Why Miami? When I was a kid, I HATED having my birthday in January. For one, we used to get so much time off from school that I never got to bring treats to class and be revered for an entire day. (Yes, I love attention. Surprise, surprise.) And for two, it was never a good time for a pool party!
Well in the last decade after college, I’ve decided that I finally deserve a pool party, so I threw one for myself! Enter: Miami.
This year, I wanted Mai Tai’s in the sunshine–with or without companions. So I booked the ticket and haven’t had a single regret since.
Let’s talk about this spicy mami, shall we?
There are a TON of places to eat in Miami and it’s a little overwhelming to choose where to go. But when I travel to a place for the first time, I like to do all the tourist things. I never want to look back on a trip and wish I “did the one thing” because I was trying to pretend I was “too cool” to be interested in it. I like to think of these as “the essentials” as opposed to “the tourist traps”, ha! Most of our stops were influenced by my bucket list below) but we found a few gems along the way!
Let’s start with the most obvious choice. If you do any research on where to eat in Miami (e.g. Pinterest), you’ll see Joe’s Stone Crab on the list. It’s a common tourist spot so you’d have to basically be trying to avoid it if you don’t go here. But PLEASE DO! First, this place is huge and touristy and loud and just shy of corny-enough for you to enjoy the charm. It’s got a mobster-style seafood-influenced supper club-vibe. Yes, it’s pricey. But go with friends and share everything. You won’t regret it. It all tastes like it was caught an hour before it hit your plate. There are probably non-seafoody things on the menu but I didn’t look so I have no idea.
My gal pals and I shared about 6 different items from the menu. Including the first key lime pie I’ve ever actually enjoyed. Go early and enjoy a drink on their patio or around the bar. Waiting is actually half the fun (and almost guaranteed because they don’t take reservations) so just embrace it.
We ordered a bottle of crisp white wine at the bar and chatted with a couple on their anniversary trip. While we waited for our table but there’s a good energy in the space where you almost want to wait. (Almost)
The service was entertaining and even though they charged my card twice it was a fun experience. Don’t worry, my credit card company caught it–thanks Capitol One!. With playful 40-year old waiters and crab-bibs, it’s certainly a dinner I’ll never forget. Joe’s Stone Crab is worth the visit!
We went to Little Havana because we wanted to try the Miami essentials:
I know, I know, it’s the most basic of goals, but honestly, I like doing the touristy things! It’s a colorful experience and the activity hosts are incredibly nice. It’s all-around a good time.
If you’re strapped for time it does take around 30 minutes to get from Miami Beach to Little Havana. So if you have to decide, keep the commute (which is always bustling) in mind!
We stumbled (almost literally) upon Ella’s Oyster Bar and because it was just before noon, we had the entire joint to ourselves. That means fresh oysters and an incredibly attentive bartender which for the four of us was absolute heaven.
We even learned some fun facts about oysters (which I have since forgotten but there was a lot of rum between that lunch and this post). Also, don’t pass on the Kale Caesar Salad–the dressing is divine and let’s just say I’ve eaten more than my share of kale since I’ve been home because of it! Swing in for their happy hour and an oyster shooter–your taste buds will thank me later.
This restaurant was a recommendation from the bartender at Ella’s. I always love a local’s opinion on where to eat (who doesn’t?). But in this case, the extra 20 minutes it took to walk off-the-beaten-path was 100% worth it.
I love a good Cuban sandwich and Sanguich de Miami was everything we wanted from a Cuban sandwich and more. You can see in the photo how beautifully put together each layer is and to top it off, they have Cuban coffee (literally everywhere does) so the food coma you might slip into is at least slightly put off.
They also have this fabulous little patio in the back of the restaurant that looks like heaven on earth. After a few days in Miami, a little peace and seclusion are sincerely welcome. It’s one picnic table and we had it to ourselves, so it really was one of the best decisions we could have made.
In an unoriginal plot twist, we went to brunch on a Saturday morning. We saw “bottomless mimosas” on the Orange Blossom menu and booked a table before we even knew where the restaurant was. Luckily, it was just around the corner from our hotel, The Nautilus Hotel by Arlo.
Anytime you can have a bottomless mimosa within walking distance to your bed, you’re doing it right. Not into Mimosas? Don’t worry. They’ve got a bottomless variety pack and an Italian dessert cake that is about as close to heaven as dessert can get.
I’m happy to report the owner was mayyybe one of my favorite humans of all time. So much so that we went back for dinner that same night at his behest. Orange Blossom has a back garden space with a bar and a runway that make for an amazing entertainment feature at the end of an evening.
And dinner? It truly was delicious. For the first time in a long time, I was too full to finish my meal! This may have been in part due to the espresso martinis I couldn’t stop sipping. But I forced myself to power through because I couldn’t let a single morsel go to waste. Mmm… Seabass…
If you’ve made it this far, you’ve hit the jackpot for food. Puerto Sagua was recommended by who–unbeknownst to us at the time–is a Love & Hip Hop personality that we met during the Flo Rida concert (long story). Anyway, whether or not he did an Instagram rant about us later is not the point. What IS, is the fact that his recommendation for legit Cuban food was ON POINT.
Now let me just say, I don’t know anything about Cuban food. So I could be totally off-base with this assessment, but it tasted homemade. It was greasy and rich and full of the bright flavors that you would imagine Cuban food would consist of. Anyone reading this from Miami Beach & Cuban that can verify this for me?
I had the Roast Pork Shoulder and have dreams about it. It was my favorite meal of the whole trip. Which is high praise indeed, because everything in Miami/Miami Beach/Little Havana feels like it’s already turned up to 11.
Between all this food, you need a pick-me-up and thank goodness there’s no shortage of Cuban coffee in Miami.
On our mission for me to roll a Cuban cigar (of which was incredibly amusing), we stumbled on Guantanamera. I rolled my cigar and as we sat down to enjoy the delights of rich and earthy tobacco (when in Rome, y’all!), we sampled the Guantanamera Cuban coffee which was like a lightning bolt to your system.
In a moment where we had to choose between a nap and the next adventure, the next adventure won in no small part due to the intense caffeine flowing through our veins.
The best part? Aside from a little brown sugar, it was straight espresso. That kind of smooth taste is incredibly hard to find outside of pretentious coffee shops, and you usually have to endure a scornful barista. We, instead, enjoyed the patio and company of the handsome owner while we sipped and smoked the wares. I couldn’t have painted a better experience if I tried!
Look kittens, if you’re going to Miami, I can’t claim to be an expert, but these places hit every part of the vacationer’s variety pack.
As someone who used to dread her birthday, I can’t tell you how excited I am to celebrate it next year. Will it be in Miami again? Who knows! But I can’t wait to find out!