A Food-Minded Guide to Everything Delicious About Miami

updated May 24, 2019
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(Image credit: Tara Donne)

The beaches are beautiful, yes. And the palm trees are idyllic, for sure. But hands-down, the best thing about Miami is its diversity, and I mean that in two different ways. The first is the diversity of its people. From Cuba to South America to Israel to Europe, a melting pot of cultures and nationalities gives the sunny city its wonderful international flavor. It can be heard in the mix of languages, felt in the music, and tasted in the cuisine. Miami is a city with so many stories to tell because it tells all of the stories of those who live here and the rich histories of where they come from.

The other is Miami’s ability to be all things at once. The way you can still feel the 1950s sensations of The Rat Pack as you drive up and down Collins Avenue past the Eden Roc and Fontainebleau Miami Beach. Or how the Art Deco buildings and neon palette of Ocean Drive can still conjure Miami Vice in the ’80s. Or how the explosion of art and design over the last few years has breathed new life into the city and propelled it into the future.

It’s a coastal resort town and an urban metropolis; a premier sailing destination and one of the largest cruise ship ports in the world; a gateway to other countries and considered by locals to be its own. It’s where the rich and famous come to play, where beach bodies come to tan, and, hopefully after reading this Bite-Sized Guide, it’s where you’ll come to explore all the wonderful and varied offerings that Miami has in store.

(Image credit: Tara Donne)

Why Visit Miami Now?

If you check out the hashtag #ilivewhereyouvacation on Instagram, you’ll see that South Florida is a recurring location. With the balmy weather, tropical foliage, and sparkling ocean waters, it’s hard to think of it in any other way. There’s a simultaneous energy and feeling of relaxation that can be felt here, and Manolo Blahniks, bikinis, and jeans coexist because anything goes.

But beyond the white-sand beaches and permanent vacation vibes, Miami is getting international attention because of the creative boom that really took flight in 2002 when Art Basel brought its gallery- and museum-quality art fair to Miami Beach for the first time. Since then, there have been no signs of slowing down: The Miami Design District has undergone a complete transformation; the creative juices of Wynwood Arts District and Miami Ironside are spilling over into Little Haiti; world-class cultural institutions are firmly planting their roots; and forward-thinking buildings by architecture greats like Frank Gehry, Bjarke Ingels, and the late Zaha Hadid are literally reshaping the landscape.

Miami has changed so much since I was a kid, since I worked one of my first jobs covering the city as a newspaper journalist, since just last year (I’m looking at you, Faena District).

(Image credit: Tara Donne)
(Image credit: Tara Donne)

And we haven’t even gotten to the food scene yet: In addition to clubs, we now have craft cocktail bars. Celebrity chefs rest their heads here and new talents are making a name for themselves.

From daily crudo and freshly shucked mollusks at Mignonette’s downtown and uptown locations, to the Mediterranean fare reminiscent of Greece and Turkey at the charming Mandolin Aegean Bistro in the Design District, to the open-fire Argentinean kitchen concept Los Fuegos by Francis Mallmann at the Faena Hotel Miami Beach, there’s no shortage of dishes to delight the foodie in us all. No matter what you’re searching for, there’s been no more exciting, or delicious, time to visit Miami than right now.

What Is a Bite-Sized Guide?

When you are planning a trip to a new place, are you overwhelmed by the thought of sifting through dozens of online travel reviews, Instagram recommendations, and city guides to come up with a great itinerary? Is your ideal vacation less a jam-packed schedule of famous sights and more of a relaxed glimpse of what local life is like, with lots of good food? If you answered yes, then hooray! Our Bite-Sized Guides are made for you.

To say you’re visiting Miami can be deceiving. That’s because the actual municipality of Miami is such a small part of a larger whole. Miami-Dade County is made up of over 30 cities plus unincorporated communities, so hopping off a plane and deciding where to go can be daunting. Our Bite-Sized Guide taps into the people who love to call Miami home in an effort to bring you pointed, authentic, meal-minded ideas for your itinerary so you can feel less like a tourist and more like a local.

(Image credit: Tara Donne)
(Image credit: Tara Donne)

In this guide, you will find a love letter to Miami written by James Beard Award-winning chef Michelle Bernstein and a neighborhood walking tour of Brickell, the live-work financial district that has become the new “it” downtown area for locals. Thanks to Evelyn Torres, of the Brickellista Files lifestyle blog, we’re showing you hidden gems and a softer side of Miami’s version of Wall Street.

You’ll see our suggestions, too, for tokens to bring a bit of Miami’s flavor and personality back on the plane with you. You’ll also get to peek inside the homes of a few well-known Miami culinary talents — Eileen Andrade, Ingrid Hoffman, and Zak and Batsheva Stern — to learn about how they live and cook in their own kitchens. Finally, there are recipes for recreating your vacation meals at home long after your vacation is over. Welcome to Miami!

Getting There & Around

There are a number of special events throughout the year that would be fun to plan your trip around — the Coconut Grove Arts Festival, the Miami Film Festival, and the Miami Book Fair. A few specifically relate to food and home, including the South Beach Wine & Food Festival in February; Art Basel Miami Beach, Design Miami, and the auxiliary shows that accompany them in early December; and the second Saturday of every month, when artist studios, galleries, and showrooms in Wynwood and the Design District open their doors for an art walk, and some of the city’s best food trucks gather to feed hungry bellies.

The Miami International Airport, a hub for over 100 airlines, is located about 11 miles away from South Beach and nine miles from downtown. You can catch a taxi in the lower arrival area or a hotel shuttle on the upper departure level.

Miami is big, and often the best way to get around is via highways, so you’ll want to rent a car if you plan on exploring more than one micro area. And traffic is, er, bad; sometimes just driving the seven miles from Miami Beach over to Wynwood can take an hour. So even if you rent a car, Uber and Lyft can be your best friends. During the week, you’ll want to avoid rush-hour traffic (especially the Golden Glades Interchange, where several highways converge, if you’re trying to venture outside of Miami).

Also, wear lots of sunscreen and drink lots of water; it can be hot and sunny year-round. But it also rains a lot, especially in the summer. (Fortunately it’s likely to rain only on one side of the street, and it’s likely to stop in five minutes.)

Staying There

The luxury boutique hotel scene forever changed in Miami in 1995 when Ian Schrager developed the Delano on Collins Avenue in South Beach. Since then, beautifully designed buildings that rethink the definition of hotel have become widespread. If you’re looking to splurge, try The Betsy South Beach for a history-rich experience that recalls Old Florida, or the LEED-certified 1 Hotels South Beach for farm-fresh dining, a self-sustaining vertical garden, and complimentary electric Tesla rides.

(Image credit: Tara Donne)

If you want a grown-up version of spring break, The Freehand Miami is a stylishly vintage hostel in a converted 1930s Art Deco building that offers a laid-back, social atmosphere, including a backyard setting for its craft bar Broken Shaker. Or if you want to be on the beach, but maybe not right in the thick of things, Mid Beach, the Confidante Hotel in particular, is a great choice. North of Lincoln Road, the area has a much calmer vibe and you won’t have to fight for space on the beach — and if you’re staying at the hotel, part of Hyatt’s Unbound collection, beach chairs are free.

Of course, Airbnb will give you affordable rental options for staying in homes and condos throughout the city. In the spirit of experiencing Miami like a local, there’s no better way.

(Image credit: Susanna Hopler)
(Image credit: Rotem Raffe)
(Image credit: Rotem Raffe)