I went to Miami for the beach (and to take my first trip out of Texas in more than a year), but what ended up stealing my heart was the food. From a can’t-miss Greek restaurant in the Design District to some of the best pasta I’ve ever had on South Beach, these are five must-try restaurants while visiting Miami.
The Place To Go in the Design District
If you ask anyone where you must dine in Miami, Mandolin Aegean Bistro is bound to be in the mix of suggestions. And for good reason, it’s transportive. Once you walk into the garden patio sitting behind the blue and white 1940s house, you immediately feel like you’re in Santorini. Along with the incredible ambiance, the authentic Greek and Turkish cuisine is something you don’t discover in the United States often. Seasonal ingredients are even grown in the restaurant’s edible garden.
The menu can be a bit overwhelming, as you’ll want to try everything from mezes to salads and sandwiches. I definitely suggest starting with the Ali Nazik — a smoked eggplant yogurt with ground lamb on top. Bread is provided to top and scoop. Also, make sure to order a cheese. We got the baked feta, but there’s also grilled halloumi.
The menu boasts souvlaki, a whole sea bass, and grilled lamb chops, but since we were already so full from scooping every last bite of the Ali Nazik with bread, we opted for the Manti dumplings. The tiny dumplings were filled with minced beef and covered in a garlic yogurt sauce with Aleppo pepper and burnt butter.
Make sure to make a reservation way ahead of time for Mandolin Aegean Bistro, as bookings fill up weeks in advance.
One of the Best Waterfront Views
While staying a couple of nights in the Design District before heading over to South Beach, we wanted to make sure to dine by the water. And apparently James Beard award-winning chef Michael Schwartz’s Amara at Paraiso is the place to do that. After getting my reservation a week or so in advance, we headed to the waterfront restaurant expecting incredible views.
It was true, the views were lovely. Outdoor patio tables are as close to the bay as they can get. Little dogs sat in guest chairs like they were people and not one person was not sipping on wine or a cocktail. How could you not? A little piece of paradise this place was. The food was pretty good too.
Oh, Amara serves Latin American cuisine. We ordered the Yuca cheese puffs and short rib empanada to snack on with frozé, and then split the pan roasted half chicken with braised kale. But man, that view.
Exploring Little Havana
I couldn’t leave Miami without trying an authentic Cubano in Little Havana. Not after obsessing over the sandwich for weeks, which inspired me to write a round-up on the Best Cuban Sandwiches in Dallas. As soon as we walked up and saw a line scattered down the sidewalk at Old’s Havana Cuban Bar & Cocina, we knew we had to endure the wait.
Old’s Havana doesn’t take reservations. Trust me, I checked multiple times. From the front, it looks as if there’s only a tiny indoor dining room. Thankfully, when we were guided to our table through and outside of the cramped space, an expansive outdoor garden in the back was revealed.
Mojitas are a must-try here. From the classic to mango and passionfruit, there are several to explore. And of course, the pressed Cuban sandwich with ham, roasted pork, Swiss cheese, pickles, and mustard was just what I needed to regain my energy and go get a Abuela Maria (guava and cheese) ice cream at the original Azucar Ice Cream Company across the street afterwards.
When on South Beach
Discovering Mister 01 Extraordinary Pizza in an office building on the west side of South Beach was a happy accident. Yes, I made a reservation for dinner an hour beforehand after browsing online for a more budget-friendly place to grab a quick meal, but actually showing up to this “hidden” restaurant was a surprise.
I kid you not, while wandering confused around the address that my GPS had led me to (a generic office building), I heard someone whisper “Mister 01?” from behind me. I turned around and a woman in a Mister 01 T-shirt pointed us towards the entrance of the building.
We walked into the under construction hallway to find the tiniest little restaurant all by itself around the corner. There were six or seven tables total. After being hesitant about the size of the space, with COVID and all, we decided to go for it. This ended up being one of our most memorable meals.
Everything from the Caesar salad to burrata with a balsamic glaze was incredible. But the star had to be Mister 01’s signature Star Luca pizza — literally shaped like a star with ricotta cheese, spicy salami Calabrese and mozzarella.
I saved the best for last. On our final night in Miami, I had reserved a table at South Beach’s Macchialina. Due to COVID-19, the restaurant is still only taking bookings for outside in its backyard garden and for patio tables out in front of the restaurant. We opted for a bistro table out front, where you could still view the rows and rows of wine bottles on display inside the space. I started with The Gra’it Gatsby — a concoction of gra’it grappa, egg white, lemon, honey, and caprinature mandarino.
Don’t start your meal with anything but the creamy polenta with wild mushroom ragu. It is magnificent. I’m sure the other antipastas are great as well, but definitely add this one to the mix. For entrees, we shared the Cavatelli Macchialina and let me just say I still think about this pasta almost every day since.
With baby meatballs and porchetta, it was all I could’ve hoped for in a pasta. We paired it with the Veal Milanese for extra protein. To end the night, we ordered the dulce de leche tiramisu, unique to the restaurant with a chocolate crumble and espresso granita.
Miami certainly knows food.