Miami's 17 Most Important Restaurants
In case you missed it, Miami is the fastest-growing food and drink city in America. That's right, we're finally known for an industry that doesn't involve condominiums or cocaine. Congratulations. But this newfound foodie-ness didn't happen overnight, and it's been built on the shoulders of a collection of important places that have shaped Miami's food scene. So, if you want to understand what food is in Miami, these are the 17 places you need to try.
A decade ago, if you wanted to go out to dinner in Miami it meant eating at a tiny cafeteria with questionable meat, a chain restaurant on Kendall Dr, or a $200-a-person place in South Beach. Then came Michael Schwartz's Design District pioneer and as a city we said “Hey! We can have delicious, fresh food and NOT need a black AmEx!” And while hundreds of new restaurants have opened since, none have changed the food culture of Miami like Michael’s.
“Gastropub,” if you break it down, it's basically another way of saying “a bar that serves food.” Which could basically be Hooters. But Pubbelly was the first to bring crafted food and craft beers to the same location, and refine the term in South Florida. Jose Mendin and company are so good, they’ve spurred two spinoff restaurants: Pubbelly Sushi and the late PB Steak.
Though Miami hasn’t really been part of the South since the 1960s, geographically we still are. And the guys behind 50 Eggs won’t let you forget it. This South Beach spot opened at the vanguard of the Southern food obsession, and was the first place to make body-crazed Miamians say “to hell with the calories” en masse. They were also the first place to emphasize an extensive bourbon selection, finally getting us on board that phenomenon as well.
When the guys behind the biggest stone crab distributor in the city not named Joe’s decided to start a little seafood shack South of Fifth, you knew it was going to change how Miami ate fish. Three years later, every fast-casual joint in town is trying to sling ceviche, but the best is still here, where you can bike right up to that little shack, get some ceviche to go, and enjoy it in South Pointe Park.
Miami native Adrianne Calvo proves that sometimes it IS about the destination and not the journey. Because, good God, the journey is a drive to deep West Kendall, and few things on Earth are worth that. But the bright-haired Thomas Keller protégé shares his belief that if you’re good enough, the people will come to you. And, reluctantly, we do.
When you can redefine what people consider “chicken,” you’re either a really, really creative soymeat marketing exec, or you’re Chef Cesar Zapata, who’s managed to create a chicken & waffles the entire city loves... THAT ISN’T EVEN CHICKEN. That pork wing, along with the rest of its inventive menu, have led Zapata and Ani Meinhold to create a MiMo staple in just a few years.
For years it was the only restaurant in Miami anyone from out of town could name. And even though plenty of other great restaurants have popped up, well, it’s still Joe’s. With an hours-long line to get in during season, the most iconic restaurant in Florida still draws crowds from all over the world for its legendary stone crabs. However, its $5 fried chicken from Joe’s Take-Away next door could probably get it on this list without the shellfish.
We’re not sure when exactly a giant, inflatable tire man became the world’s leading authority on food, but for years this spot at the Mandarin Oriental was the only one that boasted a Michelin-starred chef. Add in the best skyline view you can get in Miami and this has become the go-to spot for “dinners that’ll impress her without making you look like a colossal douche.”
What’s more feel-good than a local boy from Westchester who goes to the big leagues and bashes his way to success? One who does it without steroids. And where A-Rod and Canseco failed, Nedal Ahmad has succeeded, creating possibly the most Miami burger in history with his Toston Burger, then taking down names like Morimoto and Zakarian to win this year’s Sobe Wine and Food Festival Burger Bash.
What does “important” mean, really, if not sending out a Christmas card of your kitchen staff wearing nothing but Santa hats on their junk? That kinda sexiness aside, Giorgio Rapicavoli and his brand of “culinary graffiti” have had people lining up outside his spot on Ponce and SW 8th St for three years. Its annual 4/20 dinner might only be topped in stoner-chic cuisine by its legendary Wakin-N-Bacon Brunch and Cap’n Crunch Pancakes.
Though we’d never recommend going there for anything like “space” or “healthy cholesterol,” Danny Serfer managed to mix the comfiest of comfort foods from all of Miami’s best-known ethnic groups, and created a tiny spot that is literally packed every night of the week. From his potato latkes to the Vaca Frita Tostones to the shrimp & grits, Blue Collar gives every Miamian a little taste of home when most of us are far from it.
Going out to a high-end steakhouse in South Beach once meant dealing with, well, the kinds of people who go to high-end steakhouses in South Beach. Then came Peter Vauthy with his genuine Midwestern attitude, a menu filled with Certified Angus Beef ®, 6ft crabs, and authentic Italian food. Then all of a sudden you could sit down at your table, on time, at the best steakhouse in Miami and not have to fight through a sea of F-list celebrities.
However, if you DO prefer your prime cuts with a massive side of South Beach attitude, well, nowhere will ever beat Prime 112. While the menu hasn’t evolved much, the food’s still solid. And if you don’t believe us, ask the old men enjoying the steaks at the tables or the models... um, not eating steaks at the tables.. And, really, what’s more essentially Miami than a 9pm reservation really meaning 10:30?
When both Barack Obama AND the Burger Beast say you have the best fritia in town? Well, even Fox News couldn’t argue with that. And while the little old man who fries up his all-beef mixture with house seasoning and tops it with cooked onions, potato strips, and ketchup on a Cuban roll may not return the president’s endorsement, he still makes the best frita in America's fritz capital.
There’s really no other spot in Miami where you can be served by waiters in white coats while you dine on a paper placemat. Such is the dichotomy of Miami’s landmark Cuban restaurant, where you can still get a heaping plate of ropa vieja for less than you’d pay for a drink in most of Miami, while listening to old Cuban men talk politics over cafecitos and tourists remark on how “authentic” the whole thing feels.
No local chef does tropical quite like Cindy Hutson, who’s also brought her inventive cuisine to Grand Cayman. Yes, the menu’s packed with fresh seafood and more ways to use mangoes and pineapples than you ever thought possible, but she’s also got a Certified Angus Beef ® Buckhead filet that could go toe to toe with any steakhouse cut in the city.
Making a list of essential restaurants is kind of like being elected to the hall of fame your rookie year. So we don’t make these statements lightly. But Basil Park isn’t just good food for healthy, organic, mostly vegan, locally sourced food. It’s such good food that when you finish it and they tell you it was vegan, you won't believe you just liked it that much. And because it's now made healthy, legitimately good food without an asterisk, it squarely belongs on this list.
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