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Visiting from San Francisco-Where to go in Miami?

m
misti Oct 30, 2007 02:18 AM

My boyfriend and I are going to be in Miami visiting friends for a few days sometime in January. Where do we absolutely have to eat? We're more looking for really amazing neighborhood joints as opposed to fancy pants places--although fancy is fine as long as the food is really, really, really worth the money.
any thoughts on where to go fo:

good cuban food?
amazing seafood?
conch fritters?
really good, real key lime pie?
pick berries? heard there was berry picking in the winter in Florida.

Just anywhere you think we can not miss while we were out there?

  1. lax2mia Oct 30, 2007 06:13 AM

    Good Cuban: my favorite is Havana Harry's.
    Amazing Seafood: it's stone crab season, try the take-out counter at Joe's to avoid the crowd and take your meal to the beach or nearby park.
    Conch fritters: not a big fan.
    Key lime pie: again, Joe's has a great version of it.
    Pick berries: it's not quite the season for strawberries yet (still a little too hot). Most berry places are a bit of a trek out of the main tourist parts of Miami anyway.

    8 Replies
    1. re: lax2mia
      m
      mialebven Oct 30, 2007 07:23 AM

      Honestly, I wouldn't recommend Havana Harry's for Cuban. I went last weekend and I didn't like the tajadas - they were subpar comparing with the tajadas at Off The Grill in Kendall (I don't remember where else I've had good tajadas at the moment). The bread and butter served was nothing special. Havana Harry's sandwiches are good though. But then again, I know that finding the "best" Cuban is a contentious debate.

      For me I think part of the experience of being in Miami is simply going to the Cuban bakeries for some small eatings. Karlo Bakery has a cozy view outside while you can munch on very good spinach quiche (I haven't found better), tarty passion fruit mousse (there's mango and orange among the tropical flavors), and small sandwiches with a cafe con leche to drink. I also like Ricky Bakery farther down on Coral Way near Coral Gables - it's trendier but I haven't sampled much from Ricky Bakery in order to pick a favorite out of the two.

      Also, going to the open-aired fruteria, Los Pinarenos, on Calle Ocho (Little Havana's SW 8th St) for a good smoothie. I'd take a batido de nispero if they have nispero in season but they can make other shakes as well. It's a rarity in the United States, and it's definitely delicious - but a warning - one cup can easily fill you up. So I would share it in another cup with a friend. And you could go across the street for no-frills affordable Cuban (even by Miami standards) inside the small and quaint Argentinian (?) neighborhood supermarket called El Nuevo Siglo. I say Argentinian because I've seen a lot of Argentinian products, newspapers, and even Argentinian style empanadas in the bakery department. Los Pinarenos is also next to a small park in the median and it's nice for a quick walk to learn more about Cuban history.

      I would also second Frod's suggestion of Sergio's for Cuban as well. Their tortilla de platano (ask for without potato if you want if you don't like too much starch) is huge and great to share with friends with or before a meal (if you're still hungry). Sergio's on scenic Coral Way as well.

      The good thing about these places is that they're all in colorful areas. Karlo and Ricky's bakeries are near numerous wine bars, local music dives (mostly in Spanish) and tapas bars.

      I also like the pasta dishes at Venezuelan-Italian Portobello Restaurant between Ricky's and Karlo - I think that's their main forte, alongside with good risotto. Their tiramisu is good and I've heard people recommend their torta de guanabana whenever they have it. However, there's a lot of good Italian in Miami area that would also stand out. But maybe good Italian is not in short supply nowadays in America.

      I don't know where the best conch would be, but I had good stewed conch at Chef Creole, a Haitian mini-chain. I would imagine most Caribbean restaurants would do a fairly good job with them. But the area lacks charm (but I think most Haitian restaurants are in areas that would be distasteful to tourists except for Tap Tap in South Beach). Perhaps someone can update me here - but Caribbean-spiced conch is good and I'm assuming it may be different from the fried conch the Keys are famous for.

      1. re: mialebven
        Frodnesor Oct 30, 2007 07:54 AM

        I also meant to add that trying some of the other (not Cuban) Latin American cuisines available in Miami is a good idea.

        If you're carnivore, I would definitely recommend an Argentine parillada. Probably the "best of breed" is Graziano's, but I also enjoy going to Las Vacas Gordas on Normandy Island. Have also heard good things about Liberty Parrilla on South Beach. A typical parrillada will include a couple different cuts of steak, a chorizo, a morcilla (blood sausage), probably mollejas (sweetbreads) and chinchulines (intestines - the only item which doesn't do it for me).

        Peruvian is also a strong suit. Francesco in Coral Gables has many admirers (personally I was underwhelmed but I may not have ordered well) and El Chalan on the Beach is also often suggested.

        -----
        Las Vacas Gordas
        933 Normandy Dr, Miami Beach, FL 33141

        Chalan On the Beach
        1580 Washington Ave, Miami Beach, FL 33139

        Parilla Liberty
        1925 Liberty Ave, Miami Beach, FL 33139

        Graziano's Parrilla Argentina
        9227 Bird Road, Miami, FL 33165

        Francesco Restaurant
        325 Alcazar Ave, Coral Gables, FL 33134

        1. re: Frodnesor
          m
          mialebven Oct 30, 2007 08:28 AM

          I second Frod's list.

        2. re: mialebven
          lax2mia Oct 30, 2007 08:02 AM

          MLV,

          Judging an entire restaurant because of its tajadas (which I had to look up what they were, turns out they're tostones) isn't really fair. I agree, best Cuban in Miami can be contentious but every visitor I've taken to Havana Harry's (and the bulk of them have been from California) love the place. And to comment on the specialness of the bread and butter?

          Also, if I was only here for a few days, neither Karlo's nor Ricky's would be anywhere on my list. And I wouldn't describe either one of them as trendy. They're subpar bakeries at best and for someone coming from SFO I think they'd be severely disappointed.

          I have to admit, you really see Miami through some nice, rose-colored glasses. Portobello is nothing more than a mediocre neighborhood Italian place and saying that there's a lot of good Italian in Miami must mean that the Italian that you've had before must've been not that great. And describing a heavily trafficed street like Coral Way as scenic is a bit of a stretch.

          I forgot about Scotty's in Coconut Grove for conch. It's fried dough with some conch so wherever you go it'll be pretty heavy. Scotty's at least has a great view going.

          1. re: lax2mia
            m
            mialebven Oct 30, 2007 08:22 AM

            L2M, in case if you didn't know, Coral Way is actually designated as a scenic street. And it is scenic relatively speaking for Miami since most streets in Miami are barren and concrete-filled. Perhaps you didn't venture out of the beach areas to notice? I don't know....

            Also, tajadas are plantain chips. It is like french fries - which should taste fresh if they're fried fresh. I got the stale ones and so I was disapointed. Tostones are harder to perfect since they're baked. But being served stale tajadas is a big no-no in my book. You can take tourists wherever you want to, but they'll probably tell you that they like it simply because it's mediocre or slightly above average - but that doesn't make it the best in my book. I guess maybe you haven't found one better, and if that's the case, then my condolences... they're truly the best for you. But I find freshness here to be an issue. But nevertheless I did recommend sandwiches here although I doubt I would be going back anytime soon to a not-so-casual sit-down restaurant for sandwiches.

            In SF, they don't have passion fruit mousse nor Cuban coffee, and I think it's a good exposure for tourists to try. We would excel in that area - and I'm not judging bakery to bakery, but the goodies that are offered. You've mentioned in another thread that our bakeries can't compare with theirs simply because they're not European but they're Latin American. If that's the case, then take them out to the best Latin American bakery that serves Latin American goods. Karlo Bakery actually has gotten high accolades from many people but maybe you were just looking at the wrong things and wistfully hoping for the European goods that you just couldn't find. Certainly croquetas, Cuban coffee, passion fruit mousse are things they would serve well that just won't fit your "European bakery" criteria.

            And I don't think you've been to Ricky's - it's definitely trendier than any other Cuban bakeries I've been to judging by decor. Maybe the older location far out west isn't trendy but I'm not talking about that. If you're talking about the type of people that goes there - sure they may not be trendy since it's a local neighborhood joint. But I would be surprised if you're judging it by how people looks.

            And I still stand by Portobello's pasta dishes - they were all well seasoned and al dente. Portions were big and fair for the price. Maybe they're not something "new" to you, but I certainly don't think I'm looking through rose-colored glasses since I've tried many Italian restaurants in Miami and other cities in the States. Some of the dishes are "different" in that maybe you'll find chorizo in the pasta, but they've applied it well. Everyone I know have said it's one of the better Italian restaurants in Miami thanks to their pasta dishes. Maybe you're just too darn picky if you think it's "mediocre" and if that's the case, you're not going to be very happy here - but the fact is that it's a good Italian place. But I won't go too far to say it is the best. It's just a good option that would please if you're in the area and definitely above mediocre.

            1. re: mialebven
              Frodnesor Oct 30, 2007 05:55 PM

              Just a couple general notes, as I've not tried the places mentioned ->

              - Coral Way may be designated as a scenic street and it does have nice ficus trees overhanging it, but there should be no mistaking it as a pleasant walking area for a tourist. It is on a busy thoroughfare filled with mostly dinky little shops and office buildings, the occasional condo or big chain store, and an assortment of decent restaurants interspersed here and there. It's not a bad neighborhood or anything, but it is not exactly someplace that most people would consider a nice walk.

              - I've always understood tostones to be twice-fried rather than baked. First you cut big slices of plantain and fry them, then you smush the plantain vertically to make them into a fritter shape, and fry them again.

              1. re: Frodnesor
                yomyb Oct 30, 2007 07:33 PM

                You are absolutely right about the tostones. They are not baked. They are twice fried. And I agree that Coral Way is not the best scenic street for a tourist to walk.

                IMHO f if you are visiting Miami for the first time and are coming from one of the best food towns in the country (meaning you should stick to things with which Florida can compete against SF; things which say Miami), then do:

                1. Cuban Food. I do think the state of our Cuban Food is not the best given what people may expect, but it is also about the experience of having Cuban food in Miami. I recommend Versailles on Calle Ocho or Sergios on Coral Way. I also like Villa Habana on Coral Way....
                2. Any of the Argentinian Places Frodnesor mentioned are great for a tourist. Miami has great argentinian parilladas.
                3. Francesco's for Peruvian in Coral Gables.
                4:Joe's for crabs, fish sandwiches and key lime pie.I like Garcia's but don't think it is worth the trip to that area unless you have other plans around there.

                For sightseeing I would do the Lincoln Road and Ocean Drive thing on the beach, visit Coral Gables and Coconut Grove and if you really have time, go down to Isla Morada for a taste of the keys.

                1. re: yomyb
                  m
                  mialebven Oct 30, 2007 11:13 PM

                  Oh, I didn't realize tostones were also fried... the ones I had in my house were always baked, but they probably were healthier versions (had to look up to see if you could bake tostones to be sure and yes you could... http://www.foodfit.com/cooking/archiv...). This is good to know, although now that I think of it, I've seen tostones being fried at La Camaronera (good tostones there by the way) on Flagler.

                  And yes, I do agree Coral Way is not a walking corridor even though I have actually walked the street. If anyone walks it, he would just encounter some interesting pedestrian friendly strip malls with some not so friendly parking lots, big stores, condos and office buildings in between. I enjoy finding spots to eat or shop along the corridor.

                  Is there a separate thread on Isla Morada? I haven't been there and I'm curious what there is to do.

      2. Frodnesor Oct 30, 2007 07:08 AM

        L2M gives you some good advice there.

        - For Cuban I also like Sergio's for lunch or late-night sandwiches and tostones.

        - Good seafood, oddly enough, is not as easy to find as you'd think. I think the fish sandwiches at Garcia's on the Miami River are the best in town. Captain Jim's in North Miami does good simple fresh fish. Captain's Tavern in South Miami is an old-school kind of place where I haven't been in years but was always good when I went, and I still hear from folks that have been more recently that it's still good. Yakko San, a Japanese place in North Miami that does lots of Japanese tapas-style dishes, also always has spanking fresh, locally caught fish which can be prepared in a variety of styles (though SF generally has better Japanese than Miami, I think Yakko San is pretty special, certainly by Miami standards).

        - I like getting conch fritters at Scotty's Landing in Coconut Grove, probably as much for the fantastic view of the bay as much as anything else. I also like the conch fritters at Captain Crab's take-away. Rather than little crispy balls, these are bigger, denser things, more like fritters.

        - Key Lime Pie - L2M is right. Joe's is the place.

        - Berry picking. Here's a helpful website. The only place I know of in Miami-Dade is Knauss.
        http://www.florida-agriculture.com/co...

        -----
        Captain Jim Hanson Seafood
        12950 W Dixie Hwy, Miami, FL 33161

        Garcia Seafood Grille & Fish
        398 NW North River Dr, Miami, FL 33128

        Captain's Tavern Restaurant
        9625 S Dixie Hwy, Miami, FL 33156

        Sergio's Restaurant
        3252 SW 22nd Ave, Miami, FL 33133

        Scotty's Landing
        3381 Pan American Dr, Miami, FL 33133

        Capt Crab's Take-Away
        1100 NE 79th St, Miami, FL 33138

        Joe's Stone Crab
        11 Washington Ave, Miami Beach, FL 33139

        Hiro's Yakko-San
        3881 NE 163rd Street, North Miami Beach, FL 33160

        1. m
          misti Nov 4, 2007 09:46 AM

          Thanks for all the good input. Don't mind going to funky hole in the wall places--we have lots of good hole in the wall places out here, and not all of them have the absolute best food, just fun to go to for the experience. I don't mind eating "not the best in the entire world" food as log as it's cheap. I really hate going to places that are super expensive where I could hve made something better myself. Which while SF is a great food city, there are plently of places where I have been sorly sorely disapointed for a $100 meal for two. and very very impresseed for under $10 a piece. It's really great to get advice from locals....

          I'm really excited to try as many places as we can while we are there. Yakko-San sounds amazing. Sergio's, Garcia's, Joe's for crab and pie, Fritters at Capt. Crab--i like the big and dense, but Scotty's landing and a view, let's go there too! Yum...Argentinian food definitely! And some open air markets. I'm there. I'm going to have to be rolled onto the plane.

          5 Replies
          1. re: misti
            m
            mialebven Nov 4, 2007 10:07 AM

            I also like Scotty's - but just a word of an advice, steer clear of the dolphin sandwich there. Tourists have been tempted to try it because a dolphin sandwich is just not that easy to find outside of Florida. But the dolphin sandwich at Scotty's is a bit disappointing. I liked the steak sandwich more. Those were the only two things I've had from there... but it's still a great kick-back, relaxing-type of restaurant with a view especially with the great weather we're having now!

            1. re: mialebven
              m
              misti Nov 4, 2007 10:22 AM

              no dolphin sandwich for me. Not sure i'd get a dolphin sandwich anyway--is it really a dolphin? Not mahi-mahi. hmm. The California girl in me balks at the idea of eating a dolphin.

              1. re: misti
                m
                mialebven Nov 4, 2007 10:38 AM

                Haha... sorry to disappoint you but yes, dolphin meat! I heard it's good at Garcia's though, but I haven't tried it yet. I'll leave it to someone else to make that recommendation! And when the time comes for you to eat one... just think of some mean dolphins!

                1. re: mialebven
                  Frodnesor Nov 4, 2007 11:45 AM

                  What is called "dolphin" is not the dolphin mammal but is in fact the same fish as described elsewhere as mahi-mahi. No eating Flipper.

                  1. re: Frodnesor
                    m
                    mialebven Nov 4, 2007 12:40 PM

                    Oh ok, then this is news to me... it tasted different from a mahi-mahi... I guess a bad dolphin would taste just like a bad mahi-mahi (which I thought I haven't had yet!)

                    LOL

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