Food & Drink

The Ultimate Guide to Downtown Miami

Pawnbroker | Juan Fernando Ayora
Pawnbroker | Juan Fernando Ayora

Ask a local to describe Downtown Miami, and the phrase "they roll up the sidewalks at 6" comes up a lot. And, OK, our downtown isn't the 24-hour destination it might be in some cities, but it's not exactly Weston either (we've got Bayfront Park and the AmericanAirlines Arena… so that's something). Anyways, there's a slew of great spots to eat and drink here that stay open well past when all the working folks go home. And whether you find yourself here looking for an early lunch, an afternoon drink, or a fine-dining dinner, Downtown Miami has you covered. Here's our guide to the best of everything you'll find there.

Pawnbroker | Juan Fernando Ayora

Best overall bar

Pawn Broker 
OK, so Miami was a little late to the Downtown rooftop bar scene. But we wouldn't be Miami if we did anything on time, right? And this spot from the Pubbelly boys atop the Langford Hotel can hold its own with any bar in the nation. The crowd is a high-energy mix of young professionals -- one of the few bars in Miami where you might find people with jobs they can actually explain. The cocktails, crafted by Derek Stillman, are Prohibition-era favorites highlighted by the Giggle Water: a lavender-gin cocktail served in a miniature bathtub as a tribute to moonshine whiskey.

Best bar to hang with locals

Mike's at Venetia 
Downtown condo towers are about as ubiquitous as inexplicably stopped Metromover cars in Downtown Miami. Which is why this unexpected old-school Irish bar on the ninth floor is such a popular spot for locals. Hidden away from tourists, Mike's boasts cheap drinks and some of the best pizza in the city, with a salty-yet-congenial staff that makes you feel welcomed. On July Fourth and New Year’s Eve it’s one of the prime spots in the city to watch fireworks, as its location on the Venetian Causeway has panoramic views of displays over both Downtown and Miami Beach.

Best fine-dining restaurant

Typically, the culinary showroom of the local community college isn't exactly synonymous with white-tablecloth dining. But the gastronomic lab at Miami Dade College's Miami Culinary Institute is the exception. It was started by the one and only Norman Van Aken, with a constantly changing menu that plates tropical takes on gourmet classics, like mango-lime tuna poke and braised short-rib ropa vieja. But the big draw here is the view, as it's set atop the seventh floor with sweeping vistas of the Miami skyline.

Best happy hour

db Bistro Moderne 
Daniel Boulud's Miami outpost is known best for its over-the-top gourmet food, like the famous foie gras-filled hamburger that costs roughly as much as a Burger King franchise. But the big hack at this place is to hit it between 5-8pm daily, when its flower-filled cocktails are all $10 or less, and beers can be enjoyed for $5-$6. They'll pair nicely with the smaller samplings of Boulud’s creations, like pork belly sliders, lamb flatbread, and $4 pintxos.

Best pizza

If you're OK with your pizza not coming in the traditional circle-or-triangle variety, your pizza go-to downtown is Pizzarium. Opened by a guy from Rome, Pizzarium imports its flour from Italy, and the dough uses less sugar and yeast than most pizza joints. What results is a lighter, crisper-tasting crust that rises for 96 hours before being stretched over rectangular pans and topped with over 300 different specialty combinations. Those come from one of the most impressive topping lists in the city, ranging from potatoes and eggs for carbonara to gourmet Italian sausages. So even if you don't like one of the daily selections, you can create something pretty amazing of your own.

Best burritos

Rubio's Coastal Grill
Though the late-2016 opening of the SoCal favorite in Miami might have had some people thinking our local senator was looking for a new job, this healthy Mexican joint has absolutely nothing to do with Marco. What it does have to do with are the most authentic California-style fish tacos you'll find in Miami, as well as big, hearty burritos that are delicious without acting like gut-bombs. The smoky, spicy salsa bar is worth sampling on anything you get here, and for fast-casual MexiCali cuisine, nowhere downtown does it better.

Best barbecue

Sparky's Roadside Barbecue
Though a nondescript storefront near a Metromover stop isn't exactly what one would picture with a name like "Sparky's Roadside," this Downtown institution puts a South Florida spin on barbecue classics for a distinctively Miami BBQ experience. The standards here like house-smoked brisket and chicken are outstanding, but the menu highlights are the mojo pork leg and smoked fried chicken, giving guests who want to try something different some intriguing options.

Best place to be seen

South Beach's chicest steakhouse opened its Downtown outpost late in 2016, and since then it's seen more than its share of celebs, kinda celebs, and people who go hoping to see celebs. The giant pink neon sign on the ground floor of the ME hotel entices guests inside, where modern white-and-gray tables and electro-lounge music await. The menu is full of Prime steaks and inventive cocktails, with a more seafood-heavy selection than its South Beach counterpart. And if Instagram is as much a part of your dinner as eating, STK is your type of place.

Wolfgang's Steakhouse
Courtesy of Wolfgang's Steakhouse

Best place for your power lunch

Wolfgang's Steakhouse 
When you spend your life working at Peter Luger, you learn a thing or two about how to create a good impression for corporate clients. This meatery from longtime Luger head waiter Wolfgang Zwiener on the Miami River dry-ages its steaks in-house and serves them alongside intimidating seafood towers and savory sides. The dark-wood interior gives an old-school Northeast aura, juxtaposed brilliantly with the turquoise water and glass towers outside.

Best date spot

Soya e Pomodoro 
Though it might seem impossible to make a bank "romantic," leave it to the Italians. This funky spot with mismatched furniture and romantic lighting is an intimate restaurant with Italian servers and homemade pastas. Walking through the doors here is like being transported from the crowded, noisy Downtown streets to the Italian countryside. And while dining inside, you and your date won't just forget you're mere feet from honking cars, you'll forget there's anyone else in the restaurant entirely.

Best place for a quick meal

Though the McDonald's by Miami-Dade might be where to get a fast meal and a lesson in Miami culture, the food isn't from Cindy Hutson. At Zest MRKT many of the tropical favorites Hutson and husband Delius Shirley have created at Ortanique in the Gables and Zest next door are available in fast, pre-packed form. So if you've got a hankering for a tropical chicken sandwich from one of the city's best chefs... but only have 15 minutes for lunch, Zest MRKT is a godsend.

Toro Toro
Courtesy of Toro Toro

Best cocktail bar

Toro Toro 
People tend to associate great cocktail bars with underground speakeasies full of bespoke bartenders sporting suspenders and mustaches making drinks with ingredients you can't pronounce. But sometimes a big hotel bar can do it just as well. Case in point: the bar at the InterContinental, where a giant lit-up go-go dancer on the outside façade beckons people to the steakhouse bar inside. Stroll through the lobby and order a Latin-inspired drink like the spicy gingersnap mojito, made with ginger liqueur, jalapeño syrup, and AITA Snap. Or the Ugly Betty with gin, passion fruit, ginger, sage, and pear cider.

Best burger

180 Degrees at the DRB 
What might appear as a sticky-floored dive bar to the casual observer actually boasts one of the most creative menus you'll ever find in a beer bar. The gastronomic highlight is the 50/50 burger, which tops almost every "best burger" list in town. It's a half-pound, house-ground patty of chorizo and beef, topped with queso frito, spicy lime aioli, and a fried egg. Wash it down with a rotating selection of over 50 craft beers and you'll be glad you didn't let a first impression fool you.

Best people-watching

Segafredo Bayside 
Yes, yes, we know any self-respecting Miami would sooner admit to having crabs than ever setting foot at Bayside. But hear us out! Settle in for a flatbread pizza and a beer at this spot by the daiquiri bar and you'll see a cross section of the world you'll not find elsewhere. Sunburned cruise passengers shop next to wealthy South Americans, while a smattering of pre-game Heat fans mill about looking for Hooters. The waterfront vantage point ain't bad either, and the food is far better than what you'd expect in a place known as a tourist trap. And nobody says you have to admit you went there to your friends.

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Matt Meltzer is a contributing writer to Thrillist who proudly admits to drinking at Bayside from time to time. See proof on his Instagram @meltrez1.