VICE Guide to Miami: Where to Eat
Here's a helpful guide to all the best spots to eat in Miami.
Photos by Ian Patrick O'Connor except where noted
Miami's dining scene is a constantly evolving mishmash of cultures, with an unsurprisingly heavy dose of Caribbean and Latin American influence. That means great little mom and pop restaurants on almost every block serving thick, strong cafecitos and pressed Cuban "sangwiches." But our little city has also been invaded by celebrity chefs upping our culinary cred—after all, who wouldn't want to take a few business trips to South Beach in the middle of an extremely brutal New York winter. Chefs here rely heavily on local fruits and seafood, and some of the most interesting eateries require a bit of a trek from the neon glitz of Miami Beach, whether it be in search of burgers and craft beer in yuppified Wynwood or fried chicken in Little Haiti.
Burgers and Fritas
You might not instantly think "burgers" when you think of Miami—but we've got our fair share of great ones. (Don't hold the fact that Burger King's headquarters are located here against us). If you won't settle for anything less than a quality burger and a craft beer, the two best options are owned by the same person. Matt Kuscher's Lokal (in Coconut Grove) and Kush (in Wynwood) both serve the kind of burger that would make you consider being the type of douche who uses the word "artisanal" seriously—they're made with free-range, antiobiotic-free Florida grass-fed beef. That's as expensive as it sounds, but makes for one damn fine burger.
Both places have great beer selections, with an emphasis on local made-in-Miami brews, which are definitely becoming a thing of late. Of course, Miami has its own version of the burger—the frita. This Cuban take on the American standard starts with a beef patty seasoned with a blend of herbs and spices that include cumin and paprika. The patty is then topped with tangy ketchup, diced onions, and then smothered in crunchy shoestring potatoes. You can also top it with a fried egg and cheese. Though many restaurants offer the frita, El Rey de las Fritas, Morro Castle, and El Mago de las Fritas have been vying for the best frita title for years. We highly recommend buying a big bottle of Pepto, apologizing to your stomach, and going on a frita journey to compare and contrast all three.
A Trip to Havana
If you haven't been to Cuba, you can still eat your way around the island in Miami. Sidle up to any ventanitia, a restaurant with a walk-up window that you can find on nearly any block in Miami Beach and downtown Miami, for a shot of sugar-laced Cuban coffee. Versailles in Little Havana is the most famous Cuban restaurant in Miami. It's the place where old Cubans go to discuss Castro's numerous death rumors. While you're on Calle Ocho (SW 8th Street), stop in Azucar for handmade ice cream in flavors like sweet plantain, caramel flan, and cafe con leche. If you're looking for the best Cuban sandwich in Miami, Enriqueta's adds a secret weapon to its Cubano—croquetas. The crunchy snack gives the classic sandwich of sweet ham, roast pork, Swiss cheese, pickles, and mustard added dimension and richness.
There's no doubt that Miami is a playground of the rich and beautiful. Jay-Z and Beyonce hang in our juice bars, and Kim and Kanye have a date nights here. You can def eat on the cheap here, but if you're doing Miami right, you've got to ball out for at least one night. On any given evening, expect to run into a Miami Heat player or a Kardashian at Prime 112, who go wild for the USDA Prime beef that's dry aged for 21 - 28 days. Joe's Stone Crab is arguably the most famous restaurant on Miami Beach. The restaurant opened in 1913, and is still family-run. The dining room doesn't accept reservations, but the hour-long (on average) wait is worth it when you crack open your first claw and dig out that sweet meat.
The Vagabond Restaurant in Miami's MiMo District is also pretty great for removing you from your money. The restaurant, which doubles as an art gallery, was recently restored to its original Mad Men era glory, and is helmed by chef Alex Chang. He's a wunderkind who first received recognition as the subject of the documentary Paladar, the story of the illegal restaurant he and his roommates ran from their apartment while students at the University of Southern California. Try the peanuts and chapulines, a spicy, earthy snack made with grasshoppers imported from Mexico. Because there's no more opulent way to spend your coin then eating bugs.
On the Farm
Just a half hour drive from the towering high rises of Miami lies Homestead (See: Neighborhoods We Love), Miami's own farming community. It's also home to Schnebly Redland's Winery, where tropical fruits like guava and mango are turned into wine. The winery is also home to Miami Brewing Company and the Redlander restaurant. This gorgeous, yet casual restaurant features hyper local grub like tabbouleh made with spent grains from the beer making process and fish just caught that morning from the Florida Keys.
Homestead is also home Knaus Berry Farm and what could be the world's best cinnamon rolls. People drive for hours for a dozen. Pair it with a milkshake made with strawberries grown on premises and then cry silently to yourself. Just be forewarned -- the family that owns the farm still does things the same way they did when it opened in 1965. They take cash only and are closed on Sundays and during the summer months. If you do find yourself in the area in the summer, head over to Robert is Here. This farm stand/fruit market/petting zoo sells milkshakes made with tropical fruit like mango, mamey, papaya, and key lime, and offers both local and rare fruits from around the world. Robert will even cut up your mango for you. They even had a tortoise petting zoo for the young-ins.
Only in Miami
Other can't miss places include Wynwood's Salty Donut pop-up, where Miamians line up for an hour or more for the shop's boozy donut creations. There's also Myumi, which offers Japanese omakase dinners from a food truck that are pretty untouchable. And Garcia's, a combination fish market and seafood restaurant on the Miami River which is as boss as Rick Ross.
Couple more shout outs before we move on...
Wedged between a car wash and an auto parts shop, this iconic SW First Street restaurant is what Miami locals and their abuelitas call una fritanga. (Basically, a working-class eating spot that serves traditional down-home Nicaraguan grub). But unlike the Magic City's many other perfectly serviceable fritangas, the ambiance at Yambo goes way beyond "Central American hospital cafeteria." This place is a quaintly kaleidoscopic eyefuck of Nica knickknacks, patriotic statuary, and trippy folk art, from mischievous donkey masks to sundrenched, slightly erotic portraits of chaste pre-Columbian native babes. Oh, and the food is fucking delicious too. Just memorize the following phrase: "Carne asada con gallo pinto, maduros, y queso, por favor." (Translation: Gimme two chunks of tastyass grilled beef, please, with rice & beans, sweet plantain, and fried cheese.) That's the absolutely classic menu choice at any fritanga. However, for those diners with an adventuresome palate and literal intestinal fortitude, we also recommend la lengua entomata, a stewed beef tongue dish, and the pigblood sausage, otherwise known by the forbidding name moronga. As for drinks, keep it simple and slurp down either a huge styrofoam cup of cacao, a chocolate milk made from freshly roasted and ground cocoa beans, or a cold Toña, the cerveza of choice among Nicaraguans since 1977.
Pinolandia is one of the best Nicaraguan fritangas in Miami. Located in Little Havana, this low-key spot offers classic Nica dishes: carne asada, gallo pinto, queso frito—all satisfyingly served, as it should be, on styrofoam plates. Be sure to get extra helpings of the ensalada de repollo if you're into really good coleslaw. (Life tip: you should be into really good coleslaw.)
In Haiti, a tap tap is a pimped-out jitney with a psychedelic paint job that serves as a form of public transportation. In Miami, though, Tap Tap is a restaurant that keeps a pimped-out jitney with a psychedelic paint job parked at the curb as a signal to Haitian food lovers, saying, "This place has a kabrit nan sos that will make you bleat and scream like a cannibal goat at feeding time." (FYI, the kabrit nan sos is stewed goat in spicy scotch bonnet pepper and tomato sauce.) Other prime gwoplats (that's the kreyol word for big plate) include the pwoson gwosel, a whole fried or seared snapper drowned in hot lime sauce, and the griyo, a platter of crispy pork chunks. But you aren't doing it like a true Ayitian unless you order dessert: Blanc Manger coconut pudding and three shots of Barbancourt rhum.
Palacio de los Jugos
The Palacio de los Jugos is best described as a Cuban open-air market and restaurant. The classic yellow and red awnings contain various vendors providing everything from just-picked coconuts, to fresh tropical juices (we're talking everything: watermelon, mango, mamey, etc.) and many other foods and desserts that'll leave you saying que rico.
La Palapa Hondurena
This hole-in-the-wall Honduran restaurant off Biscayne Boulevard has amazing food, that you'll sound cool as hell ordering like baleada con carne y papusa de chicharrone y queso. (Say it 10 times, fast!) It also gets lit on the weekends with DJs and live music, and usually has futbol playing on the TVs.