If you’ve ever sailed around Biscayne Bay, you may have noticed a cluster of wooden shacks on the open water out by Key Biscayne. Today, a handful of structures remain from what was once a community of 27 private weekend retreats and public social clubs. These houses on stilts started popping up in the ‘30s, skirting mainland gambling and drinking laws, but began to fall into disuse after a combination of government regulation and repeated damage from hurricanes made them untenable. Having miraculously evaded collapse, the seven remaining structures these days function primarily to shade cormorants, and as a canvas for the imagination. Writers including Carl Hiaasen -- Miami’s Tom Wolfe -- have set novels here, and Miami Vice frequently used the seaborne shanty town as a backdrop for aquatic plots.
Miami is not necessarily a BBQ town, but there are a handful of smoke joints worth a try. Shorty’s in South Miami, People’s in Overtown, and Shiver’s in Homestead are all landmarks in their own right, but Uncle Tom’s BBQ in Coral Gables makes this list thanks to its iconic neon sign -- and because it nearly didn’t survive. Originally opened in 1948, Uncle Tom’s was condemned by the city a few years back, after falling into disrepair following a fire. In 2014, new ownership restored the place, bringing back the classic sauce recipe from Uncle Tom’s original owners.
If you’ve only got time for one meal in Miami, and no plans to come back, make it Versailles. Sure, there are places with better food, but this classic Cuban cafeteria is the Miami experience distilled into 5,000sqft. The “unofficial town square of el exilio,” Versailles has presided over coup plots, premature Castro deathwatches, and political power plays since 1971. Even as the '80s brought with it cocaine and new shady construction to Miami, Versailles stood, unwavering, in the powder-nosed faces of laundered development money. And besides the sit-down restaurant, which still serves up some of the city’s best ropa vieja, picadillo, and other comidas tipicas (don’t let anyone tell you otherwise), Versailles is also home to the most famous of Miami’s ventanitas -- those ubiquitous walk-up windows serving Cuban coffee, pastelitos, and other small bites.