People always take a step back when I tell them I’m from Miami, Florida. Miami is a city that’s often mythologized by visitors — people think of beaches, all-night parties, and the cutting-edge art scene. While Miami, nicknamed The Magic City, has all these things, it also boasts amazing food, beautiful architecture, and a cultural identity fueled by the Caribbean immigrants who have shaped the city.
Whatever experience you’re looking for, Miami has it. In terms of traversing the city, having access to a car or a rideshare service is almost a requirement (public transportation can be lacking and the city is very spread out). But no matter what neighborhood you’re in, Miami’s food and culture will draw you in and help craft a visit you can’t experience in any other city in the US.
Versailles Restaurant and Cuban Cuisine
3555 South West 8th Street Miami, Florida 33135
Open Monday to Saturday 8:00 am, Sunday 9:00 am
Every must-visit list will include Versailles. Why? Name a reason and it’s likely true. Is it on one of the most popular streets in Miami, Calle Ocho? Yes. It is the equivalent of the city’s water cooler, where important leaders gather together over café con leche and talk shop? Yes. Is it one of the most iconic restaurants in the city? Yes.
You can sit down and have a full meal of Cuban dishes or skip the restaurant and go up to the ventanita, a small window where servers dish out coffees and pastries (called pastelitos). Ventanitas are very popular in Miami, and almost every Cuban restaurant has a window where you can order coffee and quick to-go foods.
Panther Coffee was one of the first specialty roasters to open in the city. Started by Leticia Ramos-Pollock and Joel Pollock, each of the cafés boast an ambitious coffee menu — there are always two espresso options on the menu and either order oa drip coffee on batch brew or made to order using a Chemex or a Clever dripper. If you’re not sure which location to visit, try the original Wynwood location, whose facade changes often and is inspired by the neighborhood art scene.
266 North West 26th Street Miami, FLorida 33127
Open Daily at 11:00 am
Miami is known for its art scene. Every year the city hosts Art Basel, an international art fair held every December spanning days and sprawling across South Beach and Wynwood. However, the Wynwood Walls are up year-round with local artists changing them up every few weeks. A visit to the Wynwood Walls is free, and you’ll see tons of other murals and graffiti art as you ramble through the neighborhood.
El Palacio de los Hugos
El Palacio de los Jugos is a wonderful and boisterous experience, and it can be a little overwhelming if you’re not sure what to expect. Think of this more as a market rather than a singular restaurant where you can go up to different purveyors either making fresh juices, sawing open coconuts, or cooking up amazing Cuban dishes. Definitely order some version of the space’s namesake (El Palacio de los Jugos translates to “the palace of juices”) like a juice made from mamey, which is a fruit that tastes sort of like a mix between a stone fruit and a sweet potato, or guarapo, which is sugar cane, or grab some chicharrones, snacking bits of crispy, fried pork. It does help to know at least a few Spanish words when you visit.
Jai Alai at the Magic City Casino
3500 North West 37th Avenue Miami, Florida 33142
Open Daily at 10:00 am
If you grew up in Miami during the ‘90s, you probably remember the jingle to Miami Jai Alai, now called Casino Miami. Jai Alai is a sport unlike any other — and for some reason, although played internationally, you can only find it played in the United States in South Florida. Jai Alai is a fast-paced game that most closely resembles racquetball where players are either put into teams of two or play singles and go head-to-head throwing a ball, called the pelota or pilota, as hard as they can onto the wall. Most Jai Alai venues are in casinos (it’s a popular betting sport), but you don’t have to bet to enjoy a few games — just be ready to cheer with a raucous audience.
On their website, La Carreta, a mini-chain with nine locations in Miami, describes itself as making “abuela-style” Cuban food, and I can’t think of a more apt description. There is absolutely nothing fancy or particularly noteworthy about La Carreta except for its consistently delicious and nostalgic food menu: everything they serve could easily be found in a Cuban grandmother’s repertoire. Yes, I’d say that the best Cuban food is the stuff made by my grandma, but this runs a pretty close second (but for real, everywhere you go makes amazing Cuban food. Explore the neighborhood you’re in).
El Brazo Fuerte Bakery
1697 South West 32nd Avenue Miami, Florida 33145
Open Daily at 6:00 am
Growing up, my grandmother’s house was around the corner from this bakery, and I remember getting to pick out the guava pastelito I wanted in their clear display case. I might be biased in saying that this is the best bakery for pastelitos, or turnover-style pastries usually filled with guava, coconut, or guava and cheese, but El Brazo Fuerte regularly ends up on “best of” lists. Don’t forget to order croquetas, savory fried treats filled with things like pork or cheese. If you really want to be a hero, order a box and bring them to meet with friends and family.
Chef Creole Seasoned Kitchen
Chef Wilkinson "Ken" Sejour is an institution. Chef Creole has been around for almost three decades with a number of spots around Miami (including one at the Miami International Airport, just in case you forget to buy one of his signature seasoning blends before you get on the plane). Chef Creole has appeared on dozens of food shows, including No Reservations and Fresh Off The Boat, and while classics like oxtail and griot, or hunks of pork that is marinated and then fried, are absolute must-haves, this is also a great place to try conch, a large sea snail which you generally only find in abundance on menus in Miami.
Stroll down to the water and enjoy some sun (safely, of course — please wear sunscreen!) or turn around and take in the Art Deco architecture of the many hotels and businesses that line the iconic Ocean Drive.