While there's much to explore, including a vibrant craft cocktail scene, here are eight unique foods and drinks that you can't miss while you're in Miami.
Think of a frita as a burger with a Cuban twist. The standard canvas is a ground-beef patty seasoned with paprika, cumin, and other spices and cooked on a flat-top griddle. It's then placed on a Cuban roll and topped with diced raw onions, ketchup, and potato sticks. Though every frita shop offers embellishments like cheese, plantains, chorizo, or a fried egg, it's best to go traditional. This salty, spicy sandwich is so good, you might never go back to your tailgate version again.
Back in 2010, known burger maven and then-leader of the free world Barack Obama made a surprise appearance at this little frita joint, ordering seven fritas and a soda. Today, you can scarf down a traditional frita ($3.50), or a doble with twice the meat.
For more than 40 years, people have been clamoring for El Rey de las Fritas' beef and chorizo patties, topped with a special sauce. At $3.25 each, it's easy to sate your hunger without breaking the bank.
It's hard to improve on classics like a ham-and-cheese sandwich, but Cuban workers in Florida managed to do just that when they invented the "Cuban." Taking the key ingredients, adding roast pork, pickles, and placing it all inside a soft loaf of Cuban bread smeared with mustard would be wonderful enough, but the coup de grace is heat-pressing it until flat, warm, and toasty. That butter-spackled tastiness is lunchtime nirvana in your hands.
This bustling cafe is likely the most democratic restaurant in Miami. Located on the cusp of Miami's trendy Wynwood neighborhood, Enriqueta's at lunchtime sees an unlikely mash-up of construction workers, abuelas, and hipsters. The Cuban sandwich is already overstuffed, but for extra pop, ask for the Cuban with croquetas.
From its opening in 1935 to its heyday in the ’50s, Ball & Chain was a jazz venue that welcomed the likes of Billie Holiday, Count Basie, and Chet Baker. The venue remained closed for decades before reopening a few years ago. Today, the lounge, located in Little Havana, offers live music and craft cocktails. For a twist on the classic, try the Cuban spring rolls with a mustard aioli dip.
A typical day in Miami is about 25 hours long: dancing all night, sunning through the midday -- with a break between to scratch out a living. What legal substance could fuel such a lifestyle? Cuban coffee: sludgy black rocket fuel served with a liberal heaping of sugar. It's so potent, your coffee comes alongside smaller, thimble-sized cups so you can share your caffeine dose. Faint of heart? Take it with steamed milk for a rich cafe con leche. Either way, pair it with a pastelito -- a flaky pastry filled with fragrant guava, tangy cheese, or ground beef.
This venerable Little Havana institution is the heartbeat of Cuba in Miami. When would-be presidents and senators want to get out the vote, they come to this restaurant, fashioned after the famed palace of the Sun King. And, when Fidel Castro died, it is here that the Cuban exiles living in Miami came to clang pots and cheer. Pro tip: Instead of dining inside, head to La Ventanita, the restaurant's window service, and drink your cafecito with the locals.
Since 1982, Mary's has been giving Grovites a place to wash their clothes. Since 2001, however, that wash-and-fold has also come with a place to grab some food and a café con leche ($1.35) -- which comes in handy when you're doing laundry at 3am. The place is open 24 hours a day, and on any given weekend, you can spot after-hours clubbers sobering up on sandwiches and croquetas. There's also a display behind the counter offering items such as cigarettes and aspirin -- must-haves for any late-night denizen.
While other cities have pretzels or cheese curds, Miami's official snack is the croqueta -- golden cylinders that resemble the fried cheese sticks available at every brewpub in America. One bite, however, makes you realize that this isn't your average bar food. Inside the golden-fried shell you'll find a creamy béchamel laced with ham, cod, cheese, chicken, or other goodies. Croquetas turn up everywhere in Miami, from gas stations to five-star restaurants, with the best being crisp on the outside and soothing on the inside.
Islas Canarias has been making croquetas since the 1970s.Available in chicken or ham, at $1.06 each, get a few of each. People line up at the counter for their afternoon snack, so be prepared to queue up. No worries, because that first bite is worth it.
Come here for innovative interpretations on classic dishes. Its croqueta, for one, is a take on a classic lox and bagel. The lox croquetas ($14) are filled with Faroe Island smoked salmon and creamy cheese -- New York meets Miami in compact form. The one downside? Sunday brunch is the only time you can get them.
It has a long way to catch up with Portland or San Diego, but in the past few years, Miami's craft beer scene has blossomed from one or two small breweries to a real movement. The epicenter is the artistic neighborhood of Wynwood, where you can take a self-guided beer tour and sample brews made with local ingredients. Look for dark porters that take notes from Cuban coffee and light, effervescent beers filled with tropical fruits grown just a few miles away.
Founded in 2013 by the father-son team of Luis C. and Luis G. Brignoni, this brewery has already amassed several awards, including a gold medal at the Great American Beer Festival for its Pop's Porter. The taproom (which doubles as a gallery of rotating local art) serves staple brews like Wynwood IPA and La Rubia blond ale from custom-made spray-paint can taps -- a nod to the neighborhood's famed graffiti artists. On weekends, $10 will get you a guided brewery tour.
This project of Alchemy & Science Brewing opened as a state-of-the-art brewery and social hall in 2015. The hall boasts a large indoor/outdoor seating area, happy hour specials, and live music. Standout brews include Rica, a wheat IPA, and Stiltsville, billed as a Miami-style hoppy Pilsner.
Step into this Star Wars-themed taproom and enjoy brewer Johnathan Wakefield's signature Florida Weisse beers. Tart and fruity with alcohol, they're perfect for pounding on a hot, sultry day.
Six months a year, Miamians go insane for stone crab claws. Harvested in the wild from October 15 through May 15, only one claw is taken from each crab, which is then set free for its claw to regenerate, which takes about a year. The claws are steamed on the boats then delivered daily to Miami's best seafood markets and restaurants. The sweet meat is served chilled with a savory mustard sauce for dipping.
Miami Beach's most iconic restaurant, Joe's Stone Crab, has been open since 1913 -- making it actually older than the city it calls home. The restaurant closes during the summer months and when open takes no reservations, so be prepared to wait for upwards of an hour or more for a table. Once seated, though, you'll be treated to Old World service by waiters in dinner jackets. It's also been a favorite of US presidents, gangsters, and the occasional celeb -- don't be shocked to see Martha Stewart or Cindy Crawford at the table next to you. People are so obsessed with Joe's Stone Crab that a few have requested their ashes be scattered on its grounds.
If you like your seafood with a view, check out Monty's Sunset, directly overlooking the Miami Beach marina. Stone crabs here are budget-friendly and, while the prices reflect the market, you can expect to pay far less for claws. During happy hour, medium claws can run as low as $5 each.
Miami's access to fresh seafood and its deep South American ties make ceviche a natural here. Its base is a panoply of sea creatures -- fish, shrimp, conch, octopus -- marinated in spices and fresh citrus, making this the perfect meal for body-conscious Miamians who relish the constant balmy weather.
Partners Sam Gorenstein and Roger Duarte opened the first My Ceviche in a tiny room just off a Miami Beach hostel, serving the freshest fish at bargain prices. They’re now up to six locations (including at Miami International Airport), offering wild-caught seafood in burritos, as ceviches, and in bowls.
If you have food ADD, try Jaguar's ceviche spoon sampler -- a roulette wheel of six different ceviches served in oversized porcelain soup spoons. Sit at the bar or go al fresco and people-watch while you savor ceviches made with shrimp, octopus, and scallops and drink pitchers of house-made sangrias.
This iconic treat gets its unique tartness from Key limes -- grown primarily in the Florida Keys and Miami-Dade. Beyond the basic recipe (lime juice and zest mixed with eggs and condensed milk) there's much debate over how the pie is topped -- with whipped cream or meringue.
When Derek Kaplan isn't saving lives as a real, honest-to-goodness Miami firefighter, he's making the city's best pies in his tiny Wynwood shop. Pies are available by the slice or whole in every conceivable flavor, but his mile-high Key lime pies are the star attraction. Each bite is the perfect blend of sweet and tart, making it refreshing with a bit of pucker-worthiness.
No less than Oprah Winfrey called Icebox Cafe's cakes the best, and that should be reason enough for you to flock to this industrially designed cafe and cake shop. But don't take the queen of media's advice, and instead try a slice of deep-dish Key lime pie for yourself. A slice seems a mile high, topped with a cap of fresh whipped cream. It's literally pie in the sky.
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1. El Mago de las Fritas5828 SW 8th St, Miami
2. El Rey de las Fritas1821 SW 8th St, Miami
3. Enriqueta's Sandwich Shop186 NE 29th St, Miami
4. Ball & Chain1513 SW 8th St, Miami
5. Versailles Restaurant3555 SW 8th St, Miami
6. Mary's Coin Laundry2542 SW 25th Ter, Miami
7. Islas Canarias13695 SW 26th St, Miami
8. 272727 Indian Creek Dr, Miami Beach
9. Wynwood Brewing Co.565 Nw 24th Street, Miami
10. Concrete Beach Brewery325 NW 24th St, Miami
11. J Wakefield Brewing120 NW 24th St, Miami
12. Joe's Stone Crab11 Washington Ave, Miami Beach
13. Monty's Sunset300 Alton Rd, Miami Beach
14. My Ceviche235 Washington Ave, Miami Beach
15. Jaguar Ceviche Spoon Bar & Latam Grill3067 Grand Ave, Miami
16. Fireman Derek's World Famous Pies2818 N Miami Ave, Miami
17. Icebox Cafe1855 Purdy Ave, Miami Beach
El Mago de Las Fritas, or the Fritas Magician, celebrates the Cuban hamburger tradition of topping a seasoned ground beef patty with onions and a pile of tiny, wispy shoestring fries. Luckily, El Mago doesn't limit its Cuban touch to hamburgers, and extra-long hot dogs and egg sandwiches are similarly available with a topping of thin and crispy potato sticks. Sweet and savory specials like freshly fried chicharrones and flan are also worth ordering in the laid-back, diner space.
El Rey de Las Fritas, or the King of Fries, is a title we’d all like to hold one day. Until then, we’ll just have to make do with eating at El Rey de Las Fritas, a Little Havana spot known for its Frita Cubana. Popular across Miami, the Cuban-style hamburger is topped with sautéed onions and a pile of shoestring fries, then placed on an airy roll. El Rey's version stands out for its patty, which is a salty, spicy blend of ground beef, chorizo, and a secret house sauce. Though it's clear what the speciality is here, a variety of Cuban dishes are available.
This Wynwood hole-in-the-wall has a well-deserved reputation for affordable and authentic Cuban sandwiches, most notably, the Cubano. The Miami (or Tampa, depending who you're talking to) -born sandwich is classically made with ham, roast pork, Swiss cheese, pickles, and in a not-so-classic but welcome twist, croquettas. Other sandwiches are just as tempting, especially the medianoche, which replaces the Cubano's crusty bread with a challah-like sweet egg dough. Plastic seats and formica tabletops crowd the dining room, but if you're here solo, opt for a stool at the counter.
This historic live music spot, which has hosted the likes of Billie Holiday and Count Basie, is renowned not only for its high-class staging of musicians, but for being one of the first venues to feature African-American performers. Today's Ball & Chain retains the original neon sign and pine ceiling, and gives equal play to both jazz and salsa.
This landmark Cuban restaurant on Calle Ocho serves up the best Cuban coffee in Miami, and it’s the perfect spot to bring out-of-towners when they’re in for a visit to show off the city’s Cuban culture. Here, you can get a heaping plate of ropa vieja for less than you’d pay for a drink in most of Miami, while listening to locals talk politics over cafecitos and tourists diving into plates of grilled meats with black beans, rice, and sweet plantains.
This former laundromat made its conversion into a medianoche-slinging sandwich shop when it first introduced a coffee window for late-night washers. Mary's still maintains its laundering business today, while also standing in as a late-night haven for on-duty cops and other night owls seeking out cafe con leche, steak sandwiches, and of course, the ham, roast pork, Swiss cheese, pickle, and mustard combination known as the medianoche.
Cuba isn't that far away, but it's pretty far to go for dinner. And so is Spain. So instead, head to Islas Canarias Restaurant and enjoy cuisines from both nations. Islas Canarias has been a Miami staple since it was opened in 1977, and it continues to dish out original family recipes like oxtail in wine sauce, tamal en cazuela, and chicken filet stuffed with seafood in pink sauce. But everyone knows that you come to Islas Canarias for some of the city’s best croquettes, oblong fried treats reminiscent of hush puppies with chicken or ham inside. The restaurant is as vibrant as the plates it serves, with large, colorful murals covering much of the wall space and lots of room for larger parties.
Many of the ingredients come from the rooftop garden and herbs from the same backyard spot they use for Broken Shaker. Adjacent to Miami’s best outdoor drinking spot, this places serves Miami-inspired cuisine with a '30s décor and an upstairs lounge with drinks from Bar Lab.
A father-and-son team are behind this spacious and stylish Wynwood brewery. Founded in 2013, Wynwood Brewing Company has plenty of awards to its name, including a Great American Beer Festival gold medal for its Pop's Porter. In a nod to the neighborhood's artsy reputation -- especially that of its graffiti artists -- the taproom features a rotating selection of local art and serves its signature beers from custom-made spray paint can tops.
Concrete Beach, a project of Alchemy & Science Brewing, opened this state-of-the-art brewery and social hall in 2015. The social hall boasts a large indoor/outdoor seating area, happy hour specials, and live music. Beers include Rica, a wheat IPA, and Stiltsville, billed as a Miami-style hoppy Pilsner.
Nestled in funky Wynwood, Miami is J. Wakefield Brewing, the golden child of the Miami craft brew scene. Brewer John Wakefield is renowned for varietals like the Dragon Fruit/Passion Fruit Berliner Weisse, which has been ranked in the top 10 beers in the world, and a Hops 4 Teacher IPA that balances crisp notes of citrus with a solid malt backbone. The taproom is decorated in the style of industrial-chic-geek, with recycled wine barrels for chandeliers as well as wall-length murals of Star Wars characters and comic book lithographs, meaning you get to nerd out while sipping on your suds.
You know about Joe’s Stone Crab, everyone does, Miami-based or not. Joe’s is a South Beach institution, and for over a century has been one of the city’s most famous restaurants. The old-school, art deco space is full of servers in tuxedos and stone crab claws that somehow taste sweeter here than anywhere else in the city. All sorts of other seafood dishes, as well as steaks, fried chicken, and standard steakhouse sides (if you don't get the Lyonnaise potatoes, you're making a huge mistake) make up the all-star menu that draws crowds, celebrities included, to its dining room on Washington Avenue. And what would a Miami Beach mainstay be without key lime pie? Joe’s knows, and it does it the best.
Something about eating seafood on a dock makes it seem just a little more fresh. And something about eating fresh seafood on a dock next to a pool makes it all the more picturesque. Overlooking the Miami Beach Marina, Monty’s Sunset serves food and drink under poolside tiki huts. Prime sunset views and an institutional happy hour, accompanied by live music and DJs, draws a drinking crowd, while plentiful raw bar options (Florida Keys crab claws, Gulf oysters, and Bahamian conch ceviche) highlight the best of local fish.
Raw fish is the name of the game at My Ceviche, a Miami favorite serving up ceviche bowls, burritos, burrito bowls, tacos, salads, and sides that highlight fresh-from-the-ocean seafood. If it’s poke you’re looking for, it has that too, in options like wasabi sesame and ponzu shoyu. This fast-casual spot is a hit around lunchtime, so though you should prepare for a bit of a wait, remember that charred, fresh, briny goodness awaits you on the other side.
Jaguar Ceviche Spoon Bar & Latam Grill is exactly what you’d expect, if you expected it to be a Latin American (Latam, get it?) restaurant that serves ceviches on spoons. The Coconut Grove eatery is famous for its playful presentation of ceviches on white ceramic soup spoons (and why wouldn’t it be?), but also highlights regional specialties from across Latin America, like Churrasco, fish tacos, and Cochinita Pibil. Ceviche spoon samplers come six per order, and take about two ladylike bites or one giant gulp to consume. The sampler is best enjoyed on the patio with a pitcher of sangria, in case you were wondering.
Fireman Derek is a Miami firefighter with a penchant for pies. Since his teenage years, before he dedicated his career to smoke jumping, Derek’s been baking pies on the sidelines, his first venture into the pastry a Florida icon and today, his top billing item: the tart, creamy Key Lime Pie. His passion for baking turned into a food truck, then into a real, live brick-and-mortar, and Fireman Derek’s World-Famous Pies are available by the slice or whole (get the whole damn pie, you know you want it) from his quaint corner shop in Wynwood.
Let’s say you’re hanging out on South Beach and a craving for cake strikes (which, let’s be honest, probably doesn’t happen all that often on South Beach, but it should), and you’re not far from this place called Icebox Cafe that’s home to, according to the fabulous Oprah Winfrey herself, one of the “best cakes in America.” Your next move is to not only run to Icebox, but to bring your friends and a hefty appetite because there’s more than just cake to be had at the industrial cafe and tearoom on Purdy Avenue. Health-centric, Mediterranean-inspired dishes make up the breakfast, lunch, and dinner menus, so you don’t have to feel guilty about digging into the creamy cheesecake brownie- and chocolate mousse-filled Chocolate Delight cake you’re going to indulge in immediately after, no matter time of day.