A food and cocktail lover’s guide to Downtown Miami and South Beach: 7 places you must visit

I recently went to Miami for a work-related event in January, and being a temporary winter migrant from the NYC area, a trip from the cold was a much-needed respite. When discussing the trip with a close friend, she invited herself to join me. Frankly, it did not take much arm twisting!  So, I decided to add a few extra days onto my trip. (Don’t tell me you wouldn’t do the same!) I forewarned her that the trip would be all about good food and specialty cocktails, as I have a mild obsession with both. Luckily, she was on board. I also mentioned we were going to stay in Downtown Miami (aka Brickell) instead of South Beach, as South Beach has become the Times Square of Miami. It has too many tourists, no parking and overpriced restaurants serving mediocre food. However, if you’re looking for the beach, flavored margaritas on Ocean Drive, and great people watching, then by all means do the South Beach thing. I had been to South Beach many times, but truly fell in love with Brickell a year ago because of the upscale restaurants, beautiful rooftop bars and gorgeous people who take fashion to a whole new level. In any case, whether you decide to stay in South Beach, Wynwood, Downtown Miami, North Miami, or other, give one of these places a visit. You won’t be disappointed!

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1.       Bazaar Mar by José Andrés

The best way to describe Bazaar Mar, is that it is unlike any restaurant you have ever visited. Seriously-it’s life changing. I’ll prove it. I went once and was so blown away, I almost flew down to Miami multiple times after that just to eat here. However, I don’t exactly bathe in $100 bills, so I waited about 9 months until I had a good work-related reason to visit Miami again and made a reservation. This time around I dragged my two girlfriends, who can’t tell the difference between cheddar cheese and American cheese. They generally just don’t understand my obsession with good food, and presentations; now they are totally hooked.  The Miami police should put this place on the list of things which can cause citizens to start drug addictions, I would take an IV of the food here in a heartbeat! My friends jaws dropped after every dish we ate, and you guessed it, they’re now food lovers like me. I love bringing people over to the other (foodie) side! They agreed that they too would fly down to Miami just to eat here. (If only money grew on trees!) Anyway, the place itself is amazing. It has a fairy tale quality with white dollhouse-like wooden seats and white couches at every table. Sea based characters like mermaids are painted in blue on the white tiled walls and on the ceiling, there are also giant fish heads protruding from the walls. It’s quite the experience!

I can only speak about the dishes I have tried already, but everything was spectacular. Some menu highlights include, Maine Lobster Croquetas: these bad boys just melt warm lobster goodness in your mouth, and the saffron aioli sauce is a perfect complement. The first time I ordered them they came tucked inside a plastic sneaker “dish”. (The entire place is Instagram worthy!) Our next dish, the California ‘funnel cake’ was one of the most unique dishes ever eaten. The dish was served on a metal object resembling an eight-legged octopus, and the salty, spicy, and creamy flavor combination of seaweed, avocado, blue crab, tobiko, spicy mayo and cucumber was scrumptious. We also went with the Cobia “Rosa” Ceviche. The description on the website reads, “rose” of leche de tigre, nasturtium leaf, sweet potato, corn nuts. Let’s put that in laymen’s terms…. basically, they give you a ‘rose’ on a plate which is comprised of raw fish in the middle surrounded be vegetables on the outside and nuts on top. Then they tell you to smash the rose down, and compile the ingredients together into your mouth. It’s an excellent combination of sea meets land with salty, fishy, and crunchy flavors. The presentation is also very ‘social media-esque’. On our first visit, we finished our dinner with the key lime pie dessert, which had sweet, key lime goodness with a graham cracker on top designed to look like a sandcastle. Every dish was created meticulously and creatively.  

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The second time I came here and turned my friends into food enthusiasts, we ordered the Maine Lobster Croquetas as a starter, then the Neptune’s Pillow appetizer. This dish must have been a customer favorite as they were coming out of the kitchen like hotcakes. It’s total raw tuna overload; spicy tuna inside a dough like pastry with sliced tuna on top and spicy mayo underneath. It was to die for! We also split the Ora King Salmon dish and the octopus dishes. The Ora King salmon was lightly cooked on the inside, with a thin crust, and salmon roe on the side. The fish practically melted in my mouth. The octopus dish was so unique and colorful! It came with one large tentacle accompanied by peanuts on the side, with squid ink sauce and a lemon gremolata. The last time I frequented the restaurant the chef brought us the Japanese peaches on the house., Since they were outstanding, we wanted an encore on this visit. The dish comes with small peaches, burrata, hazelnut praline, croutons, and nuts. One spoonful and the sweet, salty, creamy flavor combination and you’re completely swept off your feet. This restaurant is also amazing for people watching. Everyone is gorgeous here and dressed like they just came off a runway someplace like Paris. I think I’ve just about sold you, huh?

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2.       Zuma

It’s no wonder Zuma has locations all around the world; the sushi here is seriously top notch. The restaurant was founded by chef Rainer Becker, who was inspired by informal izakaya-style Japanese dining in which dishes are brought to the table throughout the meal. The ambiance is upscale, trendy, and slightly pretentious with beautiful views of the intra-coastal waterway and many lavish yachts parked right outside. The service here was incredible, as was the food. In true Brickell style, the people dining here put Ryan Reynolds and Blake Lively to shame. Everyone was beautiful and very well dressed. I have had the opportunity to dined outside before, as well as inside. The outside area is much more relaxing, as wooden tables and wicker chairs align the area beside the water. The inside is the more upscale choice. It is replete with cushioned chairs, overlooking the open kitchen to one side and the wall to ceiling windows on the opposite side of the room. On my last visit here, we started off with the crispy fried squid which had a nice salt, pepper and lime taste to it, and the shrimp and black cod dumplings which were nicely pan fried, slightly salty, and incredible. As far as sushi goes, we opted to try the spicy tuna roll with green chili sauce and tobiko, the salmon roll and the tuna roll with Osetra caviar on top. How can you go wrong with sushi and caviar? That’s just not possible!  

3.       La Mar at the Mandarin Oriental

The Mandarin Oriental in Miami is one of the most spectacular hotels I have ever visited. Immediately upon entering the hotel, you are greeted with the aroma of glorious floral notes, including jasmine and juniper. The smell is so magnificent and inviting, you’ll find yourself wanting to book a reservation at the spa straight away. Every time I have been here, the staff has warmly, and professionally greeted me and made me feel very special. The lobby bar presents an excellent happy hour, which is worth checking out. However, the Peruvian restaurant, La Mar is really the highlight of this MO. The ambiance is fun, trendy, colorful and sexy, while also being luxurious and upscale. There’s both indoor and outdoor seating overlooking the intra-coastal waterway. Everything I ate here was amazing! I suggest their express lunch for $25 deal, which is quite generous. We, however, being total ‘gavones’, (Italian for slobs) decided to go a la carte and ordered a variety of appetizers, salads, and ceviche dishes. The hummus salad (pictured below) was one of my favorite dishes, and yet was nothing like we expected. A mix of veggies, shrimp and pita chips in a Greek yogurt vinaigrette. It was crispy, light and refreshing. Last time we ate here, the waiter said Dan Barber of Blue Hill had been there a week prior. (I absolutely love him, he’s revolutionary- when it comes to the farm to table movement)….but I digress. Of course, when we were here we had to have a few Pisco Sours. They have a few different flavors and each one is better than the last! I also highly recommend ordering dessert, whether you have a sweet tooth or not. We tried “la piña, el coco y el manjar”, which is two delectable scoops of coconut ice cream with pineapple chips, foam, and ginger jelly. It’s such an interesting flavor combination and in summary was outstanding! We had a tough time not ordering three of these!

4.       Ceviche105

Ceviche105 is a nine-year award winning gastronomic Peruvian restaurant with some of the best ceviche I have ever had. It’s located right in the business district of downtown. I recommend you Uber it as parking is terrible. Anyway, we decided to sit in the outdoor area, which was comfortable and cozy, compared to the upscale interior of the restaurant. The menu was extensive and slightly intimidating I will admit. There were lots of sea based options to choose from as well as unique Peruvian dishes! We started off with the famous potato based appetizer, Causa de Camarones con Palta, which was quite the flavor combination. I never had anything like it. It’s mashed up potatoes with shrimp, avocado and red peppers covered in a delicious yellow sauce made of Andean cream and other ingredients. After that we split the ceviche trio dish: Tetra de Ceviches, a platter of three popular fish ceviche dishes with sauces that included: virgin cream, yellow pepper cream, and anconero and rocoto cream. The dish also came with deliciously salty corn kernels, corn, and sweet potato. I have yet to discover a place in NYC that offers ceviche and Peruvian food as good as this. If you know of any, please let me know! 

5.       Sugar

Easily one of the best rooftop bars in downtown Miami, Sugar is located at the upscale East hotel. The upstairs rooftop ‘garden’ has a Hawaiian inspired theme with comfortable, brightly colored, cushioned wooden chairs and couches, surrounded by plants and trees on the outskirts of the bar. It has a very cozy treehouse like feel to it. All the seats overlook the tall residential buildings surrounding the hotel and the water to the east. Up a few small stairs and towards the back of the rooftop is the large, ornate, wooden bar complete with gorgeous tribal craftmanship carved into the wood. This rooftop is the place to see and be seen. Most men were dressed in fresh pressed European style suits and/or expensive button downs. The women were wearing heels and their nicest ‘Sunday’ dresses. The last time I visited, I ordered a delicious Lychee martini that made all my vodka/club drinking friends very jealous. They serve Asian style tapas, but sadly I have never eaten here. I have however, eaten at the restaurant Quinto La Huella inside the East hotel and it was fantastic.

This is a great start for food and drinks in downtown. While you’re in Miami, check out these great late-night spots in South Beach for specialty cocktails:

1.       Employees Only

One of my favorite bars in NYC, Employees Only, makes some of the best drinks I have ever had in my entire culinary life. I wrote a guest post blog on five great prohibition bars in NYC here: https://tinyurl.com/y7pxj8n5, Employee Only is a definite favorite! After visiting both Employees Only locations, I can say they are both very different and yet, very much the same. I love the Miami location because of the relaxing outdoor area, and the fact that is a lot less crowded than NYC. I was able to get a fabulous hand-crafted cocktail within 10 minutes! Inside, the layout is like NYC, as they have the bar area and a separate sit-down restaurant area. I highly recommend getting both cocktails and food when you’re here. The ricotta gnocchi and mac and cheese with gruyere and Applewood smoked bacon are some amazing late-night bites worthy of the calories. Last time I was here I noticed that they had hired my favorite bartender from NYC. The guy is fantastic!

2.       Sweet Liberty Drinks and Supply Company

The bouncer at Employees Only suggested we check this place out. It was easy to see why, because from the minute I walked in, I was totally smitten. The place reminds patrons of a speakeasy meets 1990s chill bar/club warehouse, and is open until 5am. Trouble! Exposed pipes hang from the ceiling, along with warehouse style hanging lights and Christmas tree lights. The floor is made from a Costco style concrete, and exposed brick walls align the back of the establishment. The bar itself is massive and has every cordial and liquor you could ever dream of. The cocktail menu is equally expansive and compliments the massive bar selection. I started off with their ‘Basic Bitch’ cocktail which was the perfect combination of fruity meets sparkling. Between the amazing cocktails and the 1990s music in the background, I could have stayed until closing time.

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2 comments

  1. love it…Miami is one of my “homes-away-from-home”. Additionally, Sweet Liberty is my fave bar there! The other two that I love are Broken Shaker and Blackbird Ordinary. Either way, great blog post!!!

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