Wednesday, September 12, 2012

What should a couple of Angelenos do in MIAMI?

Hey ESB,

I know this is last minute, but I thought you and my fellows readers might have some tips on places to see/do/eat in Miami. I am taking my husband there for his 30th birthday next week, and neither of us have ever been there. 

Why, you ask, did we decided to pick Miami for our trip? Well, we're both really curious what it's like, love cuban food, and imagine it's somewhat like LA in that it has lots of hidden neighborhoods worth exploring but with warmer beaches. Other than rollerblading, what do cool people do in Miami?

We're not into night clubs, but I am looking forward to going out for some fancy cocktails at the Delano or somewhere swank (he's a teetotaler, but loves a good club soda). We love food. We love living seeing cities from different angles. I love gardens. He loves pinball. Oh, and he loves Miami Vice.

Our home-base will be this awesome airbnb rental in North Miami.

So, I'm looking for suggestions for a great coffee place (like Intelligentsia or Handsome or Cafe de Leche), a delicious birthday dinner, and other secrets I might not otherwise find on yelp. (Is it just me, or is yelp the least helpful thing these days?)



I put out a tweet, and the universe gave us Caro. This lady grew up in Miami, went to college outside of LA and decided to return to her hometown, where she spends her free time eating, tweeting and drinking gin. She is awesome.

Here are Caro's recommends (and a few non-recommends) for Miami:

First things first: Miami, like Los Angeles, has awful terrible public transportation. If you're feeling adventurous you could venture onto a bus, but you might get shanked, aggressively cat-called and offered questionably sourced narcotics all from the same person. Or at least this is what I have been told; no self-respecting native would be caught dead on a bus. One of my friends just got punched IN THE FACE by a stranger on the train last week. He dislocated his jaw. This is a true story. This is not a joke. Legit, punched.

Coral Gables and Downtown/Brickell/Design District have some free “trolleys” (read: glorified bus) that are more bourgeoisie-approved, clean and probably safer since they don’t run through questionable parts of the city like the metro does. (Think: park your car once and use the trolley to get around the general area.)

I would recommend renting a car. Car2Go just launched as a more eco-friendly Smart-car sharing alternative you could look into, your rental is right on the edge of their “home area” and it looks like you might only have to walk a few blocks to get to a car.

Once you have a car, you’re going to want to stock up on some snacks for your stay, head to the nearest Publix and hit up the bakery for some croquetas de jamon, pastelitos de guava y queso and some chocolate chip cookies because they are fucking amazing. You might also want to pick up some Limon Pepino (Lime-Cucumber) Gatorade, because I’m pretty sure it’s regional and it is delicious! Side note: unlike California, supermarkets don't sell liquor here  – only beer and wine –  so if you want to buy your own booze you'll have to search for a separate liquor store. I know; it sucks.

As you suspected, Miami has a bunch of little neighborhoods with their own personalities, so I've organized this list by geographical area.

Coral Gables ("The Gables")

Eat: Eating House – some of the most creative, fattening, delicious food in Miami served by the nicest people in town. Come for a casual weeknight meal or the highest-calorie Sunday brunch (1-5PM) of your life (Cap'n Crunch Pancakes covered in condensed milk. Carbonara Eggs Benedict etc etc), either way don't miss the tomato salad (served with nitro-blasted coconut milk, micro herbs and edible flowers for extra fanciness).

(Carbonara Eggs Benedict from Eating House via Thrillist Miami)

Their menu changes daily, but mainstays and crowd favorites are the Pasta Carbonara, Chicken and Waffles and Charred Corn. (Pro-tip: for instant street cred with the staff, be sure to order a Carpano on the rocks. It's sweet vermouth and it's delicious.)

Do: Walk around Miracle Mile. Plenty of cute shops and a great Argentinean bakery for empanadas and dulce de leche filled pastries.

The Biltmore Hotel is dripping with old school charm. Everything they do there is top-notch: food, cocktails, service. The pool at the Biltmore is one of the most unique in Miami, and being off the beach never gets that packed. Splurging for a private cabana will get you the 5-star treatment without spending 5-figures. Cabanas start at $89 a day.

More: Fairchild Tropical Garden (for lots of greenery and exotic flora), Matheson Hammock (waterfront park with boat access and a great romantic seafood restaurant, Red Fish Grill)

Coconut Grove ("The Grove")

Brunch: Green Street serves brunch every day until at least 2 PM, and offers a perfect cure to that Tuesday morning hangover.

Drink: Grab some Icees from A.C.'s in Kennedy Park and enjoy your brain freezes at the waterfront.

See: Burn Notice, set in the old Coconut Grove Convention Center

Calle Ocho/Little Havana

Eat: Versailles – Versailles is the epicenter of Cuban culture in Miami. When the Heat win the playoffs or Castro finally kicks the bucket (or when we pretend he does), Versailles is the place to go with your cazuelas (Cuban for pots and pans) and make as much noise as possible. Other than the culture, the draw here is the food. Beyonce and Jay-Z make Versailles their first stop when visiting town, completely shutting down the back room of the restaurant, but hey, sometimes you just need some moros and platanitos in your life. Anything with pork will be good. For a snack, head to their bakery and pick up some pastelitos and coffee.

(Colada via Arroz y Frijoles)

Cuban coffee is served in three iterations: Café con leche (whole milk lightly stained with espresso), Cortadito (equal parts milk and espresso. Served in a 5 oz cup) or Colada (Sugar stained with espresso, served in 1oz shots. Approach with caution. It’s served in small quantities for a reason. It is jet fuel. It will get you wired. I don’t care how much you think you’re intolerant to caffeine. This is a different beast, trust me.) You can find it all over the city these days, but dozens of little “cafesito” windows line Calle Ocho (8th street) and will provide an authentic experience.

Azucar – Local ice cream shop with some rad flavors, including: Café con Leche, Platano Maduro (sweet plantain), Elvis (peanut butter and banana) and Balsamic Strawberry.

Also recommended: Catharsis, LaCasita

See: Maximo Gomez Domino Park

Do: Viernes Cultural (Cuban ArtWalk), last Friday of every month.

South Beach

Delano is spot on for drinks with a classic South Beach glamour feel. They have a few bars at the hotel: Rose Bar in the lobby, FDR in the basement and a bar out by the pool. I recommend mojitos at the Rose Bar (some of the best in town) or craft cocktails downstairs. Sister hotel Mondrian sits on the opposite side of the island and serves 16 different kinds of caipirinhas. Their west-facing location makes them a perfect spot for watching the sun set over the Miami skyline. Get the chilli-passion caipirinha, it balances passionfruit with siracha for an all around awesome cocktail.

Eat: Choose any of the Pubbelly establishments: Pubbelly Sushi, Pubbelly or Barceloneta are all on the same block and are all tapas style: Sushi, gastro pub and Spanish, respectively. After dinner you can walk over to Purdy Lounge for some drinks and a relaxed local vibe. Their fourth outpost, Macchialina, is Italian and physically distant from the first three, but still delicious and cozy. Get the Americano cocktail and don't miss the short rib and tallegio lasagna.

More recommendations: HaVen (gastro-lounge-meets-acid-trip), Lime (fast-casual-Venezuelan take on Mexican food),

See: Juvia – Get a drink and the Salmon Nashi appetizer, enjoy the view and then leave. This place is pure atmosphere; the panoramic views of Miami Beach are unparalleled and the ambiance is classic see-and-be-seen South Beach. The food, however, is forgettable.

(Miami's South Beach by Alexandra Roberts)

Drink: Broken Shaker – Unfortunately they're closed until November 2012, but if you ever come back, you MUST pay them a visit. The bar chefs behind the cocktail consulting company The Bar Lab created a secret garden drinking den and will wow you with their classic and off-the-cuff cocktails. Walk in, order a "Bartender's Choice" (specify what alcohol and flavor profile you prefer), sit down for some Jenga or battleship or play a little ping pong and say hi to their resident cats.

Do: A Duck Tour – I know, they're super cheesy, but embrace the cheesiness. The Duck Tour down here will give you a good overview of South Beach, drive you down Collins and then through Biscayne Bay were you can peep celebrity houses on Star Island and the mansions used for Miami Vice and Scarface. The highlight of the tour, though, is when they hand you a super soaker to hit unsuspecting tourists on Collins Ave.

Walk around Lincoln Road, it’s the Miami equivalent of Santa Monica Blvd, featuring shops, great people watching and plenty of living statues.

Go to the Beach. The Boucher Brothers provide excellent cocktail, umbrella and lounge chair service on the beach and will treat you like hip-hop royalty. If you’re willing to skip the star treatment, head to South Pointe Park near the southern end of the island for easier parking and fewer crowds.

Crash a hotel pool party. Because the party doesn’t have to stop when the sun comes up. Or you can hit the pool at the Loews for a more relaxed atmosphere.


Eat: Edge Steak & Bar for a swank yet approachable date night. Nestled on the 7th floor of the Four Seasons, they excel at service, food and cocktails without being pretentious about it. Stick around after dark for cocktails by the fire pits outside and you might get treated to s’mores featuring graham crackers and chocolate made in house, or come early for their $1 oyster and half-off drinks happy hour (4-7, weekdays). Their signature steak rub and hot sauce are delicious and made from the peppers growing right there on the 7th floor.

Drink: Blackbird Ordinary for expert craft cocktails and a relaxed vibe.The bartenders have plenty of sass, but they make a good drink, so take the attitude with a grain of salt, your Cara Cara will be worth it.


Do: Take an airboat ride through the Everglades; gators, herons and the theme song from Deliverance playing in your head all day. There a few different companies that offer them, Everglades Alligator Farm is one and they offer a gator wrestling show and a walk through their snake room after the ride. Make sure you stock up on insect repellent beforehand because the mosquitoes don’t quit down there in the swamp.

On your way back to civilization pick up some locally grown exotic fruits and milkshakes at mega-sized fruit stand Robert Is Here (Robert is actually usually there, and super helpful) and some fresh squeezed juice at Palacio de Los Jugos (Mamey or Guarapo, which is made from sugarcane, are both amazing). 

Design District/Wynwood

Eat: Micheal's Genuine Food & Drink, Sugarcane, Mandolin Aegean Bistro, Joey’s

(Miami graffiti by Alexandra Roberts)

Drink: Panther Coffee owners Joel and Leticia have been in the coffee business their whole lives and decided to bless Miami with their expertise, brewing in-house roasted artisan coffee in the middle of uber-hip Wynwood. They source the beans from Nicaragua, Brazil, Columbia etc and their artisan drinks are the best in town. Grab a cappuccino and oogle their antique Perfekt roaster. [Editor's Note: Here is your Intelligentsia.]

Sugarcane, Mercadito, The Corner are all serving up great drinks. Democratic Republic of Beer (tiny bar with 500+ kinds of beer).

See: Wynwood Walls as an intro to the Miami street art scene. The Walls are actually a curated gallery featuring hyper-famous street artists (Shepard Fairey is represented there). Check out mini-documentary, “Here Comes the Neighborhood” for a great teaser. Then, wander the neighborhood (in your car, because it’s still “up and coming”) to browse plenty more larger than life murals.


During August and September, a bunch of Miami’s best restaurants participate in Miami Spice and offer prix fixe menus at a discounted rate. Standout deals include: Bourbon Steak (a Michael Mina Restaurant).

For a taste of local flavor before you arrive, be sure to watch the "Shit Miami Girls Say" videos on YouTube. They are spot on, you will see.

Also, I would recommend watching locally-produced documentary "Cocaine Cowboys" so that when you go on the Duck Tour and they tell you Miami Vice spurred Miami's economy in the 70's you can tell them that THEY ARE WRONG, because it was totally the cocaine trade.

[Editor's Note: FUCK YEAH. NOW I NEED TO GO TO MIAMI. p.s. Be sure to check out Caro's six tips for MIAMI-fying your wardrobe.]


  1. sandwicherie, a walk-up french sandwich bar in south beach - i think i went there 3 times during a 2-day trip last fall. so good.

  2. YEEEEAHHHHHH CARO! That's my best friend, so I've been to pretty much every place on this list (and been everywhere with her). Definitely agree with her recommendations.

    Highly recommend Fairchild Gardens, especially if you're not from a tropical area.

    Also recommend Vizcaya ( - classic Miami locale and the backdrop for plenty of Miami-based films (Bad Boys II, Ace Ventura, etc). If you want a sweeping view of Biscayne Bay and European-style gardens, check this place out.

    And for your culinary delight, don't forget Yardbird ( on Miami Beach. Delicious southern food upscaled for Miami eaters. Their bar is amazing. Try one of their (many) bourbons or craft cocktails. I particularly love their Blackberry Bourbon Lemonade.

    Enjoy our city!

  3. YES on enigmatic Versailles - glad Caro mentioned it. Breakfast there is fun, IMO. The waitresses wear these amazingly outdated, rad flight attendant-meets-track-star uniforms. There are paper placements and dinette sets but also mirrors, chandeliers, and gilt framing on just about every surface. It's not like the food is out of this world, but it really is the hub of the Cuban community. Eat some hot croquettes and cafe con leche while you're there - the shot is served alongside of a steamed cup of milk.

    You will also see lots of charming older Cuban couples in various states of fancy - men in full cowboy regalia, ladies in suits and wigs, etc. I got to hear lots of good gossip about strangers when I was there (mostly in Spanish though).

    Has anyone been to the Venetian Pool in Coral Gables? I always thought it looked like an amazing place to swim when I was a kid and lived in Florida.

    When I drove through Miami in July with a friend, we couldn't find a hotel until 3 AM. We finally figured out the Heat had won the championship the night before.

    1. Venetian Pool was rad as a kid, but then you kind of figured out what exactly all those high school kids were doing inside the cave, and you really never went back....

    2. ew. haha. Guess I can cross that one of the list of to-dos.

  4. These suggestions are soooo spot on ! As an avid reader and a born and raised Miami girl I felt compelled to add the Enriquetas (in a fringe part of design district but the Cuban fare is super authentic ! I live for the "batiedo de mayme" - I mean the most delish fruit smoothie EVER !)

    Also would have to say if you are on Lincon Rd you should hit up the Cafeteria (best mojitos) and I always wander in the lincon rd art studios (but the design distrit sometimes has more art that I react to).

    I also like News Cafe in the design district (I went to high school in that area so I know alot of places near there...)has this amazing outdoor area for drinks and tapas- also on a nice night you do feel you are in a little slice far away from biscayne blvd...which you will be close to...)

    I MISS Publix. I now live in NJ and miss Publix. Great local fare available in supermarket.

    I also really like Trios on the Bay in North Bay Village - eat outside for lovely views of biscayne bay and the Miami skyline and super plus if you rent a car and don't have to deal with parking - which is the pain about south beach.

    As far as people watching it is great on ocean dr. When we do venture down there we usually just hit up niki beach for a champagne cocktail so I can dress up and just feel glam and then just see where the night take us- crashing a party as suggested above is about spot on.

    Have a great time and enjoy the local flavor and def have a cortadio and empanadas in spades !

    1. Cafeteria is closed!!!!!!!! :(

    2. Oh no ! That makes me soooo sad :(

    3. you can't live in NJ & miss publix when you have WAWA and BAGELS and PIZZA damnit

    4. Cafeteria!!! I cried when they closed! They had the BEST Macaroni and Cheese. But they also owed like 1 million dollars in rent or something crazy.

  5. Wow, this woman is a PRO! Dang, I need to go to Miami! Love that you recommend a stop at Publix and the local Gatorate variety alongside the swanky joints. Get it grrl, you rule!

  6. Man, you guys are getting me so pumped for our trip. Thanks for all the tips, and thanks esb and caro for posting. I'll be sure to report back and tell you how great it was, especially super-soaking tourists from a duck-boat.

    You can then help me name my Miami food-baby that I'll obviously come back with after eating at EVERY restaurant you mentioned.

  7. I never knew I wanted to go to Miami until now... bookmarking this post for a future trip I have yet to plan!

  8. Puerto Sagua is a great old Cuban lunch place on South Beach. It's fun to get Cuban coffee and walk down the beach.

  9. Before you go, watch Square Grouper. It's a documentary about the pot trade in 1970's Miami--it made me want to travel to 1970's Miami, very badly. It might be on Netflix still. The outfits, the mustaches, the weird swamp-people/pirates, and a cult thrown in for good measure--this movie has everything you could want.

    1. The 70's drug trade in Florida is fascinating! My in-laws are from a small beach town a little further north, and I get to hear all kinds of wild stories about the dumped bales of coke that would wash up on the beach, who in town built their houses with drug money, who got arrested (one uncle on his wedding night), and just why so many pilots moved here. Skeezy stuff.
      That doc sounds great.

  10. These What-To-Do-In posts might be my favorite. It's like a trusty hipster travel guide. I'll be keeping this in mind if/when I go to Miami. My husband wants to go see a baseball game in Miami's crazy new flamingo stadium, so it's good to know we will have other things to do as well.

    1. I have never had better Cuban food in my LIFE than at the new stadium. Plantains, fresh dolphin ceviche, cuban presses, guava pastries. That place is f-ing awesome. I'm going back JUST to eat (& watch the roof retract)

    2. Yeah, that was about to make me cry.

  11. I LOVE Miami & get excited when friends vacation up there. One tip though, if you've got a day to spare- rent a car & come down to the Keys, Islamorada -> south (Key Largo & the northern Keys are a tourist trap complete with South Caroline-esque fireworks stores). Get out on the reef & spearfish or snorkel, have some island fare. You probably won't have another chance to do so. Swing by my coffee shop & have all the DELICIOUS cuban coffee she smartly suggested (this white girl goes through 3 or 4 cortaditos & a 3 shot con leche just to wake up so if you're addicted to caffeine don't be scared to double up!)

  12. This is an awesome guide. I also love Vizcaya, which is a beautiful old mansion and grounds that you can tour. My favorite Cuban food is the vacas fritas at Havana Harry's. And I go to La Camoranera for fried seafood whenever possible. I would also recommend the Cuban ice cream at Azucar on Calle Ocho.

    Oh, and the Biltmore is gorgeous, but I was there recently and the pool was closed. So maybe call before heading there.

  13. Just an FYI, cucumber lime gatorade, while delicious and highly recommended, is not specific to the Miami area. We have it here in Dallas too. Viva Limon Pepino!

  14. This guide makes me want to go to Miami again.

    I'll volunteer for the Japan guide, ESB....

    1. Ooo please do! I've been twice but definitely don't feel qualified to do a guide. I'm not sure if you've ever been but naoshima was the absolute highlight of our trip and I cant recommend it enough!

  15. awesome job, Caro! you hit almost every single fabulous place! as a former miami transplant who was on a budget, i just have to throw a few cheaper and less well-known options in there:

    cheapest beer in town is on the University of Miami's RSMAS (marine bio) school campus at the Wetlab. Thrillist Miami did a good write-up awhile back ( and even though you feel totally lost, once you get there it's awesome and filled with science nerds.

    also must go to The Filling Station for the great people (it's a very Cheers atmosphere), good (and not $10/pint) craft beers, and Wednesday night team trivia! oh...and tater tots. duh.

    and're definitely going to want a car but beware...Miami really does have the WORST drivers.