Tour Miami to discover great newbies and old standbys

As a foodie, I’ve tried plenty of great restaurants around Miami, and many of them happen to be on the iDine list (after all, the list is pretty extensive with 300+ restaurants in Miami alone). So I decided, why not take a culinary journey through some of my faves around town that offer a little something–and something back to the diner as well through the program.

I went through the entire list in Miami-Dade County and found some great old reliables and also a whole bunch of new ones scattered throughout Brickell, the MiMo District (known as Miami’s Upper East Side along Biscayne Boulevard), South and North Beach and Coral Gables.

Gables Diner, 2320 Galiano St, Coral Gables, (305) 567-0330

One of the veteran restaurants is Gables Diner in you guessed it, Coral Gables. The food here is phenomenal, but because it’s the Gables it’s diner dressed up. With its corner location, Mediterranean-inspired colors and checkered floor, Gales boasts a menu with a wide selection of great pizzas, sandwiches, burgers, salads, appetizers, and house specialties. They’ve got two versions of a diner classic, meatloaf–turkey and florentine, with steamed spinach. Honestly, the food’s all fresh and delicious, so grab a diner favorite here.

La Lupita, 1057 SE 1st Ave, (305) 373-5406 / Miami Art Cafe 364 SE First St, (305) 374-5117

Miami Art CafeA fresh salad to accompany that crepe at Miami Art CafeIn the Brickell area and neighboring Downtown Miami there are two standout spots to get great international fare. For Mexican, there’s Brickell’s La Lupita and for authentic French, there’s downtown’s Miami Art Cafe. Both share simple decor and incredibly authentic cuisine prepared by natives of each country. At La Lupita it’s  fabulous sopecitos, enchiladas, flautas and tacos. No American cheese or sour cream here, only shredded Mexican oaxaca cheese and fresh-made sauces. Crepes and espresso coffee are the rage at Miami Art Cafe where savory crepes are made the traditional way with buckwheat flour, and sweet ones are prepared with white flour. Espresso coffee is served in place of American unless the customer specifies.

Moonchine, 7100 Biscayne Blvd, 305-759-3999

Now we head over to Miami’s Upper East Side, better known as the MiMo District because of the area’s abundance of Miami Modern style buildings, and try some stellar Asian cuisine, with Thai, Japanese and Vietnamese offerings at the ultra cool restaurant/lounge Moonchine Asian Bistro Lounge and Garden. For starters, the atmosphere at Moonchine is great, it’s a perfect fit for the area with lighting and furnishings reminiscent of the 1960s, outdoor seating with strung lights, cushioned bench seating, and draped canvas fabric as a covering. The Thai-inspired noodle dishes (I had mine with shrimp) were delicious and the fresh sushi selections are amazing. This is a great place to get a drink too, they’ve got some great house cocktails and martinis that use sake and wasabi and pack a wallop.

The Cafe at Books & Books, 933 Lincoln Rd (between Jefferson and Michigan Ave), (305) 695-8898

And the tour wouldn’t be complete without a couple of stops around Miami Beach after all, they’re always at the forefront of awesome restaurants. Our first stop is on Lincoln Road but instead of telling you about one of the standbys (yes there are a few) or the newest hot spot, there’s an improptu and unusual spot for great cuisine, it’s the Cafe at Books & Books. Yes, there’s great cuisine at a bookstore, especially here where the chef Bernie Matz is a legend on the Beach. He’s serving up fresh, organic and original items on a menu that’s always evolving. The tropical ceviche with fresh tilapia marinated in lime juice and served with red onions, celery, and cilantro is fantastic, and the sweet potato and grilled corn salad served alongside it is the perfect complement. Check this place out and have a sandwich or a salad instead, it’s all good here.

Sazon Restaurant, 7305 Collins Ave, (305) 861-4727

Sazon RestaurantAnd finally, skip Eighth Street (Calle Ocho) where Cuban restaurants dot the street on just about every block, and head to North Beach for a change and try Sazon Restaurant. They’re doing authentic Cuban favorites with a twist here, and the setting is nostalgic. The pictures in the menu and on the wall tell a story and the owner is more than happy to share it with diners. The inspirational photographs go perfect with the menu, which is filled with unique takes on some old-time favorites. Normally ropa vieja (shredded beef in tomato sauce) is served on a plate with rice and beans but here it’s made into a sandwich on Cuban bread and served with a side of fries. And they love to stuff their meats here too, the chicken breast is rolled and stuffed with mashed sweet plantains and topped with chimichurri sauce, and the skirt steak is served with cassava yuca and pork rinds. Any of these or others done straight up classic are worth a try here.

I hope this culinary tour provides enough international flavors to keep your palette interested for a while.

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