15 Old-School Restaurants in Miami for a Classic Night Out

From Cuban food to key lime pie, check out these South Florida stalwarts.

If you’ve lived in Miami long enough, there’s probably a CVS standing over a restaurant you once loved. Such is the pace of progress in the Magic City, where names like Tobacco Road, Fox’s, S&S Diner, and Rascal House evoke waves of head-shaking nostalgia.

This city is exceedingly good at bulldozing its past, which makes the survival of an old-school restaurant in Miami especially impressive. Whether it’s a classic diner made famous in an Oscar-winning film, or a Cuban-American landmark that’s equal parts cultural and culinary icon, great old restaurants do still exist in Miami. Some require a drive, and many don’t take reservations. But in a city where history washes away almost as fast as the artificial shoreline, they’re worth a visit while you still can.

Joe's Stone Crab

South Beach

Fun fact: Joe’s Stone Crab is the only real-life Miami restaurant to ever rate a mention on The Golden Girls. That alone puts it in the Miami culinary hall of fame, but with stone crab claws that still draw hours-long lines 109 years after opening, it’s clearly the big daddy of Miami’s old-school eateries. Though sticking around to experience the white jacket, fine dining ambience is always worth the wait, grabbing a fried chicken and a Key Lime Pie from Joe’s take-away next door isn’t much of a falloff. And also makes for a great cheap date.

Available for Reservations
Versailles Cuban Restaurant | Flickr/dcwriterdawn


Little Havana

It may not be the best Cuban food in Miami, or even the most popular, but nowhere is Cuban food in Miami quite like Versailles. It’s part restaurant, part gathering place for senior members of the Cuban diaspora, who while away their days sipping cafecitos and talking politics at the bakery. It was ground zero for the Elian Gonzales protests of 2000, and it’s hard to imagine taking a visitor anywhere else who wants a taste of the Miami Cuban experience. The interior is the perfect mix of white-coated waiters and placemats made of paper, both elegant and funky in a way only an old-school Cuban restaurant can be.
How to book: Stop in for first-come, first-served seating.

La Camaronera

Little Havana

Back in Cuba, the Garcia family were fishermen who would catch fish during the day and fry them up at night. The tradition continued when the family came to America, and opened this little sandwich shop in the heart of Little Havana. The pan con minuta sandwich is one of the city’s great bargains, fried with the tail on and served with chopped onions and secret sauce. The sandwich has gained such legendary status, Marcus Lemonis featured it during his homecoming episode of Streets of Dreams.
How to book: Stop in for first-come, first-served seating.

While we can’t guarantee it, we’d wager if you asked Palmetto High School alums Jeff Bezos and Ketanji Brown Jackson for a Miami seafood rec, they’d immediately call out Captain’s Tavern. That’s because this southwest suburban staple has been serving up fresh caught, filleted-onsite seafood for over 50 years, making it as ingrained in local nostalgia as the Youth Fair. But unlike some childhood memories, Captain’s Tavern is as great as you remember, still slinging two-for-one lobster on Tuesdays next to one of the best wine lists on the planet. They’ve even added sushi to the menu, if your adult tastes demand something different than the old stuff you remember.
How to book: Stop in for first-come, first-served service.

For good, old-fashioned pizza slices the literal size of your head, nobody is topping Casola’s, a mainstay for post-little league rewards and quick business lunches. The massive thin-crust slices have anchored the Miami pizza scene as upscale restaurants have come and gone, with a sweet crust, spicy sauce, and hot-slippery cheese that are as dependable as a summer afternoon thunderstorm. Casola’s oversized pizza boxes are also a must at any Miami party, and though no one has ever been documented to actually finish one of these monsters, they always guarantee a good time.
How to book: Stop in for first-come, first-served service.


Coral Gables

In the long-gone era of buttoned-up old Miami, Christy’s was jacket-required, power broker dining at its finest. Realizing that model didn’t work so well in a time when a steakhouse’s “scene” was more important than its sirloins, Christy’s shut down and reinvented itself as something beautifully modern. The new iteration is filled with contemporary art and bright colors, and while nobody would call it “casual” you can show up without a blazer and still get a table. The menu has stayed classic too, long on prime cuts and wedge salads, with tuna tartare and miso maple salmon added for some modern flair.

Available for Reservations
Jimmy's East-Side Diner
Jimmy’s EastSide Diner | Photo by Aran S. Graham

Like a lot of restaurants that are made famous in movies, Jimmy’s was beloved by locals for decades before the world met it in Moonlight. Jimmy’s is a place where wood paneled walls and vinyl booths make you feel at home, even if you just rolled into town. The food is far better than what you’d expect in a greasy spoon, boasting an all-day breakfast that still tastes freshly made and burgers and cheesesteaks coming hot off the grill. It’s almost anti-Miami and completely Miami at the same time, a spot that’s completely authentic with just a touch of celebrity cache.
How to book: Stop in for first-come, first-served service.

Islas Canarias


The family who owns Islas Canarias doesn’t shy away from being a one trick pony. While the entire menu at this Westchester Cuban emporium is solid, it recently rebranded itself as “Croqueta County” since it’s the consensus pick of pretty much everyone from Cutler Bay to Aventura as having the best croquetas in Miami. While we’ll stop short of saying they’re worth crawling through rush hour traffic to SW 137th Ave. to try, if you find yourself out west make a point to stop in. Or, if you're sitting in left field at Marlins Park thinking, “Boy, I could go for a croqueta,” they’re conveniently located over AutoNation Alley.
How to book: Stop in for first-come, first served seating.

Long before swanky Rose-all-day brunch spots turned the Miami River into Sunday in St. Tropez, there was Garcia’s, a simple seafood market with first-rate romantic dining. That’s because despite the glut of you-can’t-sit-with-us seafood spots now lining the river Garcia’s food still puts them all to shame, sourcing most of their menu from the stuff they catch each day. Fish straight from the ocean is sold downstairs in the market, and upstairs as daily specials. Set up shop at one of Garcia’s riverside tables and enjoy the flavors with views of the ever changing river and the skyline beyond.
How to book: Stop in for first-come, first served seating.

Keg South


Keg South is the kind of place you’d wander in during a road trip and say, “This is either going to be insanely good or a serious case of food poisoning.” Fortunately, from our experience, it’s only been the former, as this dimly-lit dive just off South Dixie Highway boasts the flat-out best classic bar food in the city. Its flame-grilled burger is a rarity in smash-obsessed 2022, and easily one of Miami’s best. The wings are equally all-city, soaked in BBQ sauce before getting tossed on that same magical open flame.
How to book: Stop in for first-come, first served seating.

With a big nod to Marcus Samuelsson and the other restaurateurs who’ve made Overtown a top-notch dining destination, nothing captures the spirit of the neighborhood quite like Jackson. Though you’ll find them popping up at festivals and catering parties all over the city, the best place to experience Jackson’s oxtail, fried catfish, and fried shrimp is sliding into a booth at the Overtown flagship. Order a lemonade or a sweet tea in an oversized Styrofoam cup, then settle back and wait for your BBQ ribs or baked chicken with two sides. Service won’t be quick, but taking your time is part of Jackson’s charm.
How to book: Stop in for first-come, first served seating.

The Big Cheese of Miami

It’s big. And it’s cheese. And, frankly, that’s really all you need to know as no restaurant in Miami names itself as simply or accurately as this South Miami family pizza parlor. If the University of Miami had an epic, college town pizza joint this would be it, where the walls are lined with mementos from Hurricane glory days, and plates are filled with portions that could fill even the most juiced-up of frat boys. It all sits under the watchful eye of a cartoon mouse, and a digital clock that’s been telling Miamians exactly how hot it is for decades.
How to book: Stop in for first-come, first served seating.

La Sandwicherie

South Beach

Yes, we’re well aware this bastion of French bread and refreshing veggies has a few locations around Miami. But you don’t exactly see barflies stumbling out of Mac’s Club Deuce and ordering a tuna mix in Coral Gables. That’s because this South Beach sandwich counter has been helping Miamians soak up alcohol since 1988, and a late-night trip here will have you chomping turkey and brie next to dapper club goers and down-on-their-luck locals alike. It’s a place where all walks of life are brought together at off hours, united by a common love of cold, fresh sandwiches, whose flavors pop just as brightly after a long day on the beach as they do a long night at LIV.
How to book: Stop in for first-come, first served service

The little man behind the counter at El Mago might be the only face as recognizable in Miami as Dan Marino. And while “El Mago” never set any NFL records, he does sling fritas—the Cuban take on burgers with paprika and other spices served on a Cuban roll—better than anywhere in the city. Plenty of places do it well, but nowhere serves it with a side of charisma quite like El Mago. That’s why none other than Barack Obama made the place a regular stop when he was in Miami.
How to book: Stop in for first-come, first served service.

Despite Miami’s abundance of great global cuisine, one area we’ve somehow skipped is Chinese food. The lone exception is Tropical Chinese, a spot way out west on Bird Road, where Miami’s Chinese community is regularly out in full force joined by visiting Chinese students from the University of Miami. The dim sum brunch is the classic collection of buns, dumplings, and pastries on a cart that newcomers from New York and San Francisco lament not finding. If they can stomach venturing west of I-95, they’ll be pleasantly surprised when they arrive at the oasis of Chinese food greatness sitting right next to Tropical Park.
How to book: Stop in for first-come, first served seating.

Matt Meltzer is a Miami-based contributor for Thrillist, a veteran of the United States Marine Corps, former pageant judge in the Miss Florida America system, and past contributor to Cosmopolitan
magazine. Matt graduated with a BBA from University of Miami and holds a master’s in journalism from the University of Florida. He currently lives in Miami with his Betta fish, Bob.