It wasn’t all that long ago that looking for a place to eat in Miami meant either shelling out a car payment to eat at a restaurant full of D-list celebrities or hitting a questionably sanitary cafeteria somewhere in Little Havana. But over the last decade or so, Miami has put itself squarely in the upper echelon of American food cities, with chefs from all over the world setting up outposts in South Florida. Now, the city is a lot more than just Cuban sandwiches (although there are still plenty of delicious Cuban sandwiches to be had). Miami is Thai tapas and fresh ceviche. It’s prime steaks and modern Indian food. Whatever your taste — or budget — these are the must-hit restaurants while you’re in Miami.
Versailles $ — Is this the best Cuban restaurant in Miami? Probably not. But it’s been packing people in the 275-seat spot since it opened in 1971. This Little Havana family restaurant is a landmark of Cuban-American culture, a place where elderly immigrants come to discuss politics and the “old days,” and large families come to feast on stuff like ropa vieja, arroz royal, platanos maduros, and Cuban sandwiches. Waiters wear white shirts, and the prices are low. It’s just about the most Cuban experience one can have while dining in Miami.
Lung Yai Thai Tapas $ — Miami isn’t particularly known for its Thai food, but Lung Yai is a standout. You’ll get one chance, and one chance only, to peruse a menu of spicy salads, curries, stir-fried noodles, and pad Thais. Everything is cooked in a big open kitchen in front of limited seats at the bar. The lines here get long, so if you try and order twice, you’ll be met with a not-so-kind refusal and a fresh copy of your check. It’s not friendly, but the food makes up for that.
La Mar by Gaston Acurio $$$ — Waterfront dining is surprisingly hard to find in a city almost entirely surrounded by water. That said, the best place to eat by the bay is this Peruvian masterpiece on the ground floor of the Mandarin Oriental hotel. Here, you’ll dine on ceviche, causas (potato filled with seafood and avocado), and saltados (a stir-fried mix of potatoes, steak, and vegetables) from one of the most renowned chefs in Lima while gazing across the water at the Brickell skyline. On Sunday, head in for an expansive brunch of sushi, barbecue, and pisco cocktails under the warm Miami sun.
El Cielo $$$ — Tucked away on the ground floor of a riverfront condo tower, this modern Colombian spot from chef Juan Manuel Barrientos serves up one of the most unique dining experiences – not just in Miami but in the world. Meals range from four to 13 courses, beginning with a carrot and guava soup, then onto “chocotherapy” where a waiter pours chocolate over your hands and you lick it off prior to the next course. It’s not nearly as gross as it sounds. This sets the stage for the rest of the dinner, during which you’ll be served selections of Barrientos’ take on Colombian cuisine with lots of fresh seafood and a loaf of cheese-covered bread staged to look like an El Indio Desnudo tree.
Santorini by Georgios $$ — Greek meals in Miami often feel like a party with a little souvlaki (grilled skewers of meat and vegetables) thrown in. And while eating at this spot next to the Hilton Bentley Hotel pool certainly feels like a celebration, it’s plating Miami’s best Greek food for the money. Prices aren’t low, but the portions are enormous. The grilled meat servings are generous and there are heaping sandwiches big enough for two meals. The family-run spot is helmed by Georgios himself, who regularly comes around to each table and makes every guest feel like they’re eating in his home.
Red: The Steakhouse $$$ — High-end steakhouses in Miami are about as abundant as the credit-card ballers and hangers-on that frequent them. And while you might find a better “scene” at Prime 112, Red has the best menu, atmosphere, and general experience out of all of the city’s steakhouses. It’s not cheap by anyone’s standard, but it’s worth it. The selection of prime steaks is complemented by a menu of Italian offerings and Chef Peter Vauthy’s Red Lead sauce. And though the place has a fine dining feel, it doesn’t exude any of its competitors’ South Beach attitude.
Azabu $$$ — The original Azabu in New York City earned itself a Michelin star before opening up this location in the Marriott Stanton in South Beach. It hasn’t repeated the feat in Florida, but it’s still the best place to go for sushi if you’re not afraid to drop a few extra dollars. The extensive menu is split into 11 sections, ranging from grilled robata to a tomorokoshi tempura curry. The sushi is fresh and expertly prepared, and while perhaps not on the level of Nobu or NAOE, it still complements the rest of the menu well. If you’re vacationing without a massive budget, book one of the 11 seats at the private sushi bar for an omakase experience with fish flown in from Japan.
Macchialina $$ — For a city with no significant ties to Italy, or even much of an Italian immigrant population, Miami has an astonishingly large number of Italian restaurants. Most of them are overpriced and nondescript, but this cozy Alton Road spot is the standout of the city. It combines the authentic feel of a rustic restaurant you’d stumble upon on a tour of Sienna thanks to comfortable seats and big bowls of hearty red-sauced pasta served with approachable wine. Hit it during the right time of year and you’ll find the whole pasta menu on sale for $10 on Thursdays.
Mignonette $$$ — Seafood is typically at the top of visitors’ culinary wish lists when they come to Miami, and you won’t find a better place for it than at Mignonette. It has some of the freshest seafood in South Florida. Try the oysters from the extensive raw bar, lobster deviled eggs, andouille-crusted redfish, or the Instagram-friendly seafood towers. There’s also a location in a converted rail car in North Miami.
Blue Collar $$ — Located at the bottom of a hotel, Blue Collar is a local favorite. Nothing would qualify as “healthy” here, but for straight up comfort food, it’s the best in Miami. The menu is a joyful blend of Latin and Jewish flavors with light “starters” like tostones (fried plantains) topped with vaca frita (fried beef), year-round Hanukkah latkes, and Cuban sandwich spring rolls. Dinner is equally indulgent with a dry-aged New York strip hamburger and meat-heavy sandwiches packed with enough calories for your entire vacation.
Andiamo! $ — The debate over Miami’s best pizza rages as much as it does in New York, and although the city definitely has a specific Miami-style pizza, we wouldn’t recommend it before about 3:00 AM. Instead, try this spot set in an old tire store where you’ll enjoy reasonably priced brick oven pizzas on a spacious patio next to lush tropical gardens and Biscayne Boulevard. You won’t notice the cars going by when you try pies like the Bella Bambina with pancetta, caramelized onions, and smoked gouda. Or the Mulberry Street with Italian sausage, bell peppers, and red onions.
Lokal $$ — In today’s world of obscenely over-the-top burgers, restaurants like to compete to see who can give their customers coronary heart disease faster. Not the case at Lokal. This funky spot has 80s cassette tapes covering the bar and serves grass-fed Florida burgers topped with local ingredients like Florida avocados and bacon from upstate farms. The result is the closest thing to a healthy-tasting burger you’ll find in Miami (unless you go to Lokal’s sister restaurant Kush in Wynwood). It’s also got one of the best selections of local beers in the city, and a milkshake bar next door called Vicky’s House.
Alter $$$$ — For hard-core foodies, Alter is a must visit. Chef Brad Kilgore changes the menu by season, crafting five- and seven-course meals with options like sake-cured duck breast grilled over pinecones and snapper sashimi in the summer. Then there’s the stuffed quail with cherry olive aigre-doux and Maine lobster long noodles in the winter. No idea what cherry olive aigre-doux is? Then Alter may not be worth the price tag. But the unassuming space with concrete walls in the heart of the Wynwood arts district is Miami’s best dining experience for the open minded.
The Salty Donut $ — This artisanal donut shop and cafe started out as a pop-up shop 1950 camper van, where the line would routinely stretch around the block and donuts would sell out fast. Now, it’s evolved into a brick and mortar shop that’s better equipped to handle its crowds, and churn out even more giant, delicious brioche donuts. Don’t expect to get a strawberry-frosted donut with sprinkles though; flavors here range from Cuban-inspired guava and cheese to crowd favorite brown butter and sea salt. They even sell little donut holes skewered with pipettes filled with booze like creamy Rumchata.
Bocas Grill $$ — The flavors of Latin America are as diverse as the countries they come from, and Bocas packs more of those flavors into its dishes than anywhere else. From Argentinian grilled parrilla platters full of sausages and steaks to Peruvian saltados and Venezuelan arepas, the food here does justice to each cuisine. Once you’ve stuffed yourself on the best of the southern hemisphere, you absolutely need to order one of Bocas over-the-top milkshakes, which are topped with brownies, cookies, and more whipped cream than you should have in one sitting. They’re not just Instagram favorites, they’re also delicious.
Ghee $$ — Perhaps the biggest hole in the Miami culinary scene is Indian food, but with a place like Ghee, we don’t need much else. The menu changes daily depending on what’s available from the Patel family farm. It still has the staples you expect like chicken tikka masala and saag paneer, but if you go to Ghee, try chef Nivan Patel’s modern takes on Indian food like the charred ribs with mango and jaggery glaze or the vadouvan lamb chops with roasted peppers.
Serendipity Creamery $ — For dessert, Miami has Serendipity Creamery, where all the ice creams, sorbets, and frozen yogurts are made in house as are the cookie dough, candies, and peanut butter cups they fold into the specialty flavors. While getting a Panther Coffee ice cream cone and strolling down the beach is a blissful way to spend the afternoon, Serendipity also offers a line of Peekaboo ice cream, where nearly two cups of vegetables are “hidden” in a pint of vanilla, chocolate, or mint ice cream. Nearly undetectable – but also eliminating any guilt you’ll have from eating the entire thing.
My Ceviche $ — Though almost-raw fish isn’t the sort of thing one might automatically order at a fast-casual restaurant, this multi-location spot serves up the best Miami ceviche for the money. My Ceviche’s quality is on par with what you’d find at a far more expensive restaurant. What started as a little seafood shack in South Beach grew to become one of the best light, quick meals in the city, with options like citrus marinated fish, light burritos, and rice bowls. Though the South Beach original is no more, you can still find My Ceviche in Aventura, Brickell, South Miami, Midtown, and Coral Gables.
Chicken Kitchen $ — When getting the flavors of a city, it’s fine to go to the places and order the dishes that the foodies, food writers, and Yelpers recommend. But you also need to hit the spots popular with the masses. No dish in Miami is as quintessentially local as chop chop, which is mojo-marinated chicken atop yellow rice served with a mustard curry sauce. It’s not gourmet by any stretch, nor will the sticky-tabled Chicken Kitchen chain be winning any James Beard awards. But ask anyone who’s moved out of the city about the food they miss the most, and there’s a good chance you’ll hear them say chop chop. Locations all over Miami.
Pincho Factory $ — Interestingly enough, the pinchos (a Spanish snack with meat, bread, and something pickled) at Pincho Factory aren’t really what they’re known for. The grilled chicken, steak, and shrimp are superb, but what made this place famous is its burgers. The most famous one is the toston burger made with a slice of beef between two fried plantains, which won Pincho Factory the South Beach Wine and Food Festival Burger Bash a few years ago. Despite its acclaim, the place is still reasonably priced, and even if you order a beer, you can get out for under $15. Locations all over Miami.
DIRT $$ — Though Miami hasn’t gone quite as health-food crazy as Los Angeles, it’s definitely leading the charge on the East Coast. Top among the reduced-guilt restaurants is DIRT where fresh, healthy breakfasts like the Clean Bowl with egg whites, avocado mash, turkey bacon, and sweet potato purée are served all day. The menu is long on vegan options, too, whether that’s vegan breakfast sausage or autumn spaghetti squash alfredo. But don’t worry, carnivores, DIRT has healthy meat options, too, like the Dirty Burger and steak sandwiches. Nothing here weighs you down, so you’ll still feel OK hitting the beach in your bathing suit after. Locations in Miami beach, downtown, and Allapattah.