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

©Copyright 2015. All rights reserved.

©FELIPE CUEVAS

Photo By: Juan Fernando Ayora ©Juan Fernando Ayora - Pubbelly Media Group

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.

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. 

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. 

New Restaurant: 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. 

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. 

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

Late-Night Spot: 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. 

Pizza: Harry's Pizzeria

The pizzas at this Design District pizzeria aren’t just your average crust-and-cheese creations. Pedigreed pies, they come from James Beard Foundation Award winner Michael Schwartz. After years of glowing praise for the thin-crust seasonal pies on the menu at his eponymous restaurant, Michael’s Genuine Food & Drink, Schwartz decided to give them a restaurant of their own. Named for Schwartz’s son, Harry’s offers close to a dozen staple pizzas (also available gluten-free), along with small plates, salads and a daily special typically roasted in the wood oven. Choose from classics like meatball or eggplant caponata, or creative combinations like slow-roasted pork with fig, grilled onion and arugula. The small dessert menu features panna cotta, zeppole and cookies from the renowned Hedy Goldsmith. 

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. 

Seafood: 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. 

Rock Star Chef: Jose Mendin, the Pubbelly Group

Born and raised in Puerto Rico, then trained at Johnson & Wales Miami, Pubbelly Group founding partner and culinary director Jose Mendin is a hometown hero of the Miami culinary scene. The three-time James Beard Foundation Award semifinalist is known for mixing global flavors and styles into unexpected, excellent combinations. Mendin started with pork-heavy gastropub Pubbelly in 2010, which helped transform the quiet Sunset Harbor neighborhood into a culinary destination. Next came Spanish-tapas joint Barceloneta and bold, experimental Pubbelly Sushi. Mendin and his team now have six critically acclaimed restaurants under their belts, and they’re just getting started. Unlike so many one-hit wonders, Mendin just keeps getting better and better. 

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