-ounce prime dry-aged filets, 48-ounce porterhouses for two, Japanese A5 Kobe — but its chef-driven New American menu is far more imaginative than the staid chophouses of yesteryear. Sauces include peanut hoisin, curry mayo and XXX hot sauce. Sides encompass whimsical riffs on classics like five cheese truffle “mac” and sweet potato-vanilla bean mash. Even with the fantastic fare, this place is best known for its meat-loving celebrity clientele. Alex Rodriguez, Jennifer Lopez, Queen Latifah and Drake have recently stopped in for a hunk of meat, but the restaurant has hosted a nearly endless list of A-listers since it debuted in 2004 including Justin Bieber, the Kardashians, Dwayne Wade and Gabrielle Union.

Prime One Twelve

Late-Night: Sweet Liberty

Sweet Liberty owners Dan Binkiewicz, David Martinez and John Lermayer (of Purdy Lounge, the Delano and The Regent Cocktail Club) are longtime staples of the South Florida nightlife scene. When they teamed up for this late-night gastro pub — as in 5 a.m. closing — locals had sky-high expectations. The trio’s delivered. Since debuting in 2015, it’s already picked up numerous awards. Creative cocktails (think: Sesame Julep and Rye Tai) are paired with sophisticated bar snacks, like cauliflower nachos and swordfish tacos, to beats from fun DJs, who go well beyond current radio hits.

Cafecito: Enriqueta’s Sandwich Shop

Well before cold brew became part of the common vernacular, Miamians showed devotion to caffeine, by virtue of the cafe Cubano. Perfectly pulled cafecitos are offered on nearly every street corner in the city, from restaurants and cafes to auto garages and take-out windows. Even so, Enriqueta’s Sandwich Shop in Midtown serves a superior cup. Powerful shots of sugar-saturated coffee are served straight up in thimble-sized mugs (Espresso cups), alongside the less powerful cortadito (similar to Italian macchiato) and cafe con leche with hot, steamed milk.

Enriqueta’s Sandwich Shop

Fried Chicken: Yardbird Southern Table & Bar

Miami may be one of the most-international and diverse cities in the United States, but it’s still technically part of the American South. In addition to all the excellent mojitos, Cubanos and ceviches, one can always find great Southern staples, too, including Yardbird’s renowned fried chicken. Derived from Owner John Kunkle’s grandma’s recipe, the chicken brines for 27 hours before it’s dredged in cayenne-spiced flour, then fried. The meat is incredibly tender and the crust is incredibly crisp. That lauded bird is the reason the concept won “Best New Restaurant” by the James Beard Foundation when it opened and why it’s still regularly packed to this day.

Thai: NaiYaRa

One of Miami’s most-respected chefs, Piyarat Arreeratn (a.k.a. Chef Bee) has brought inspired Thai food to several Miami restaurants, including the lauded, now-shuttered Khong River House. These days, the Chiang Rai native co-owns a hip, Thai street food-inspired Sunset Harbor destination with his mom, serving spicy spring rolls and sriracha wings, in a hip, industrial-cool space. Bee’s fare updates Thai classics, including Chiang Rai curry, an elevated riff on khao soi with braised beef and springy noodles in a fragrant yellow curry base. His beef jerky may be the best ever, scented with coriander and smoke, enlivened by chile-infused nahm jim jao sauce and tempered by Burmese sticky rice.

Italian: Macchialina

Pasta whiz Michael Pirolo, chef-owner of this Miami Beach trattoria, spent years traveling around Italy, spending time in Michelin-starred kitchens throughout the boot before going on to work with Scott Conant at Scarpetta. That’s why his food is so superlative, including strands of spaghetti in cacio e pepe and hollow cavatelli in the restaurant's namesake dish. However, Pirolo’s skilled hands create magic beyond pasta: The menu provides an excellent compilation of old-country specialties, like housemade porchetta, veal and pork meatballs and locally caught seafood.

Go to: Macchialina

Healthy: DIRT

This farm-to-counter joint satiates South Beach’s clean-eating masses with panache. Both Miami Beach locations feature cool architectural touches and delicious, nutritious fare at price points accessible for budget-conscious folks. The diverse menu caters to diets of all stripes with picks for vegans, vegetarians, paleo and gluten-free diners. Dishes range from a breakfast of almond butter with Nic & Luc’s SuperBerry Jam on Zak the Baker bread, to nutrient-dense vegan salads, poke bowls, toasts and quinoa-crusted crispy fish po’ boys later in the day. In the drinks department, the obligatory healthy smoothies, teas and kombuchas are available, but those seeking an adult beverage can choose from curated craft brews and sustainable, biodynamic wines.

Date Night: Mignonette

Cooking in a state surrounded on three sides by water, Florida chefs typically know a thing or two about seafood. Opened in mid-2014 by Miami natives, Edgewater restaurant Mignonette makes a splash with its modern take on the traditional oyster bar. With an old-Florida-meets-New-Orleans vibe, the space features tufted camel-colored banquettes, a long marble bar and oversize arched windows with palm views. Take a cue from the name and order impeccable oysters (fresh or Rockefeller) or a seafood tower packed with oysters and clams on the half-shell, as well as shrimp, crab and lobster. Entrees are divided into Plain (ultra-fresh fish served with beurre blanc and choice of vegetables) and Fancy, such as monkfish in lobster sauce or the prime rib with blue-collar jus. Consider it barefoot elegance.

Pastelito: Pastelmania

Guava cheese pastries — the unofficial baked good of Miami — can be found in supermarket bakeries and specialty shops all around the city. Few can compete with the gigantic rendition at Little Havana’s Pastelmania. The crisp flaky crust, barely contains the tropically aromatic cream cheese filling. However, as the name suggests Pastelmania offers a manic array of Cuban pasteles. Sweet and savory fillings range from coconut, pineapple and plain cheese, to meat, crab and pizza, bursting with mozzarella and ham.

Go to: Pastelmania

Jamaican: JamRock Cuisine

Well beyond your average jerk, Kendall’s JamRock Cuisine offers a lesser-known side to Jamaican fare. The place specializes in Chinese-Jamaican dishes, developed long before anyone coined the term “fusion cuisine.” Developed in the 1800’s when Chinese immigrants began turning up on the island nation’s shores, dishes merge the flavors of Asia and the Caribbean in dishes like roast chicken, pork with ham choy (pickled mustard greens) and sui mein, thin egg noodles mixed with Chinese roast chicken and bok choy. Of course, you could always go all out with a serving of spicy jerk pork, as well.

Go to: JamRock Cuisine

Haitian: Tap Tap

Miami has a large population of Haitian residents — enough for the city to have a Little Haiti. For more than two decades, this South Beach shack, has been one of the city’s top destinations for honoring Haitian culture and cuisine and sating homesick cravings. Haitian documentary filmmaker Katherine Kean opened the colorful art gallery-restaurant hybrid in 1994, and it’s as popular as ever. The dining room, filled with colorful murals, often plays host to art exhibitions and poetry readings, though, diners need not appreciate art to enjoy the place. The menu is just as bold as the works with flavorful dishes like Kurobuta pork griot, malanga fritters with watercress salad and charcoal-grilled marinated conch.

Go to: Tap Tap Haitian Restaurant

Pizza: Lucali

What started as a neighborhood pizza joint in one of Brooklyn’s old-time Italian enclaves has transformed into a multi-city sensation. Former marble worker Mark Iacono found his true calling with New York-style pies served in a quaintly old-fashioned setting. In 2013, Iacono decided to take his brick-oven, New York-style pies and creative salads to South Beach. The Sunshine State spinoff is just as enticing as the original, attracting a large following of locals and — the true test of pizza quality — plenty of NYC expats.

Tapas: Niu Kitchen

You know a restaurant — especially a Catalan restaurant — has to be good if acclaimed Spanish chefs Ferran Adrià and José Andrés have been spotted eating there together. Translating to “nest” in Catalan, Niu is small and dimly lit, a comfortable escape from frenetic downtown Miami. The kitchen turns out some of the most-exciting small plates in South Florida. Beard-nominated chef Deme Lomas prepares tapas that oscillate from experimental to traditional. Sample wahoo tartare and poached eggs with truffled potato foam, jamon and black truffle alongside marinated anchovies and arròs caldos, the traditional soupy seafood rice of the region. It’s accompanied with a mostly Spanish wine list featuring an array of lesser-known varietals and growing areas.

Cuban: el Palacio de los Jugos

Translating to “the Juice Palace,” el Palacios de Los Jugos is one of the best juice joints in all of South Florida, dating to days long before cold-pressed juiceries were trendy. Here, you’ll find tropical flavors like guava, papaya, sugar cane, passion fruit and citrusy-tart mamey. But those vitamin-rich fluids aren’t the only reason to visit one of 20-plus year old company’s nine locations. The homestyle Cuban food is excellent, as well. Find fantastic examples of lechón asado, flavorful roasted pork, with congri and yuca or sweet plantains. Pollo asado is tender and juicy, served with sides of fragrant yellow rice and fried sweet potato. Don’t overlook the seafood: whole and filleted fish, lobster, paella and garlic shrimp are cooked perfectly and sold for a steal.

Go to: El Palacios de Los Jugos

Brewery: Wynwood Brewing Company

Much has changed since Wynwood Brewing Company opened its doors in 2013. The neighborhood, once home to warehouses and pop up art shows and galleries, has become a destination shopping and dining area. And though the city now has several breweries churning out unique beers, Wynwood was the first craft brewery in Miami, and it still ranks at the top of the list, pouring favorites like the Blonde Ale, barrel-aged Strong Ales, a changing roster of seasonal brews and its Great American Beer Festival Gold Medal-winning Pop’s Porter, a robust brew with hints of chocolate and coffee with a smooth, dry finish.

Al Fresco: La Mar by Gaston Acurio

Nationally, Miami is best-known for its Cuban cuisine. And there sure are some spectacular Cuban restaurants. What’s less known, however, is Miamians’ obsession with Peruvian fare. One can find fast-casual ceviche, Peruvian sushi, Peruvian Chinese, Peruvian fusion, home-style Peruvian and more. When it comes to Peruvian fare with a view, head to La Mar by Gaston Acurio. Set on Brickell Key, the terrace offers panoramic views of the cerulean waters and the colorful downtown skyline, making the ideal backdrop for novo-Andean and Asian-Peruvian cuisine. Raw fish selections from classic to clever, including salmon with sesame leche de tigre. Follow it up with new riffs on classics like lomo saltado, seafood rice and grilled anticuchos.

Go to: La Mar by Gaston Acurio

Cocktail Bar: The Broken Shaker

Once upon a time, Miami was the city of Champagne and bottle service. Though perhaps in some places bottle service still rules, the past decade has welcomed a craft cocktail movement that takes advantage of Miami’s excellent citrus and vibrant bar scene. Of the many options, The Broken Shaker, however, is the city’s standard-setter. Set inside the funky Freehand Hostel north of South Beach, the small bar has a vintage Florida vibe, with a palm-lined pool deck that looks like a bohemian artists’ escape. Elixirs, syrups and infusions are made with local ingredients (some of which are even grown on the premises) for drinks that are both innovative and classic. Sipping the Hemingway daiquiri can feel like an oasis of calm from the chaotic South Beach scene. 

 

Photo by Adrian Gaut

Museum Restaurant: Verde at Pérez Art Museum

The ambience at Verde is nearly as impressive as the nearby art on display inside the Pérez Art Museum. Concrete walls are softened with gauzy draperies, light wood tables, neutral banquettes, cool pendant lamps and soaring windows overlooking the Intracoastal Waterway. There’s also a spacious terrace ideal for sipping Sancerre or a barrel-aged Negroni. Executive Chef Kaytlin Dangaran specializes in international dishes showcasing local seafood, vegetables and meats. Tuck into lunch items like crispy mahi mahi tacos, Carbonara pizza, sweet corn ravioli and chicken under a brick. Brunch lures diners and art fans for inventive dishes like shrimp and cheddar grits with tomato harissa, and lobster benedict with lime hollandaise.

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