Miami foodie guide: where locals eat and drink
Head to glamorous South Beach and detour to explore Miami’s edgier Wynwood district. And don’t miss vibrant Little Havana for dinky Cuban cafecitos, fresh fish and guava ice cream
Visiting Miami? With blue skies all year round and MIA airport a transit hub for onward flights across South and Central America, we recommend stopping off for a few days to explore this lively Florida city. For more recommendations check out Florida's foodie neighbourhoods to visit and the 10 things we love about Floridian cuisine.
Where to eat and drink in South Beach
The most glamorous part of Miami, South Beach is where the world’s A-listers come to party. We seek out the most elegant bars, restaurants and people-watching spots among the pencil palms and art deco buildings of Ocean Drive, Collins Avenue and Washington Avenue.
Pura Vida – for a healthy breakfast
Health-conscious locals come to this bright and breezy spot for smoothies and wholesome breakfasts. On our visit a hefty vegan carrot cake dominated the counter (overseen by gluten-free banana cake, Alyssa’s almond cookies and vegan empanadas) while a row of pineapples framed the juice list. The choice is vast but we liked the sound of Welcome to Miami, so chose this sunny blend of passion fruit, mango, banana and honey. Start the day healthily with one of the pure acai bowls (the PB Energy was our favourite – raw Brazilian acai blended with banana and peanut butter, topped with strawberry, banana, granola, goji berries, almond slivers and cacao nibs). Puravidamiami.com
La Sandwicherie – for a quick lunch
This French-owned sandwich shop has been a South Beach institution since 1988. Locals roll up on skates, blades and boards to the palm-framed hatch or bag a red leather stool at the counter and wiggle along to Manuel’s fabulous disco playlist.
Crusty French baguettes are loaded with fresh ingredients named after their regional inspiration – think French salami and brie (Frenchie), smoked salmon and mozzarella (Alaskan), ham, salmon, prosciutto and provolone (Italian). Toppings - from cucumbers to cornichons, olives to onions - come at no extra charge, along with La Sandwicherie’s “magic sauce” vinaigrette. Lasandwicherie.com
Serena Rooftop – for Mexican al fresco dining
Soak up the bustle of Washington Avenue from Moxy South Beach’s vibrant al fresco restaurant and bar. Pretty pink flowers and fairy lights wrap around an intricate wrought-iron canopy, under which tropical foliage-filled planters lie alongisde pink banquettes and blue-cushioned garden furniture. Mexican sharing dishes include super fresh and vibrant aguachiles, with fish or prawns dressed in a ceviche ‘rojo’ (heirloom baby tomatoes, avocado, jalapeño, coriander and tangerine-infused olive oil) or ‘verde’ (Persian cucumbers, avocado, serrano chillies and lemon-infused olive oil). Plus, sushi-grade tuna atop crunchy stone-ground corn tostadas, shredded chicken enchiladas and barbacoa marinated braised short rib.
Sit at the bar before dinner while the setting sun casts a pink and orange glow across the iconic art deco buildings. Enjoy Serena’s house passion fruit margaritas or a refreshing ‘The Moxy’ concoction of mezcal, beetroot and ginger, all with a backdrop of Latin music and live DJs. Serenamiami.com
Yardbird Southern Table and Bar – for fried chicken and whisky
Yardbird was recommended to us by every local we spoke to for its buzzy atmosphere and Southern-style comfort food. When the bread and butter course comes as buttermilk biscuits (scone-like bakes from Louisiana) with sweet honey butter, you know you’re in for a treat. It gets more intense – 10-oz braised short rib is served over cauliflower mash, pickled carrots and spicy chillies; crisp fried chicken is dipped into honey hot sauce and bourbon maple syrup; and three types of beef (brisket, short rib and chuck) are ground into a patty with cheese and pork belly laid on top for the most decadent burger imaginable. If you’ve got room for dessert (hats off to you if so!), try the show-stopping peach cobbler for two, served with homemade vanilla bean ice cream.
The bourbon list is over 50-strong, and used to create punchy cocktails such as blackberry bourbon lemonade with cardamom, and six twists on the old fashioned. Or, opt for a craft beer from the taps that run along the large bar (Goose Island IPA, Big Wave American golden ale, Yardbird stock ale). Runchickenrun.com
Broken Shaker – for a fun night out
This tropical oasis is one of the liveliest night spots on Miami Beach; with its laid-back, care-free vibe it’s a refreshing contrast to the glitz and glam of South Beach. There’s a tiki-style bar made cosy with kitsch wallpaper, bamboo panels and cabinets of trinkets (crystal canisters, model sailing boats, vintage tins). From sundown onwards a large plant-filled patio fills up with guests from the adjoining hostel, arty folk from across the bridge and party-goers ready to dance into the night.
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A large bowl of punch on the bar tempts you in with jewels of star fruit, orange slices and star anise. Beers come from Milwaukee to Mexico via Tampa, and mixologists shake up spins on classics – lemongrass caipirinhas, peachy coladas and kaffir lime and anise gimlets. Freehandhotels.com
If you’re heading to Miami, it’s likely you’ll have been recommended Joe’s Stone Crab. The area is famous for the seafood speciality, and this smart restaurant is a Miami Beach institution. It’s very popular and hour-long queues are the norm, so sneak round to the adjacent takeaway counter for stone crab to eat on the beach or in the casual seating area. Other classics include stone crab bisque, lobster reuben and fabulous sides (creamed spinach, house slaw, mac ‘n’ cheese). The key lime pie is also justifiably famous; don’t forget to order a slice for dessert. Joesstonecrab.com
Where to stay in South Beach Miami
1 Hotel South Beach – for eco-luxury
1 Hotel has a commitment to the environment, combining ecological initiatives with super-cool design concepts – a huge whale made from natural salvaged goods from the beach guards the lifts, a repurposed clay floor can be fixed without the addition of more materials, and recycled wooden keys add to the beach vibe.
Plush rooms are decorated in an earthy palette, with ocean views and huge beds on hewn oak platforms. Amenities are five-star and beyond, with powerful filtered water taps, Nespresso machines, and custom-made bath products to use in large marble tubs and rainfall showers. Not to mention the slick gym and steam room, three pools boasting sea views, and sun loungers on the beach with waiter service.
The airy lobby is a natural spectacle, with gnarled wooden tables made from salvaged driftwood, deep canvas sofas in muted tones, and an enormous living wall of local plants. The stone-and-wood lobby bar has a chic beachside feel, and is the place to be at happy hour when guests sip on refreshing lemongrass and ginger caipirinas, citrusy yuzu mules, and negronis, before heading out onto Collins Avenue to revel in South Beach’s nightlife.
There are ample options for eating over the large site, too – Habitat is Miami chef Jose Mendin’s Asian-inspired raw bar and grill; Watr at the rooftop combines Japanese and Peruvian flavours for diners beside Miami’s largest rooftop pool; casual Sandbox focuses on Florida produce by the main sea-level pool, and PInthouse puts nourishment in the limelight with cauliflower flatbreads topped with fig and pear, poke bowls with tuna, avocado, ginger and kimchi, and pre-and-post workout smoothies (the gym is next door).
Where to eat and drink in Little Havana
Vibrant Little Havana beats its own cafecito-fuelled drum, with live music floating out of bustling bars, fresh seafood, and foodie ventures from dynamic Cuban immigrants. We explore the best Cuban cafés, family-run restaurants and hip third-generation joints along Calle Ocho and beyond.
Café La Trova – for Cuban cocktails
Cuban mixologist Julio Cabrera and Miami chef Michelle Bernstein offer a slice of Cuban cantinero culture on Calle Ocho. Bartenders dressed in smart, timeless uniforms shake up classic Cuban cocktails – think refreshing daiquiris, mojitos and the iconic rum, pineapple and apricot concoction, Hotel Nacional. There’s live music most evenings, plus snacks such as steak empanadas, lobster croquetas and focaccia lechon sliders. Heartier ‘platos principales’ include crispy whole snapper, seafood stew and classic Cuban steak ropa vieja (translating as ‘old clothes’). Cafelatrova.com
Sanguich de Miami – for Cuban sandwiches
Hop onto a wooden stool at the counter of this small café to watch a slick production line of toasted sandwiches. Our pick is the classic Cubano, layered with ham, slow-roasted pork, swiss cheese, homemade pickles and mustard; or the pan con lechon, stuffed with slow-roasted pork, pickled mojo onions and coriander aioli. Grab a cafecito shot for a sweet caffeine fix and you have the perfect American-Cuban lunch. Sanguich.com
Azucar – for ice cream
Little Havana is home to Cuban cafés, retro restaurants and bars brimming with live music, as well as some of the best ice cream in town. This kitsch parlour serves cones loaded with Cuban flavours – think Cuban coffee, coconut flan, guava and sweet plantain. Abuela Maria combines vanilla ice cream with rich cream cheese, jewels of red guava and pieces of sweet galletas Maria (sweet, milky biscuits). Take your cone and eat it while mooching down Calle Ocho, where a star-studded pavement pays tribute to famous Cubans who successfully pursued their American dreams. Azucaricecream.com
La Camaronera – for a casual seafood lunch
A former fish market turned canteen, this no-frills neighbourhood joint is worth the detour from Calle Ocho. The fried shrimp are famously good, Florida yellowtail snapper sandwich legendary and portions hearty. You can order whole fried fish, local stone crab and even breaded lobster. Service is friendly and interiors are simple, with standing counters that look onto the fryers and cartoons of the restaurant’s history drawn on the sea-blue walls. Lacamaronera.com
Where to eat and drink in Wynwood
Edgy, graffiti-covered Wynwood is a unique community that allows indie shops, restaurants, bars and cafés to thrive. The character is constantly changing as existing murals are painted over by up-and-coming artists in time for the annual Art Basel festival. We visit the best bakeries, brunch spots and bistros in this colourful neighbourhood.
Zak the Baker – for brunch
This artisan bakery stands out even in wacky Wynwood, with its curved exterior covered in multi-coloured blocks. Inside it’s a more minimal affair, allowing the bakes and pastries to take the limelight – try pull-apart cinnamon rolls with swirly folds of buttery cinnamon and flaky chocolate babka adorned with ripples of dark chocolate.
Brunch options range from simple jam and butter, letting Zak’s squidgy sourdough shine, to doorstep wedges topped with creamy avocado, chilli and feta. The tuna melt sandwich comes with tarragon, cranberries and sharp cheddar, while the salmon reuben, on Jewish rye bread sourdough, is jazzed up with kraut, thousand island dressing and swiss cheese. Zakthebaker.com
Alter – for date night tasting menus
Chef-owner Bradley Kilgore arrived on the Wynwood restaurant scene in 2015 and quickly established Alter as one of Miami’s go-to destinations for hip gourmands. Industrial interiors remain from the restaurant’s previous life as a warehouse, though it feels cosy thanks to flickering candlelight, friendly servers and the buzz from constantly-filled tables.
Chefs play with local ingredients in an open kitchen, creating seasonally-changing tasting menus that kick off with sumac-crusted loaves and umami butter. Subsequent dishes on our visit included bavette beef tartare with mole-cured egg yolk, smooth chicken liver parfait encased in a frilly tart made from a reformed croissant from Zak the Baker, and a fat little quail stuffed with chicken and sage, with hibiscus-pickled onion on top. Alter’s signature dish is a soft-boiled egg in a creamy, briny Gruyère and sea scallop espuma with truffle pearls and chive, served with a wafer-thin Gruyère crisp. Altermiami.com
Panther Coffee – for coffee
There are surprisingly few speciality coffee shops in Miami, so stop in at one of Panther’s five popular outposts (Miami Beach, Coconut Grove, Little Haiti, MiMo and Wynwood) for a change from Starbucks or Cuban cafecitos. Outside the Wynwood branch, bag a spot in the shade beneath the huge tree, or head inside the chocolate-coloured building and breathe in the smell of coffee being ground and roasted by a machine in the corner. Panthercoffee.com
Kush – for burgers
This small and lively craft beer and burger joint is a popular hangout for trendy Wynwood locals. It’s often full, so punters spill out onto the sidewalk and into the bar next door (handily stocked with colourful cans of rare craft beers from all over the world, including Wynwood Brewing Company’s own La Rubia American blonde ale). The 18 taps in the bistro proper range from Brooklyn-based Sixpoint the Crisp to local brews such as Funk Buddha Floridian and Twist Trunk Watermelon Saison from Palm Beach Gardens.
Burgers from a ranch in Marion County, Florida, are ground in-house and loaded with unique toppings. Try the Johnny Utah (complete with hot pastrami and all the trimmings), a LoKal (served with honey mustard, melted jack cheese and Florida avocado) or the Kush & Hash (added bacon and a fried egg in a waffle bun with maple syrup) - the ultimate breakfast burger. Kushwynwood.com
Salty Donut – for an indulgent snack
Get your donut fix at this popular camper van turned bricks-and-mortar café. Permanent items on the menu include traditional glazed buttermilk, maple and homemade candied bacon, and a couple of chocolatey numbers, all made using 24-hour brioche. The seasonal specials are where things get really exciting, though. If it’s on the menu, try the likes of Oreo cookie cake donut holes, an old fashioned chocolate cake or a chestnut cookie crumble cannoli. Saltydonut.com
Coyo Taco – for a fun casual dinner
Stand in line at this funky taco joint to order some of Miami’s freshest Mexican street food. It’s very lively – orders are zipped along a wire to the prep station, and there’s a constant drum of coriander chopping, guacamole smashing and tortilla rolling. There’s a sun-soaked patio out front, and a secret bar in the back.
The taco line-up includes local fish with citrus slaw and chipotle aioli, crispy confit duck with serrano salsa, and slow-roasted pork shoulder with achiote and habanero pickled onions. There are cinnamon-coated churros for pud to dip into chocolate, or homemade ice lollies from La Michoacana. Make sure you try a margarita (they were serving a frozen blood orange variety on our visit). Coyo-taco.com
KYU – for Asian fusion dinner
The iconic KYU Lady mural, created by local artist 2 Alas (check out his moss mural outside nearby Plant the Future), greets guests at the pared-back dining room of this Asian BBQ restaurant. Dishes cooked on a Japanese wood-fired grill include Thai fried rice stone pot with king crab, grilled jumbo tiger prawns with black bean vinaigrette and Korean fried chicken in red chilli butter. Don’t miss the roast cauliflower with goat’s cheese and herb vinaigrette, duck breast burnt ends or Florida snapper ceviche.
Asian-inspired cocktails receive just as much attention as the food, and you can choose to dine at the quartz-topped bar to watch mixologists shaking and stirring Wynwood Mules and Shisho Sours. Kyurestaurants.com
Ono Poke Shop
This funky space is a popular lunch spot, great for a grab-and-go healthy fix. The Hawaiian-Japanese hybrid bowls include fresh tuna with spicy mayo and eel sauce, spicy tuna with crisp tempura, and King salmon with shoyu and wasabi aioli. Colourful toppings add plenty of texture – sweet onions, pickled cucumber, crispy onions and frilly micro greens. You can create your own combination, or you can take pot luck on One Poke’s mystery poke bowl (on offer every Monday night). Onopokeshop.com