Corben has developed documentaries showing unfathomable Miami: the building of a city on drug money in Cocaine Cowboys, the building of a college football dynasty in The U. He has insight on the city that most people don't, having lived his whole life here despite the corrupt government, floods, terrible drivers, and even worse residents. Which means despite his obvious disdain, he's found a Miami worth sticking around for. Here's what he tells his friends who ignore his advice and do ever come here.
What makes coming to Miami special?
Billy Corben: I've always said LA is where you go when you want to be somebody, New York is where you go when you are somebody, and Miami is where you go when you want to be somebody else. "What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas" is really lip service: Miami is a place you can go where you and your misdeeds can legitimately disappear. Then you can turn around and run for office, all the while dumping hookers into the Everglades. It's really a magical place that way.
What's the best advice you can give to anyone visiting Miami?
Corben: Throw out all the lists and know what you're personally interested in. Yeah, you can go to all the places that people say you have to go -- LIV or whatever. But you also have to say, "What am I actually interested in doing while I'm here, that's actually going to be fun?" You're a different person than these people standing out in front of a club trying to get in. So realize you have your own unique tastes.
The psychological phenomenon with Facebook, where people are curating the best part of their life, and making you depressed about your life? Miami is that in 3D. There is a worse-than-50/50 chance you're gonna leave feeling awful about yourself and your life -- and Miami -- if you try and go to those "hot" places, and that’s terrible. Who wants to do that with their limited time here?
I encourage the anti-Studio 54 effect: If you see a giant group of people gathered outside a place, don't go into that place. Anything you hear is "hot," "trendy," or "essential," those are the first places I'd say avoid if you want to guarantee a good trip.
Why do you think so many places in Miami are overhyped?
Corben: Look, I'm cool with saying nice things about a place, or convincing people they should go there, but once you go and think it's terrible, but still encourage people to go there, that's a level of bullshittery that's only in Miami. It's off the chart. Like maybe you couldn't convince me this is the greatest restaurant or club in the world, but you can convince everyone else in Miami. And people don't wanna be the one person in their group of friends who says a place isn't great, so it's a level of delusion that is indigenous to this market.
People are afraid to speak up and say they don't agree. You're sitting there eating basic fried chicken, or a pulled pork sandwich or shrimp or something, and everyone around you is saying, "This is DOPE, bro," and I'm thinking, "Are you eating the same food I am?"
Where would you suggest to eat that's not overhyped?
Corben: It's all about what you want to experience. People ask me what to eat, I say what area are you in, and are you willing to travel, and what type of cuisine do you like to eat.
If you're near the airport and have time, go to the Latin Café 2000 on Le Jeune and get the ropa vieja empanada. It's the only location they have it at and it's un-fucking-believable
Blackbrick is great. I don't know if anyone in Midtown knows how lucky they are to have Blackbrick there, because Midtown. It's a little pricey for what it is, though. If you want good Chinese cheap, go to Sang's in North Miami Beach on weekends or in the morning, or Tony Chan's. They have a full dim sum menu now for the entire day.
Certainly Blue Collar, which is in an old drug/hooker motel and is the ultimate Miami dining experience. And if you have to eat in South Beach I'd say NaiYaRa, Continental, and the Drunken Dragon.
Where are the places you'd send people to drink?
Corben: I'm really bullish on the 71st-79th dive bar crawl -- I feel like this is a very authentic Miami Beach experience. You've got Happy's Stork, Shuckers, On the Rocks, Sandbar -- not the one in the Grove but the one in North Beach, where they actually have sand on the floor. These are all like authentic Miami Beach locals spots. At the end you've got Ito, which is short for Mojitos y Cafecitos. It's the new bar at the Days Inn on Ocean Terrace, and it's FANTASTIC. They call it Cuban fusion. It's impossibly good food, you're out there, you're on the water, the dunes are right there, and parking is free after 6.
How would you tell someone to have a big night out in Miami?
Corben: Make those nights for yourself. Miami is so much about your friends, the company you keep, and the people around you. So when you bring your friends, it's like a blank slate, and the night is what you make of it. Any of these places I've mentioned are blank slates, so you bring the fun, you're the show, you make the difference between a good night and a bad night. Don't make a big thing about where you go, just who you're with.
Where should visitors go that they might not think to?
Corben: Most Miami Beach tourists don't think to go north of about 50th St, but North Beach is really cool. It's a legit community with great dive bars and great local spots. I love Ocean Terrace. It's like a little Ocean Drive, about two blocks long, north of the park. There's a flop house there, some shuttered hotels -- it's more like Ocean Drive circa 1985.
I love the O Cinema at the old Byron Carlyle Theater. It was shut down for years, and now there's an arthouse cinema that's breathed new life into what used to be a very dead area. Nayib Estefan does a weekend event at 11:30pm where he shows movies like Die Hard or Scarface on 35mm. It's fucking outstanding. There's no place else in Miami Beach that does that.
What are the biggest mistakes people make when they come to Miami?
Corben: People come here and say, "I'm going to go out and actively pursue an evening of overpaying to feel shitty about myself." Now, that doesn't sound like a lot of fun, but it sure sounds like Miami. You can go to great places and have a great time without feeling like an asshole because some bouncer looked at your shoes and said, "Not in here with those, you're not."
People are gonna go to Ocean Drive. I don't know why. Maybe if you want to buy crack at 9am that's a benefit, but you can't talk people out of it. I guess it's part of the experience. But seriously, anything is better than Ocean Drive. I would drive through Liberty City to get a taste of Miami before I'd go there.
If someone only had one day in Miami, what should they do?
Corben: I would do a crazy day. Watch the sun rise in Miami Beach then do a Cuban breakfast. Take 79th St through Little Haiti, then work your way down to the Tamiami Trail. Head through Kendall (it's like a real place now; they have indigenous restaurants like Finka), go through Big Cypress and the Everglades and have stone crabs in Everglades City. Maybe stop at Clyde Butcher's along the way, or the Miccosukee casino for the surf and turf, which used to be awesome and cheap. You’ll never forget that, especially if you see palmetto bugs the size of my head. Then end the day and watch the sun set on the beach in Naples.
Then you get to see all of South Florida. "Miami" isn't just Miami -- it's South Florida, so you gotta see all of it going east to west. You start in Little Cuba, go through Little Haiti, then into Kendall which is a country in and of itself. Go into Everglades, which is pure Florida cracker redneck, and end up in Naples, which is old AF. And by the end of the day, you've experienced everything.
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1. Yardbird Southern Table & Bar1600 Lenox Ave, Miami Beach
2. Tropical Chinese Restaurant7991 Bird Rd, Miami
3. The Anderson709 NE 79th St, Miami
4. Happy's Stork Lounge1872 79th Street Cswy, North Bay Village
5. Shuckers Bar and Grill1819 79th St Causeway, Miami
6. On The Rocks217 71st St, Miami Beach
7. The Sandbar Restaurant100 Spring Ave, Anna Maria
8. ITO Mojitos y Cafecitos7450 Ocean Ter, Miami
9. Bowl Bar Packaging and Liquor1700 NW 7th St, Miami
10. Gramps176 NW 24th St, Miami
11. Round Table Sportsbar & Lounge11205 NW 7th Ave, Miami
12. O Cinema Wynwood90 NW 29th St, Miami
13. Finka Table & Tap14690 SW 26th St, Miami, FL 33175, Miami
14. Latin Cafe 2000875 NW 42nd Ave, Miami
15. Blackbrick3451 NE 1st Ave, Miami
16. Tony Chan's Water Club1717 N Bayshore Dr, Miami
17. Blue Collar Restaurant6730 Biscayne Blvd, Miami
18. Le Tub Saloon1100 N Ocean Dr, Hollywood
19. Shivers BBQ28001 S Dixie Hwy, Homestead
Before Yardbird opened in 2011, Miami wasn't known for its Southern comfort cuisine, which somehow seemed odd for a city that's geographically part of the American south. All that changed when Top Chef finalist Jeff McInnis, along with restaurant vets Chris Romero and John Kunkel, opened Yardbird in Miami Beach and instantly made a name with their fried chicken, buttermilk biscuits, and watermelon salad. The menu is chock full of quintessential down-home foods, and the well-stocked bar doles out house cocktails like blackberry bourbon lemonade and Bloody Marys with bacon-infused bourbon.
Just trust us on this: Tropical Chinese Restaurant has the best dim sum in Miami. The family-run spot has been drawing crowds -- especially on weekends around 10am -- for steamed shrimp dumplings, pork buns, and crispy Peking duck for decades. Though its daytime cart service is a must, Tropical's also great for group dinners, thanks to a family-style menu with hits like ginger peel chicken and pineapple fried rice. Total bonus: it's cheap.
This '80s-themed bar with vintage cigarette ads and nostalgically-named cocktails might get creative with its styling, but it keeps things simple with the ambience. The back is set up like an urban beach with picnic tables on the sand and a beach bungalow shack where you'll find a snack-centric menu.
Happy’s Stork Lounge is quite possibly one of the last remaining, true dive bars that’s withstood the test of time, and the glitz and glam that’s overrun most of Miami. Its history remains intact as one of the neighborhood’s oldest dives, patronized by the likes of old Italian gangsters and even Frank Sinatra back in the ‘50s. There’s a warning at the entrance, “Enter at your own risk.” Do, and pull up a stool at the bar -- there’s nowhere else to sit -- and soak up the eccentric (for lack of a better word) stories of the Miami locals who’ve been drinking there for decades. On your way out, stop by the adjoining liquor store and continue on drinking 'til dawn.
Because it sits right on the JFK causeway, Shuckers is the only bar on this list where you feel like you’re sitting in the middle of Biscayne Bay. Or, if you were unfortunate to be there one night a couple years ago, you actually WERE sitting in the middle of Biscayne Bay. Too soon?
There are only three hours of the day during which On The Rocks is closed (from 5AM to 8AM). Like its steady stream of drinkers who start well before 5PM, the Miami dive is a bit rough around the edges, but highly lovable inside. Drinks at the formica bar are inexpensive, the nautical tchotchkes that line the shelves are unpretentious (read: dusty), and the bartenders are friendly. And best of all, the jukebox slings killer jams every night. What more could you want?
An absolute must in Anna Maria, Sandbar serves both food and drink along the island's north shore with picturesque views of the beach and open water. Its got a large indoor dining space and bar, but don't even bother with that — the beachside patio is the only place you want to be, especially if it's close to sunset. Take whatever seat you can find out there (it's one of the most popular joints in the city for locals and tourists) and order a Pina Colada with a seafood platter of fish, shrimp and scallops for a taste of everything this spot's got to offer.
Just off Collins Ave, Ito, short for Mojitos y Cafecitos, is located far enough to escape the Miami Beach tourist traps, but still just steps away from the dunes. The gastropub’s plates are vibrant both in color and taste, like the yucca bites stuffed with queso fresco and cilantro aioli, the sweet plantains with queso fresco over bacon guava sauce, and the churrasco steak with malanga puree, flamed cherry tomatoes, and chimichurri. Once you’ve had your fill of savory Latin fusion fare, don’t skip out on the guava and cream cheese donuts -- they are sweet and creamy and fluffy and pretty much perfect.
We won’t blame you if you for wanting to shower immediately upon leaving Bowl Bar Packaging and Liquor. This Little Havana dive bar prides itself on its seedy feels (it boasts disposable plastic and Styrofoam cups because who needs glasses?), and despite there being little light inside, you can be pretty sure that unsavory business might go down after hours. But all this aside, Bowl Bar does have what you need for a fun, if questionably debaucherous, night out with your crew: cheap drinks, a booming jukebox, and wall-to-wall mirrors that let you watch it all go down.
A bar in Wynwood named for the owner's maternal grandfather, and also literally everyone else's grandfather, Gramps has a bar they stole from his house, a massive outdoor stage covered in graffiti (and typically hosting at least one food truck), a new DJ or live performance daily, bocce, and a collection of $2 beers plus sangria and cocktails like The Jewbian Princess.
Though chivalry might be dead these days, the Round Table certainly isn’t -- in fact, it can be found alive and kicking on a Miami strip just off I-95. Complete with parapets and crenels, the Round Table Sportsbar & Lounge’s exterior is reminiscent of a medieval castle. Inside, it trades royal fineries for cheap beer, and swaps feasts for movie theatre-style popcorn that noisily overflows from a machine. The massive wooden bar is the focal point of the space, flanked by a tabletop shuffleboard, where you can test your hand-eye coordination while you await your libations. True, castles are designed to keep you out, but don’t be alarmed when the door is locked. You’ll simply need to buzz to get in.
A non-profit, independent local cinema that runs events featuring foreign, art, and family films. The peeeeerfect spot to show your totally hipster side to the lady.
This homey gastropub serves unique Cuban fare with Peruvian and Korean influences. Surprisingly, its mac & cheese is one of the best in Miami with carne asada, bacon, scallions, and three (!) cheeses
It’s true: Latin Café 2000 in Le Jeune doesn’t do much to hide the fact that it’s a chain restaurant that most only ever consider as a pit stop on the way to the airport. But that’s a point of pride in itself -- loyal customers simply won’t leave Miami without a bite of their favorite Ropa Vieja, some fried plantains, or even Latin Café’s good old fashioned parking lot fresh air before trapping themselves in a flying tin can for hours. When it comes down to it, the Latin Café 2000 cult is probably doing it right.
Blackbrick pust a Floridian twist on Chinese with stuff like General Tso’s Florida Gator and Swank farms eggplant with Oyster sauce.
Judging by Tony Chan’s decidedly sterile appearance (white tablecloths, black lacquered high-back chairs, and sparse decoration), you likely wouldn’t guess that the Edgewater restaurant is a destination for some of the most authentic Cantonese cuisine in the city, and not a banquet hall primed for your theoretical (read: imaginary) future wedding. Here, you can get Peking duck (it’s served in two courses), three-cup braised chicken -- an aromatic concoction of chicken breast, basil, and heady sauce -- and yu pan quail -- Ching dynasty Emperor Chien-Long’s favorite dish with bamboo shoots, mushrooms, and lettuce leaves -- in addition to less mysterious dishes like General Tso’s chicken. Before your meal arrives, you might be able to spot its preparation through the windows that overlook the kitchen. But be sure to smile because the chefs inside can see you too.
Blue Collar's mission is to give off a true neighborhood hang-out vibe, which it successfully does with a huge menu of comfort food staples. Every day, the kitchen serves a different rib dish (baby back, short ribs, spare ribs, etc), parmesan dish (chicken, veal, pork, eggplant, etc), and a braised dish (brisket, pot roast, ox tails, pork shoulder). There's a whole chalkboard of vegetable sides to counter the meaty entrées, and appetizers like definitely-order-or-you'll-regret-it potato latkes. Don't even get us started on brunch -- just make sure you get there early.
Alert: Le Tub does not have a hot tub, topless women, or alcohol-based suds. But everything it DOES have is as enjoyable, like the hamburger that won the hearts of consumers after being featured on The Oprah Winfrey Show (you remember that, right?).
This spot is a full-fledged South Florida institution. It's been around since 1950 and since then has been using a hickory smoker to make their brisket the best in the Miami area. Locals think that Shivers serves up the best BBQ in Homestead, but we think that they are the best in Miami. Stop by and check out their menu!