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.
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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
Ice Cream: Azucar
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.
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
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
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.
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
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.
Late-Night: Sweet Liberty
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.
Fried Chicken: Yardbird Southern Table & Bar
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
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.
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
Tapas: Niu Kitchen
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
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.