Miami was once a bleak landscape of mediocre dining, but things have changed in the last decade. Today, the eating industry in Miami is thriving, abundant – to the point of being overwhelming—fresh, healthy, and brings both families and the famous to the table.
People in Miami are taking advantage of the eating renascence as they dine out an average of six days a week at one of the 6,000 eating establishments that line the shores and outskirts of The Magic City. From world-class menus from sophisticated super chefs to flavorful and unpretentious food options that are tucked away on side streets and off the beaten path, Miami has become a dining destination.
What to Eat in Miami – Miami’s Cuisine!
The varied assortment of food offerings in Miami is often called “Floribbean” because of the millions of Caribbean refugees who landed on the Florida shores and brought their unique tastes in food with them. Sprinkle in a bit of Latin American flavor and native fare from the seas that surround Florida, and you get a brand new experience in food and spice combinations.
The Miami area received a large amount of Cuban immigrants in the early 1900s and with any large population influx they have brought their culture and cuisine along with them. Miami’s Cuisine has a large amount of Cuban influences, and this is no bad thing.
Cuban Sandwich – Sandwich Cubano
The Cuban Sandwich is one of the best-known Cuban food items. These large, Pork, Ham, cheese, mustard, and Pickle Sandwiches are pressed on Cuban bread in large sandwich Presses. Some variations include Salami but not here in Miami.
Another Big Cuban Import is Coffee. Not the actual beans but the style of brewing. Cuban Espresso is brewed directly onto demerara sugar and whisked, this causes some “science” to make the coffee thicker and Sweeter than by adding sugar later. The result is Rocket fuel!
Cortadito – is a 50/50 mix of espresso and steamed milk, kind of like a Cuban Flat white.
Colada – is a takeaway cup filled with multiple espresso shots, this can lead to a very “alert” feeling!
Rum – a trick we learned in Cuba is to add rum, this makes for a very happy drink, but not one you would want to drive after!
Seafood is big business in Miami and with its coastal setting, it feels very apt. Floridian Stone crab is the big draw with most restaurants offering it in season, along with other seafood staples such as crab legs, oysters, Lobster, and Shrimp. To get the real Stone Crab Experience you have to Visit Joe’s Stone Crab, see Below!
Key Lime Pie
Miami is one of the best places on earth to get Key Lime Pie a Floridian staple. Of course, just a couple of hours down the road in the Keys is the best place, but Miami has some really good offerings. Ice Box is the unofficial King with their Deep Pan Pie, Although Joe’s Stone Crab’s offering is hard to beat and kills two birds!
It’s Cake…And Rum…Do we need to say more?
Where to Eat?
With thousands of restaurants from which to choose, you will need help to sort it all out, so we have put together an eclectic mix of Miami’s best restaurants for any budget. Whether you are splurging during your holiday or penny-pinching, we have the best options for you, as well as our picks for the best brunch, service, seafood, Cuban food, and views.
The Very Best Restaurants in Miami Beach
In the late 1980s, a restaurant renascence began in South Beach, and Miami locals and tourists still benefit today from a wide assortment of independent restaurants, that quickly come and go as trends and appetites change.
The tourist areas on Ocean Drive are the busiest, and therefore, they are the most expensive. For better value and more elbow room, head to the side streets west of Ocean Drive, or find a place along Lincoln Road or Alton Road for budget-friendly choices mixed among high-priced establishments.
Miami Beach’s Best EXPENSIVE Restaurant:
- The Forge: The Forge is a Miami landmark that dates back to the 1930s when it hosted celebrities and the occasional mobster. It is one of a handful of restaurants in Miami that has somehow survived the years, and the trends, that have buckled other restaurants. In the last decade, The Forge has undergone a makeover of its interior, its menu, and its head chef. The $10 million renovations revamped the mahogany décor, and chef Christopher Lee brought a next-level menu that brings glutinous patrons six different cuts of beef, starting with the Super Steak, a 21-day-aged, 16-ounce slice of beef that is oak-grilled Prime New York strip. Lee also brought pastrami duck breast, miso-marinated Chilean sea bass, and Jamaican jerk bacon. The legend of a wine cellar offers 80 of the finest bottles that you can order in one, three, or five-ounce pours, using an Emomatic system.
- Bâoli Miami: Along with being the best place to “people watch,” Bâoli Miami is also the spot to SPLURGE, whether it is on you or someone you adore. As the sister restaurant to La Bâoli in Cannes, France – the home of the famous film festival – the restaurant-nightspot opened in 2010, and immediately saw an A-list celebrity clientele, who escaped their mansions in Miami Beach for the best scene in the area. Regulars like Beyoncé, George Clooney, and Leonardo DiCaprio mix well with the sexy ambiance of perfect mood lighting, seductive music, and a flourish of foliage arranged around retro seating and décor. Oh, and once you get past the spellbinding interior design, the dreamy courtyard, and the gorgeous clientele and servers, there is actually FOOD. Chef Gustavo Vertone brings European-style surf-and-turf from the Mediterranean with perfectly executed dishes like gazpacho, risotto, branzino, bouillabaisse, terrine de foie gras, as well as Asian-fused offerings like the robatayaki-grilled salmon fillet.
- Joes Stone Crab: Another Miami Beach Institution. This restaurant pretty much only serves Florida Stone Crab claws but people flock to sample the sweet white flesh of this Floridian Delicacy. The Crabs are only harvested during the crab Season which runs October 15th through May 15th. Outside of this period, the Restaraunt would have nothing to serve, so it used to close! It is now open year-round but without the seasonal Stonecrab, we would avoid out of season. After feasting on the rather expensive Crab Claws – Which are harvested without killing the crab which is left to Regrow its Claws – They Restaurant also offers one of the best Key Lime Pies in Florida, only slightly behind Ice-Box’s offering! Joes Stone Crab is one of those places that you simply Must Visit.
Miami Beach’s Best INEXPENSIVE Restaurants:
- Puerto Sagua: Make no mistake, Puerto Sagua is a Latin dive. With its worn tables, mismatched chairs, cheap wood paneling, and odd knickknacks, celebrities would turn to dust if they walked through the doors. However, if you want good, authentic Cuban food at a great price, launch yourself here, especially if you are in need of the best Cuban sandwich in Florida. The clientele is mostly long-timers and other locals, and the occasional late-night club crew, who stop in for classics that include the aforementioned “sandwich Cubano” made with roast pork, ham, Swiss cheese, pickles, and mustard on a baguette. You can also grab some shrimp enchiladas in tangy tomato sauce, a medianoche – which means “midnight” and is a staple sandwich found in Havana nightclubs – or a picadillo, a ground-beef hash with olives, onions, garlic, and raisins.
- Chalan on the Beach: If you want to eat like an Inca king, head to this Peruvian restaurant that serves comfort food in a cozy environment. Order up classic renditions of saltado, with either sautéed flap meat or chicken with onions and tomatoes, and a side of rice), bistec a la chorillana, which is steak with wine sauce and a side of potatoes, or any of a large collection of savory dishes that start at $11.50. Not only will you be full because of GENEROUS servings, but you will be fulfilled, as the food is delicious, and unlike other spots along the shoreline, the staff is incredibly helpful and fast.
The Very Best Restaurants in the Miami Area (Outside of Miami Beach)
Outside of Miami Beach, an American-style melting pot grows bigger, especially in Little Havana. In addition, the Design District is a foodie’s dream with daring new dishes and a cocktail revolution happening before your very eyes.
The Miami Area’s Best EXPENSIVE Restaurant:
- Rusty Pelican: This Key Biscayne treasure that dates back to 1972, went through a $6 million renovation in 2011 that updated its outdated décor and turned its rustic patio into an outdoor lounge. With a beautiful view of Biscayne Bay and in the distance, a sparkling downtown Miami skyline, you find yourself in the middle of sophistication. Chef Jim Pastor also turned around the Rusty Pelican’s menu with imaginative, contemporary, and flavorful entrees that include Barolo-braised lamb shanks, local black sea bass in cinnamon broth, and small plates of wild mushrooms, pork-belly skewers, grouper sliders, sushi, and ceviche. Don’t be scared to grab something creative off the cocktail list and strike up a conversation with a local at the bar. It is an easy thing to do during their boozy happy hour, and we do mean HAPPY.
- Ortanique on the Mile: Miami’s Latino voice is very loud when it comes to the food and the surrounding scene, so its English-speaking Caribbean offerings are often silenced. If you have the time and the cash, don’t make the mistake of missing out on the best Caribbean restaurant in the Miami area. Ortanique on the Mile in Coral Gables is owned by Delius Shirley and chef Cindy Huston, who also own esteemed restaurants in the Bahamas and the Grand Cayman. So, the two do know a bit about the food they serve in Ortanique’s tranquil and island-like environment. The menu is pure West Indies with a toss of French Antilles. You will find West Indian Cornish game hen topped with a piquant brown stew and served with Jamaican rice and peas as well as sautéed broccolini, Caribbean-seared Ahi Tuna with wasabi mashed potatoes, coffee- and cocoa-encrusted wild salmon with creamy sausage polenta and sautéed arugula, jerked double pork chop with rum sauce, and pan-seared local swordfish with green banana mash, heirloom cherry tomatoes, spinach and local pumpkin blaff. It’s amazing.
The Miami Area’s Best Inexpensive Restaurant:
- Antigua Guatemala Cafeteria: “Little Havana” in Miami has turned into “Little Central America” in recent years. There are more people from Central America than Cuba there now, and the best place to eat in Little Havana is a Guatemalan spot that is also the most authentic place to get Central American comfort food. At bargain prices, this family-friendly restaurant is sure to please. Main dishes start at $6, and you can grab a palomilla steak or liver steak with onions for $7.99, and a sirloin steak for $9.99. There are also several chicken plates, fajitas, and marinated pork. Along with beers for $2.99 and a selection of coffees, shakes, and pastries, Antigua Guatemala Café will fill you up, and leave you with enough money to hit the club later.
- Jimmy’z Kitchen: North of downtown in the Wynwood neighborhood, amidst an impressive collection of colorful murals, you will find Jimmy’z Kitchen. While there is an original Jimmy’z in SoBe that is smaller and caters to tourists, the Wynwood location is the better option. It is bigger, hipper, and is abuzz with locals eating a very flavorful mix of Caribbean and Latin food. Do not go there without trying Jimmy’z mofongo, a Puerto Rican staple of fried and mashed plantains with either fish, shrimp, pork, steak, or chicken, in a tomato broth. There is a great international beer list as well, and other super options from jerk chicken breast salad, a perfect Cuban sandwich, a roasted veggie panini, seared tuna sandwich, and mango or guava cheesecake.
Miami’s Best Wildcard Restaurants
Off the beaten path or in hotels, we offer a few “best-in-class” options to close out our list of the best places to eat in Miami. The following restaurants are super places to grab some chow, see, and be seen:
- Best Sunday Brunch: Michael’s Genuine Food & Drink offers a moderately-priced brunch that is tasty and boozy – if you wish – because this place loves its cocktails and wine. There are plenty of imbibing-options that include beers with bloody Mary shots, kimchi michelada that combines beer, kimchi mix, and a chilli-salted rim with lime, and the Rising Sun, a mix of Prosecco, grapefruit, Aperol, and peach liqueur. Then, order any of a number of raw, savory, or sweet food options. This Design-District spot is organic, locally-sourced, and has a seasonal menu, as well as a buzz-worthy crowd of hipsters, local culinary folks and celebrities.
- Best Waterfront Spot: Inside of the VERY EXPENSIVE Mandarin Oriental luxury hotel in Miami, you will find a superb restaurant that offers a breathtaking view of the Miami skyline, which sits square across the Miami South Channel from the restaurant’s spot on tiny Burlingame Island. La Mar is the vision of super chef Gastón Acurio who delivers Peruvian food at its very best, with an average dish price of $35-$40. If you are looking to spring for one romantic night, go to La Mar and order reinvented Peruvian street food like octopus or wagyu beef, or any the restaurant’s gorgeously executed nouveau-Andean and Asian-Peruvian fused options.
- Best Service: You will enjoy creative French selections like caramelized quail, milk-fed lamb, and sea urchin with fennel cream at the Palme d’Or in the Biltmore Hotel, along with the best service in town. At $250-$300 for two people, you’re paying A LOT for the service, so it better be highly-tuned. However, the Biltmore is an Icon all by itself and while you may not be able to afford to stay in the Capone Suite here dining at Palme D’or give you a taste of the high-life!
- Best Cuban Restaurant: You can’t leave town without trying the Miami’s iconic Cuban restaurant Versailles, which is known for its low prices, great food, and “interesting” look. Since 1971, this place has been surviving great food with ZERO ego. Well, we say that because of the prices, but on the other hand, they do claim to be “The World’s Most Famous Cuban Restaurant,” which does seem pretty darn arrogant. Versailles serves authentic Cuban food, for sure, and has been the meeting ground for the Cuban-American exile community and anti-Castro protestors. It is a big place, seating 370 people in a friendly, but boisterous environment, with ornate etched glass, mirrors, and chandeliers, giving the appearance of a cheaply reborn ballroom in the Palace of Versailles (hence the name, I suppose). Each day serves a different set of specials, but attempt to get there on Friday for codfish cooked with garlic, onions, bell peppers, white wine, and tomato sauce, or for $7.95, grab the “Pulpeta,” which is Cuban meatloaf that comes with moros rice and sweet plantains.
- Best Seafood: If you are looking for great seafood at a reasonable price go to Garcia’s Seafood Grille, which is owned by the Garcia brothers – both Cuban refugees – who opened their restaurant in 1976 along the Miami River west of downtown Miami. From the outdoor deck, you can view the river, as well as a distant glimpse of the Miami skyline. The menu is SUPER FRESH seafood that is simply prepared – blackened, fried, or grilled – with a few exceptions like the salmon in tamarind mustard sauce.
Every August 1st to September 30th Miami Hosts its Miami Spice Festival. Participating Restaurants all provide a Fixed Price Set Munu showcasing their food for a Bargain $23 Lunch/Brunch and $39 Dinner. It is the best way to experience Miami Dining and a must-do if you are there during that window. In fact, it’s probably worth going to Miami JUST for that. See the main promotion Page for more info. But simply find a participating restaurant and then check to see what day they are offering the Spice Menu and make sure you get reservations. Walk-ups on Spice day are unlikely!
Miami Food Service, Ambience and Norms
It is fashionable to dine late in Miami, especially in South Beach, where there is a scene all about, as you eat. When we say “late,” we mean it; while most establishments back home would shun the notion of eating a meal at midnight, it happens all of the time in South Beach, and the preferred dining hours are anytime after 9 p.m. If you are trying to avoid a crowd, pop into any restaurant around 7 p.m., and you are sure to find some space.
South Beach is also known for its haughty and mysteriously sluggish service. So, when the wait staff turns up their nose at you, don’t take it personally; it is all part of the scene. The biggest reason you find snobby servers is because many SoBe restaurants add a 15%-20% tip onto the final bill without even a mention, It can come as quite a shock! Therefore, the wait staff doesn’t feel obligated to extend themselves for you – they’re getting tipped regardless. Watch out for this trick! First, you don’t want to tip double because you didn’t see the already-added gratuity, and secondly, while a tip is added by many restaurants, you can still request that it be adjusted – up or down – according to what you feel the wait staff deserves. If you are looking for good service, get out of South Beach and head to downtown and mid-town Miami, Coconut Grove, or Coral Gables.
Offers – Offers – Offers !!!
Walking down Ocean Drive you will be bombarded with offers of the cheapest and best food and drinks in Miami by eager hawkers trying to get you into their establishment. Cheap Lunch Menus, 2 for 1 Giant cocktails, Half Price food, are all tricks to get you in the door. Once inside these offers can seem to disappear and the 2 for 1 deals don’t seem so great when the actual price is double what you expect. To Avoid this, Always walk on the Ocean Side of the Drive and do your research and only go to the restaurant you want and not be lured in by some fantastic offer.
Happy Hours in Miami can be really good deals but other times just a scam to get you in. Make sure you research any before sitting down. The menu often neglects to list prices so servers can make up what they like so you are always paying the same price despite what “offer” they have on.
When deciding upon a restaurant, call ahead to make sure it is open, and check to see if reservations are required. During the high season from December to April, the restaurants are packed and the hours are extended. However, during quieter times of the year, restaurants close during slow portions of the day, especially on Mondays, which sees the least amount of patron traffic.
Typically, there is not a dress code, even in the fancier places, but you better believe that people dress to impress in Miami in what is termed casual-chic. Fashionable, yet skimpy summer dresses, accompany flashy colored guayaberas and other button-downs with top buttons undone, slim jeans or tailored pants, and slip-on shoes.
Go out in style, and enjoy our choices for the best food Miami has to offer.
Have Your Say?
What is your Favourite Miami Restaurant? Have you tried any of Our Suggestions? What did you think? Let us know if you have anything to say about the Dining Scene in Miami, or if you have any questions. Just drop us a comment we would love to hear from you.