When stranded (or staying) in South Beach, eat! Then, eat some more. It might be a good idea to workout between eating sessions. Just make sure you eat while you’re there.
Chris and I ended up with a surprise weekend in Miami thanks to a Friday night connecting flight cancellation. We’d been vacationing in the Bahamas and were on our way back to Minneapolis, where our truck was parked. Long story short, we’ve been on a slow travel adventure and were between cities. I wasn’t as upset as I might’ve been, because I remembered loving my time in South Beach about a decade before. The food and the service gave me the warmest memories. The ocean and weather were nice too.
We spent a fantastic weekend in April, eating our way through South Beach. Below are 6 places that we double-plus thumb-up-a-bump recommend.
Try the Guava and Cheese! Sounds weird, right? But it’s SO good. Seriously. All of the donuts we ate from The Salty Donut were delish, but this one took donut-tasting to a whole new level. According to their menu it’s a 24-hour brioche filled with swirled guava and cream cheese. A cream cheese glaze tops it along with a homemade pastelito puff pastry streusel. I’m happy to report that it’s available year-round.
Go for the funky vibes and stay through the loud music, because the steak tacos are worth it. We were there right at opening time on a Sunday and the music was thumping, bumping, and pumping. It was good, but it wasn’t easy to hear one another. At first. By the time our steak tacos arrived, our middle-aged ears had adjusted and we were enjoying our conversation.
The tacos weren’t fancy, but they were tasty. The steak was diced into bites and done about medium-well to well. I love it when steak is diced. I’m not sure why, but it makes a difference to me. The tacos were topped with the standards we love: cheese, slaw, tomatoes, aioli, cilantro, and radishes.
For fast-casual, IT Italian Trattoria pretty elevated in feel. Yet, somehow casual enough for a woman in a gold string bikini and a man donning short, tight, blue and white swim shorts, to feel comfortable sitting down and dining in. I have no idea how they carried their cash, or their phones; but, to each their own. Besides, can one even say that they’ve been to Miami Beach if they’re not seated indoors next to nearly naked strangers?
I recommend the salad with roasted eggplant (which I love and wish existed on more menus), grilled chicken, and large shreds of parmesan cheese. It’s even more delicious with a lovely glass of rosé. Chris enjoyed his sandwich quite a bit. I remember him saying so several times as we sat across from one another, sorting out how we’d get home after being notified that our Monday flight had also been canceled. We were happy about the food and happy that it was so near to the Gates Hotel South Beach by Hilton that we were staying in.
We went to Ola Restaurant for two reasons: it was in the Gates Hotel South Beach and it looked like a nice enough place. After all, we were exhausted from a day of travel that included:
- Checking out of our Airbnb in the Bahamas by 9:00 a.m.
- Killing time, grabbing coffee, and having lunch at the Baha Mar resort, because it was between the Airbnb and the airport.
- Getting into customs at around 1 p.m.
- We flew out a few hours later on a delayed flight.
- We spent a couple of hours rebooking our flight, finding and booking a hotel room, and finding our luggage.
- By the time we took a Lyft to the hotel and checked into our room it was after 8:30 p.m. and we hadn’t eaten anything of substance since we left the Bahamas.
Our fortune felt like it was turning as soon as we were seated at a table on the restaurant’s patio. Their menu featured interesting craft cocktails and menu items that combined Pan Latin, Spanish and Caribbean flavors. The service was attentive and the ambiance enchanting.
We began our meal by relaxing with drinks. A Cucumber Citrus Martini (Cucumber Vodka, Gin, Yuzu, Lemoncello) for me and a Tropical Storm (Grapefruit Infused Gin, Pomegranate & Lemon Juice) for Chris. Then we shared Corn Empanadas, Smoked Swordfish Tacos, and Pollo Criollo, which is a Peruvian mint marinated Jidori chicken. It was served over sweet potato gnocchi, with aji amarillo sauce, walnut pesto, and mushrooms escabeche. Fancy, right? Seriously, it was all so good and comforting and exactly what we needed at that moment.
Our Saturday in South Beach was all about the Cuban food! We brunched at Havana 1957. If you do the same, we recommend ordering the Mango Mojito Pancakes (fluffy tall stack of banana pancakes, mango mojito salsa, and sweet vanilla mango cream) and the Cubano Sandwich (ham, cheese, roasted pork, pickles, and mustard on Cuban bread). Then, share bites because describing the flavors can only do so much.
Before your meals though, consider getting a South Beach Mojito. It’s served with an actual piece of sugar cane in it. Or, be like Chris and order an “Old School” Cuba Libre. The Cuba Libre was served with rum and ice in a glass garnished with a big lime wheel. A little glass bottle of Coca Cola was served on the side.
While I enjoyed my mojito mucho, Chris declared his Cuba Libre to be the best he’s ever tasted. His Cubano Sandwich was also the best Cuban sandwich he’s ever had. Both the Mango Mojito Pancakes and the Cubano Sandwich were entirely new and scrumptious experiences for me.
Bella Cuba looks unassuming from the outside. The food, service, and ambiance within is fantastic! We started with super refreshing Coconut-Pineapple Mojitos that Chris describes as a Pina Colada slammed into a Mojito. I think it has the rich flavor of a Pina Colada without the heaviness of one. In other words, we liked them a lot.
Soon after our drinks arrived, the Empanadas Cienfuegueras Chicken showed up. These empanadas reminded me of why I fell in love with empanadas a decade ago. The Cienguegueras part of the dish’s name means coming from Cienfuegos, a city in Cuba.
For entrees we dined on Drunken Chicken and Glazed Tropical Chicken. While I enjoyed my Tropical Chicken dish, after having a bite of Chris’s Drunken Chicken, I wanted to steal his. Of the two, it was definitely our favorite.
Then, there’s dessert. If you go, order the Guava Cheesecake. It’s light and has actual chunks of guava in it, so how bad can it be for you? Without a doubt, it was one of the best cheesecakes we’ve ever had.
For a closer look at a few of our favorites, check out our Where to Eat in Miami Beach video.