Is Miami our happiest city?
It’s what I thought the moment my plane landed there last Thursday for South Beach Wine and Food Festival. With warm weather, an exciting food scene, and such a creative spirit, it has become one of my favorite travel destinations. People are living out loud in Miami, and everything from the music to the food and the attitude about life reflects. And although the city has had a reputation for overpriced wanna be A-list restaurants touting velvet ropes, bouncers and mediocre food, these days the food scene is beyond impressive.
Most importantly, since this was my third trip here in a year, I asked some locals about the big and obvious changes in growth, quality of life, explosion and widening of the arts scene, etc., and they all said the same thing:
This city is all on the same page, everyone wants to make Miami America’s best city to visit and to live in..”
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Literally, heard it from everyone. And I’m having a hard time not drinking the Kool Aid.
So… when you take your next trip to Miami, here’s where to eat.
Casual Dining in Miami
Hometown Barbecue sits in the Allapattah neighborhood of Miami, and is the second barbecue restaurant from the legendary Brooklyn restauranteur, Billy Durney. Hometown is known for its authentic pit-smoked meats and traditional sides. In Miami, they have also feature a wood fired menu that showcases a selection of dishes cooked over live fire, craft beers, seasonal cocktails and a killer selection of wines by the glass and bottle.
Yes, they eat carbs in Miami. And every restaurateur who knows what’s what sources their bread from Zak. In addition to a successful wholesale business, this kosher baker operates his own shop. Think soups, bagels, sandwiches, and pastries. Go for lunch, get the beet toast, and pick up a sesame loaf to take home.
Sometimes a good cup of coffee is hard to find on the road. Not here. Panther Coffee gets it. Their brew is as excellent as the people watching.
I made this happy discovery a few years ago and can’t get enough of it. The no-frills spot is known for fresh-squeezed sugarcane, fruit shakes, cheap Cuban food, and my favorite, the deep-fried, salty chicharrónes cut to order. They’re nothing short of divine.
Part fish-fry, part fresh seafood market, La Camaronera is a small, family-owned joint that’s been around for more than 40 years. It’s worth fighting the crowds for the minuta sandwich: a butterflied snapper fillet with lemon, garlic and cumin on a Cuban-style bun.
When it comes to fritas (a Cuban-style burger), this restaurant on 8th Street serves the cream of the crop. The all-beef patty is topped with raw and crispy-fried onions and potato strings, all sandwiched between a Cuban bun. Hands down the best in Miami.
Maybe you were first introduced to Chef Monica Leon via my show, Family Dinner. However, she’s been winning hearts and stomachs of the locals with her beloved Cuban tacos. She operates a Design District taco truck, as well as a brick and mortar restaurant in Coral Gables. These Cuban tacos are filled with everything from chicken to gator, and she also makes excellent croquetas, bowls, quesadillas, and empanadas. Be sure you order extra green sauce—it's her signature for a reason.
Upscale Dining in Miami
Opened in June 2012, Macchialina, located in the heart of South Beach’s residential west side community, has quickly become a favorite Italian restaurant among critics, locals and in-the-know tourists. I love indulging in chef/owner Michael Pirolo’s rustic yet sophisticated, Italian fare. And yes, the thing here is pasta and local seafood, you cant go wrong.
Simon Kim and Chef David Shim have opened a Miami outpost of their white-hot, Michelin-starred NYC Korean restaurant. Specializing in super meats and seafood cooked at your table, KBBQ-style with all the banchan you can handle. COTE’s signature menu items include 45-day, USDA prime dry-aged beef and an elevated Steak Omakase experience. They age their own beef too, so the experience is beyond sublime. Try their Shicken Sandwich at lunch, which might be the best sandwich I have eaten in years. True story
Located across from famed Buckminster Fuller's Fly's Eye Dome in the Miami Design District, Itamae is a smallish, food-focused, 40-seat restaurant operated by a trio of the most talented chefs in the southeast: Nando, Valerie & Fernando Chang. They cook Nikkei food, focusing on Peruvian-Japanese flavors and traditions and reveling in local and seasonal ingredients. Itamae is the hottest ticket in town right now, so make your reservations well in advance. The daily ceviche offering is dressed with red onion, tosaka seaweed, and aji limon paired with sweet potato and chewy kernels of choclo and might have been the best plate of food I ate when I was in town a few months ago
Located in the heart of Overtown, Red Rooster serves Marcus Samuelsson’s unique take on comfort food celebrating the roots of American cuisine and the diverse culinary traditions of the neighborhood. Once again, Marcus has gone into a neighborhood and planted his flag to not only serve great food, but to the tell the story of the people who live and work there, offering a platform to celebrate local artists and musicians every day. Chicken Fried Green Tomatoes and a plate of Pork & Plantains never tasted so good.
Michael White, the chef who rose to fame in New York City first at Fiamma Osteria and then as co-founder of Marea and numerous other Altamarea Group restaurants, is crushing it at Lido. The latest restaurant at the Surf Club in the Four Seasons in Surfside, Florida, focuses on the foods of the coastal Italian regions for which White is known, and a few reimagined resort classics as well. This is easily some of the best food in the whole of the southeastern United States. Lobster ravioli for the win.
In 1913, Joe Weiss opened up a small lunch counter on Miami Beach. This was before Miami Beach was even a city. Folks stopped in to chat and for a top-notch fish sandwich and fries. Over 100 years later, it’s still a family-run Miami institution. Order the stone crabs, they are what put these guys on the map—order as many as you can and go wild. But pair it with the fried chicken, creamed spinach and their one of a kind mix it yourself coleslaw. One of my favorite meals anywhere.
Open since 2007, Michael’s helped launch Miami’s modern food scene. The restaurant is fun and buzzy, helped largely by its busy open kitchen. Watch cooks stoke the wood oven’s flames as whole fish, chicken, vegetables and pizzas fly in and out. Choose a table or cozy booth indoors, or settle into the sun-speckled courtyard. Great for lunch, dinner and of course, weekend brunch. Just celebrating its 15th birthday, and renovated, enlarged, there is no reason not to go. A modern classic
Julio Cabrera is one of the most influential bartenders in the world, bringing his Cuban style, personality and skills. He teamed up with Chef Michelle Bernstein, one of the most influential chef in the city, to create Café La Trava. It’s a fun atmosphere paired with retro Cuban flair, including live music played by real Trova musicians. Order a daiquiri classico, Cuban sandwich empenadas, ceviches and arroz con pollos, and you’ll believe you’re in Cuba.
This places has been around a long time, and it’s easy to see why: it’s charming as hell, intimate, romantic, and serves the best Greek and Turkish food in town. The courtyard transports to the Greek isles with a menu of elegant small plates like entrees like lamb and beef meatballs, and an exceptional grilled octopus.
Love dinner and a show? Get both at The Bazaar by José Andrés. Andres’ big, vibrant personality shines through everything coming out of this kitchen. It’s a carefully curated theater of shared plates, The Bazaar consistently wows its guests with ingeniously innovative cuisine, thoughtfully created cocktails, theatrical presentations, and attentive yet unfussy service. The Bazaar takes guests on a wild sensory adventure born of José’s Spanish roots, both traditional and avant-garde, in a bold, playful atmosphere where anything is possible.
Diegio Oka might be the best chef in Miami… discuss. If you can’t make it all the way to Lima, a meal at La Mar is the next best thing. Located on Brickell Key inside the Mandarin Oriental, La Mar showcases Oka’s takes on Gaston Acurio’s upscale novo-Andean fare and Nikkei fusion dishes. You’ll find classics like lomo saltado, local offerings like yellowtail snapper, and several ceviche options. Make sure to grab a table on its expansive patio for some of the best views of the Miami skyline in town.
Where’s your favorite place to eat in Miami? Share in the comments!
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