Miami is ready to dine out.
I am not there yet. Since the pandemic shut down restaurants the first time on March 16, I have eaten at exactly one restaurant, the Chinese-Trinidadian-Indian Balloo. And that was before the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention identified restaurants as a particularly tricky place to gather without the threat of spreading the coronavirus.
This does not mean I have not eaten food from restaurants.
Miami-Dade continues to conjure exciting new food in particularly novel ways as restaurants pivot to menus that lend themselves to takeout and delivery.
These restaurants, markets and wine shops have been a lifeline for me in a time when working from home and living at work are sometimes indistinguishable. Now, this is certainly not my list of How to Eat Like a Local in Miami, culled from covering food for the Miami Herald for more than four years, though there is some overlap. (Just googling that list now shows you just how much things have changed in the year since I updated it.)
I’m sharing my picks for places in Miami-Dade that have kept me full — and sane — during the pandemic, in no particular order. There are many more I will no doubt try in the coming weeks and months, and I will update this list. So please email me to tell me the places that have been keeping you afloat.
For now, please wear your masks, wash your hands and get hungry.
You have to love a no-frills wine shop where bottles range in price to appeal to neighborhood abuelitas and connoisseurs. The wine is sorted neatly by region and stacked on shelves made from wooden 2-by-4s, and every inch of wall space is scrawled with diners’ messages like “I got dronk here.” I’ve been living on owner J.C. Restrepo’s fried chicken sandwiches, pulled pork sandwiches with Burger Beast’s barbecue sauce, delicate ham croquetas and whatever wine J.C. recommends on a given week. (He turned me on to the low-intervention Friend & Farmer red blend from La Mancha, Spain.)
5792 SW Eighth St., West Miami. 305-262-2465
Every weekend should start with El Bagel. (“It means ‘The bagel’ ” is their slogan.) They have been arguably making Miami-Dade’s best bagels since they moved out of their weekly food truck behind Boxelder into their own shop in MiMo. Delicately chewy on the inside, with a perfectly baked crispness on the outside, their bagels continue to cultivate a following despite El Bagel’s opening 13 days before the pandemic. And their schmears with scallion or nova cream cheese level up your bagel.
Note: Baker Zak Stern (of Zak the Baker) offered me the best advice for preserving his bread, and it applies to these bagels, too: Buy a dozen, slice them and freeze them. That way, you just have to pop them in the toaster on low to medium, and it’s like they came right out of the oven.
6910 Biscayne Blvd., MiMo District
Zak the Baker
Speaking of Zak: The kosher bakery had never opened for dinner until the pandemic. Now it has started a nightly falafel pop-up, from 5-9 p.m. Sunday through Thursday. Crispy falafel in fresh-baked pita pockets with tomato and cucumber relish costs $12. Add homemade fries for $4 and chocolate babka custard for $3. Local beers range from $6-$9.
295 NW 26th St., Wynwood. Zakthebaker.com
Old Greg’s Pizza
Square pizza: it’s what’s for dinner. Greg Terzner launched Old Greg’s pizza during the pandemic and it soon flooded Miami foodie IG. He recently partnered to bake at the temporarily closed Kaido by Brad Kilgore. If you want to try it, you better be quick with the click: It goes on sale at the website on Wednesdays at 1 p.m. for pre-order and sells out in minutes. Oh! And they make frozen margs and Negronis to go.
Order online at OldGregsPizza.com. Pickup at 151 NE 41st St. #217, Design District.
Red Sauce by Mignonette
Danny Serfer’s Mignonette was a temple to perfectly cooked seafood, warm, soupy bouillabaisses and icy-fresh oysters shucked to order. But Miami didn’t want that sort of food delivered wilted in takeout boxes. So Serfer temporarily converted Mignonette into Red Sauce, where he serves dishes like chicken Francaise, stuffed meatballs, veal marsala and fettuccine Bolognese to go. Order pickup from the restaurant’s website or search the delivery apps for Mignonette or Red Sauce.
210 NE 18th St., Edgewater. More info: MignonetteMiami.com.
The Drinking Pig
Three Kyu chefs turned the dead-end street in front of their homes in northeast Miami-Dade into a new pop-up they’re calling The Drinking Pig. Tender brisket and spare ribs share a tangy jerk rub and the spice-rubbed smoked chicken rivals any other you’ve ever had. Sauces include a Carolina vinegar-mustard glaze you’ll want to slather on everything, including the moist, sweet cornbread dusted with salt flakes. Do not leave without ordering the all-spice kissed baked beans. This may be South Florida’s truest celebration of barbecue, from flavor to vibe.
Info: Noon until sold out, Friday through Sunday. Orders are taken via Instagram, @drinkingpigbbq, and must be paid ahead of time with Venmo, Zell or Cash App. They will text the address after payment.
Babe’s Meat Counter
We know poutine doesn’t photograph well. But it’s undeniably ugly-delicious food. So take my word for it that the poutine Jason Schoendorfer and his Canadian wife, Melanie, make at Babe’s Meat Counter in Palmetto Bay is the real deal. A craving for their crispy fries covered in squeaky cheese curds and homemade gravy (made from the stock of their roasted pork) is worth a drive down to Palmetto Bay.
9216 SW 156th St., Palmetto Bay. 786-429-1315
Tinta y Café
This was my preferred spot for fluffy egg breakfasts and incredible sandwiches. I’m a breakfast sandwich guy, and I love the Bori: prosciutto and eggs on toasted Cuban bread. But my recent obsession is a sammie they call Madurito, stuffed with roasted pork, caramelized onions, cantimpalo chorizo, Swiss cheese, garlic aioli and diced sweet plantains for savory-sweet punch you’ll come back for. Oh, and if there are better jamón croquetas in Miami, I haven’t had them.
1315 Ponce de Leon Blvd., Coral Gables. 305-285-0101. Online: TintayCafe.co (no m).
Pollos y Jarras
This hidden spot on a downtown backstreet where my cousin Felipe first took me is often overshadowed by its fancier sister restaurant next door, Cvi.Che 105 (pronounced “ceviche,” but inexplicably spelled like computer code). I was delighted to see it reopened to offer delivery of country Peruvian dishes, including a succulent rotisserie chicken, aguadito de pollo soup, and Take Rico chicken cracklings, which somehow manage to remain crispy despite delivery. Beef heart anticuchos, dipped in aji amarillo sauce, take me back to the best Lima street food.
115 NE Third Ave., downtown Miami. 786-567-4940
Palacio de los Jugos
I once took a pair of doofuses I work with — South Floridians who had never been to Palacio — and fed them a sampling of just about everything Cuban on the menu for 35 bucks. That’s why I love this original food hall, where several vendors serve different kinds of hot food ready to eat in or take out. For a life-changing sandwich, order a pound of their juicy, beautifully roasted pork with plenty of onions, take it home, pile it on a loaf of perfect Cuban bread from nearly Pinocchio Bakery and top it with mojo (hot olive oil poured carefully over lime or sour orange juice, slivered onions and minced garlic). You will never want to cook again.
Ten locations including the original, 5721 West Flagler St., Miami. 786-313-3052
Pinocchio Bakery: 5236 West Flagler St., Miami
Eating House chef Giorgio Rapicavoli (see below) likes the dough and sauce so much from this nearby Coral Gables Neapolitan pizza shop that he orders it without cheese. I’m not that extreme. I enjoy the fresh mozzarella atop their Margherita with big, tender leaves of basil or the heartier Crema di Tartufo with truffled mushroom cream and Italian ham, atop a blistered, charred pizza dough that borders on bready in the best possible way.
141 Aragon Ave., Coral Gables
Westchester native and “Chopped” winner Giorgio Rapicavoli creates food inspired by his upbringing (Argentine dad, Italian mom, Miami boy through-and-through) but styled with his culinary skill. I love how he mixes genres here: cauliflower “elote,” and croquetas with smoked pork belly. His hot chicken sandwiches popped up before at Union Beer Store and now they are a regular, along with his “frita” hamburger, with guava-bacon jam and crispy papitas. His love of burgers led to a ghost kitchen pop-up called Bud’s Burgers you can find on Postmates exclusively. For those who loved his Dirt Cup — a layered flower pot of vanilla ice cream, salted caramel, crushed pretzels, whipped Nutella, crumbled chocolate cookie — I am happy to report it holds up in a plastic Chinese-takeout style container if you get it home fast enough.
804 Ponce de Leon Blvd., Coral Gables
Union Beer Store
Bars may be closed for our safety, but you can still support your local watering hole by ordering booze to go. My spot, Union Beer Store in Little Havana, offers an always astounding array of craft beer, and now they’ve added a small list of natural wines. I have taken to calling once a month, giving them an amount I want to spend, and letting them pick out things for me. That led to a refreshing tart-cherry sour beer from Gulf Stream brewing and Oregon-based Swick Wine’s Bring It. They’ve just opened a lovely beer garden behind the Calle Ocho shop, but I’d still rather drink a cold beer in my own backyard patio.
1547 SW Eighth St., Little Havana. 786-313-3919
Time at home means I’m usually making a lot of my own food, including a family favorite, vaca frita. (I even reserve the leftover stock for the broth of a killer fake-Cuban ramen with vaca frita meat.) But when I crave real Cuban home cooking that doesn’t come out of my kitchen, I go for La Fragua. The octogenarians that made Lario’s a household name, chef Quintin and his wife, Maria Teresa, keep the tradition of authentic Cuban cuisine alive.
7931 NW Second St., Miami. 305-266-3226
Rosie’s at the Copper Door
Quietly on the southern tip of Overtown, Copper Door Bed & Breakfast has been staying afloat by virtue of its pop-up, Rosie’s. It was supposed to open as a full-service restaurant for the neighborhood. In the meantime, chef Akino West (a Michael Schwartz alum) is making unbelievable fried chicken and biscuits (or vanilla waffles) out of the side of the hotel with his partner Jamila Ross. The biscuits are flaky, buttery, toasty and unforgettable with their apricot-lemon jam. The creamy grits are topped with a roasted tomato jam. They’re on Uber Eats or you can swing by and order through a ventanita Thursday through Monday. Pre-order lunch from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.
439 NW Fourth Ave., Overtown
Latin Café 2000
Sometimes you just want a well-made, traditional Cuban sandwich. Nothing “cheffy” about it. Ham, roasted pork, Swiss cheese, pickles, yellow mustard on warm, pressed Cuban bread. Nothing else. Nothing fancy. (And no damn salami.)
Multiple locations including 875 NW 42nd Ave., Miami
They call this a “Cuban diner.” It’s actually more of a Cuban-American diner, a rendering by a Miami-born chef of Cuban roots, Michael Beltran. The open courtyard that made it tough to sit at during summer days is actually ideal for making a line for takeout of its non-traditional Cuban-inspired food: pastelitos filled with goodness like peanut butter and jelly, café con leche using quality roasted coffee, a medianoche where duck confit replaces pork.
3444 Main Highway, Coconut Grove. 786-534-8722
Cindy Lou’s Cookies
A little something sweet is the only way to make it through the dog days of this pandemic. For me, that meant red velvet and lemon cloud cookies from Cindy Lou’s. Cindy Kruze and her life partner, Eric Paige, turned her 25 years of expertise as a pastry chef toward the humble cookie. Don’t let them fool you. The flavors are layered and complex, and could be served on Wedgwood china. Also, the cookies are as big as your head. Don’t skip a monster slice of carrot cake.
7320 NE Second Ave., Little River. 305-456-8585