Food

Miami restaurant bucket list: Eat at these iconic spots before you die (or they close)

Stone crab season is back Oct. 15
Stone crab season is back Oct. 15

Miami takes its iconic restaurants for granted.

Remember Soyka? Or Perricones? Or Tap Tap?

Not until a guest comes into town and demands to be taken to one of these familiar spots do we realize these restaurants represent the three-oh-five to the world. And it’s not until they close suddenly and unceremoniously that we consider the void they leave in Miami’s cultural fabric.

That stops now. This is a list of Miami’s iconic restaurants, the classic spots we visit for childhood nostalgia, to pose in front of, check into, or just visit for the ’gram because they exude Miami at its most. They’ve transcended being a neighborhood spot into becoming institutions. We patronize them enough to keep them relevant, but not enough to make it into our regular rotation.

This isn’t a “best of” list. Think of it as a bouquet of places that screams, “That’s so Miami!” (This is different from my list of Miami restaurants where to eat like local. You can Google it as you probably did to find this one.)

Yet this bucket list of Miami restaurants includes places even locals have been meaning to visit (or visit again) for years but haven’t found the time.

So print this out, save it to your Notes app, and put an open check box beside each one. Let’s start checking spots off your bucket list.

Arbetter’s Hot Dogs

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Arbetter Hot Dogs, 8747 SW 40th St, features chili dogs. Miami Herald File

Like Robert is Here and Knaus Berry Farm, Arbetter’s Hot Dogs and Frankie’s Pizza are the perfect opportunity for a bang-bang.

For nearly 60 years, these two spots beloved by Miami locals have stood at opposite ends of the block from one another, powered by nostalgia (and the foresight to have bought their own real estate). Arbetter’s has made its own chili since the late Robert Arbetter opened in 1959, using a recipe his central Italy-born wife, Familia, devised. His son, Dave, now runs the store, with his sister and their children, and he’s happy to pile the same sauce atop a dog with a generous spoonful of melted cheese and diced onions.

8747 Southwest 40th St., Westchester; arbetterhotdogs.com

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Cafe Abbracci

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Nino Pernetti, owner of Caffe Abbracci, celebrates 30 years in the restaurant business in Coral Gables on Tuesday, July 16, 2019. Al Diaz adiaz@miamiherald.com

Far away from the South Beach glitz, on a quiet Coral Gables backstreet, is a windowless restaurant with Ferraris and Bentleys parked nightly out front. Cafe Abbracci is the domain of Nino Pernetti, the restaurateur who has created an intimate place for Miami’s power players — yet he treats everyone who has come through the door the last 30 years like the most important person in the room. Get ready for a three-hour, three-dollar-sign dinner of northern Italian cuisine where deals are struck in library-quiet tones.

318 Aragon Ave., Coral Gables; 305-441-070

Chef Creole

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Wilkinson “Ken” Sejour poses for a portrait inside his celebrated Chef Creole restaurant on 54th Street in Little Haiti. Bryan Cereijo

Mix Southern, Creole and Caribbean cuisine, and you catch the spirit of Little Haiti on a platter. Rappers, celebrities, athletes, even Anthony Bourdain stopped in for what Chef Creole does best: hot, crispy fried food, with a touch (or more) of spice. Order the griot fried pork chunks with pikliz, Haitian-style spicy pickled vegetables, and an order of banan peze, fried flattened green plantains, and you’ll instantly know the flavor that has powered Little Haiti for nearly 30 years.

200 NW 54th St., Little Haiti; http://www.chefcreole.com/

Flanigan’s Seafood Bar and Grill

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José “Tuto” Moreiras and Elisa Cantero met at a Flanigan’s Seafood Bar and Grill two years ago — so they decided to take their engagement photos there.

No Miami home is complete without a green Flanigan’s plastic cup (or, perhaps, service for 12). Miamians have an obsession that borders on clinical with Flanigan’s, a classic sports bar that started as a Big Daddy’s liquor store in Hialeah before it added restaurant. The rest is history. People take engagement photos at Flanigan’s. Even some of Miami’s favorite chefs admit to a love of Flanigan’s rib rolls (Mignionette’ Danny Serfer) or baby back ribs (Stubborn Seed’s Jeremy Ford, a “Top Chef” winner). Serfer and his business partner Ryan Roman even visited each of the 23 Flanigan’s locations in a single day on a lark, as part of the Miami Herald’s annual Munch Madness restaurant bracket challenge.

Multiple locations

Frankie’s Pizza

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Frankie’s Pizza is at 9118 Bird Road. Miami Herald File

Frankie’s, open since Valentine’s Day 1955, serves the same square pizza that the late Frank and Doreen Pasquarella innovated from a family recipe — and the restaurant is still run by family. The best way to have it is passing beneath the neon sign, sitting at the counter and having it with the crispy square edges right out of the oven. But locals often ask for it half-baked then finish it in the oven at home for a family meal.

9118 SW 40th St., Westchester; https://www.frankiespizzamenu.com/

Garcia’s Seafood Grill and Fish Market

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Hector Gabino hgabino@elnuevoherald.com

Miami’s iconic fish sandwich has a tail on it — and it’s the hallmark of the riverside restaurant Garcia’s and its sister spot in Little Havana, La Camaronera. Before the Miami River became cool, it was just the docks, where fresh fish arrived, usually on one of a fleet of boats owned by the Garcia family. Without much pomp or circumstance, you order the fried minuta snapper sandwich and sit on a wooden bench watching the Flagler drawbridge open to let boats go by.

398 NW North River Dr., downtown Miami; garciasmiami.com

Jackson Soul Food

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Jackson Soul Food. Photograph by Christina Mendenhall.

I joke that Miami’s so far south it’s not the South anymore — rather the northern Caribbean. But Jackson Soul Food has been serving comfort Southern fare in Overtown since 1946. Sure, they now have an Opa-Locka location, but the original is the spot for fried catfish and biscuits, turkey wings and baked chicken. Where else in South Florida can you get a classic meat-and-three, where liver and onions are still on the menu?

950 NW Third Ave., Overtown; www.jacksonsoulfood.com

Joe’s Stone Crab

No one goes to Joe’s just for the stone crab claws. You can buy those by the pound, at a third of the price, at some top fish markets around town during the season. (You can even find a recipe for their famous mustard dip online.) You go to Joe’s for the old-world ambiance, the white linen table cloths, the impeccable service. You go — so you don’t have to say you’ve never been.

Reservations aren’t accepted, so you’ll just have to wait (unless you have an Andrew Jackson for the maitre d’). Sometimes it helps to name-drop a long-time patron. Don’t sleep on the half crispy fried chicken for $6.95.

11 Washington Ave., Miami Beach; www.joesstonecrab.com

Knaus Berry Farm

Make an afternoon out of a trip to the Redland, South Florida’s farming country, and stop here on your way to Robert is Here. When the farm is open from November to April, Miamians make weekend trips for trays of cinnamon rolls that have gotten so famous, local restaurants partner with them just so they can trade on the Knaus name. Long lines form on the opening and final weekends as a form or gladiatorial sport. But people seem to genuinely enjoy chatting with others as they await their cinnamon buns. Bucket listers, don’t miss out on the fresh-baked herb bread and cinnamon roll shakes (yes, shakes).

15980 SW 248th St., Redland; www.knausberryfarm.com

News Café

News Café isn’t part of the South Beach circus — but you can see it from here. It’s perhaps the only sidewalk cafe left on South Beach that isn’t a tourist trap, where you can order coffee and pastry early in the morning and watch the parade of regret go by. Owned by Mark Sokya, who designed several other iconic Miami spots including the eponymous restaurant that just closed, it was a favorite breakfast spot of Gianni Versace, a five minute walk from his former mansion where he was killed in 1997 — coming back from breakfast.

800 Ocean Dr., Miami Beach; www.newscafe.com

Prime 112

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Oh, look, it’s just Kelly Rowland, Rob Kardashian, Kim Kardashian and Reggie Bush on your average night at Prime 112. World Red Eye

Go for the people watching — and steaks to set you back a car payment. It’s not everywhere in Miami you can find imported Japanese A5 Kobe beef that is aged in house, and also a hangout for Miami’s upper crust. The entrance is a parade of Heat players, visiting basketball stars, basketball wives, actors and Miami heavy hitters. Bring the credit card with the lowest balance, the highest limit and order the truffled lobster mac and cheese and the best side of beef your wallet can withstand.

112 Ocean Dr., Miami Beach; mylesrestaurantgroup.com

Robert is Here

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Robert Moehling’s Robert is Here is the place for great shakes. EILEEN SOLER FOR THE MIAMI HERALD

Miami cyclists immediately will be able check this place off their lists, as they regularly trek to the edge of the Florida Everglades for this Redland taste of Old Florida. Robert Moehling started on this corner in 1959, selling fruits with a sign his father had painted on a sheet of plywood, reading Robert is Here, and he still is, most every day, selling fresh fruit and milkshakes that are hard to beat. The one to have? Strawberry-Key lime.

19200 SW 344th St., Redland; www.robertishere.com

Tropical Chinese

Nothing checks every box like a strip mall in suburbia to find an iconic Miami spot. Tropical Chinese, open since 1984, serves Hong Kong style dim sum in push carts in that classic red-white-and-black motif. Yet Tropical eclipses your typical take-out counter with conscientious sit-down service in a comfortable setting. It’s where you’ll find Westchester families and heavy hitters for Sunday dim sum.

7991 SW 40th St., Westchester; www.tropicalchinesemiami.com

Versailles

When news that Fidel Castro had died broke well after midnight, a crowd formed within an hour in front of Versailles. The restaurant has become a symbol of the Cuban diaspora in Miami since it opened in 1971. Politicos gather here every four years to proselytize and pander to the Cuban voting base — all while getting a dose of classic Cuban food. No, there’s nothing like eating in the “Enter the Dragon” mirrored dining room. But I prefer a perfectly poured cortadito and a pastelito de guayaba at the ventanita, Miami’s most iconic walk-up Cuban coffee window.

3555 SW Eighth St., Miami; www.versaillesrestaurant.com

Miami Herald food editor Carlos Frías won the 2018 James Beard award for excellence in covering the food industry. A Miami native, he’s also the author of “Take Me With You: A Secret Search for Family in a Forbidden Cuba.”
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