Contemporary yet harking back to a bygone era, elegant but gloriously informal, South Beach is the classic Miami stereotype in dazzling, sunlit technicolour, complete with swaying palms and turquoise sea, not to mention the curious folk who populate it and the streamlined, pastel-hued Art Deco architecture standing sentry just beyond.
So what’s the best way to take it all in? We reckon a great start is by getting to grips with the excellent restaurants, pavement cafés, stylish bistros and great value diners of South Beach. Here’s our pick of the very best: from breakfast through till waaaay into the night…
Blingin’ Breakfast – News Café
As the queen of Ocean Drive’s sidewalk eateries, the glamorous News Café is the ultimate people-watching venue and a South Beach landmark. Wait for an outside table to truly appreciate the experience, and sit back and enjoy the show.
Breakfast here is a big deal; many seem to have honed the art of making it last all morning. Start with a fresh papaya juice – you are in the tropics after all – and follow with a super-strong Cuban coffee. Food-wise, there’s a wide choice of classic American morning staples – pancakes or French toast with maple syrup, bagels with cream cheese, and a bewildering array of hot dishes (the ‘Egg News Benedict’ might possibly last you all day). The health-conscious will find plenty of ‘light’ choices on the menu too, including yoghurt, nuts, fresh fruit and low-fat bran muffins. Just inside there’s a news stand with a collection of local and international newspapers, if you can’t face watching any more of the beautiful people drift by.
News Cafe, 800 Ocean Drive (at 8th Street), Miami
A Lazy Lunch – BLT Steak at The Betsy Hotel
BLT Steak, which stands for Bistro Laurent Tourondel and not the famous British sandwich, is a top-class but easygoing beachfront eaterie located in the beautifully restored Betsy Hotel, at the northern end of Ocean Drive.
The Miami outpost of the famous restaurateur’s BLT empire is a modern American steakhouse, with an 80-seat outside patio overlooking the Atlantic and an interior restaurant that occupies the hotel’s stunning lobby. You’d be amiss to forgo the signature meat dishes here of course, especially with the certifed American Wagyu and Kobe beef being prepared to such exacting French standards, but if it’s a slightly lighter experience you’re seeking try one of the innovative salads – the Tuna Tartare and the 5-Spice Asian are both excellent.
BLT Steak at the Betsy Hotel, 1440 Ocean Drive, Miami
Afternoon Coffee & Cakes – The Café at Books & Books
Located in the heart of the Lincoln Road pedestrianized shopping district, Books & Books is Miami’s best-loved bookstore and home to one of South Florida’s finest collections of art, design, architecture and photography tomes. But that’s not all – the coffee and cakes at the Books & Books café are among the best in town.
In addition to the relaxed pavement setting, there’s more seating in the wide covered entrance shared with neighbour Design Within Reach, a modern furniture and accessories emporium.
After a good browse through both, you’ll be just about ready to grab something from the extensive magazine selection and settle down for the afternoon. The entire coffee menu is available hot or iced, and if your sweet tooth is calling, go for a portion of the Cuatro Leches – a traditional Cuban dessert topped with meringue, or a decadent slice of Mango Blossom cake.
The Café at Books & Books, 927 Lincoln Road, Miami
Fine Dining – Blue Door Fish, Delano
As you sweep through the white draped, cathedral-height lobby of the drop-dead gorgeous Delano hotel, your walk to the Blue Door Fish restaurant at its rear will give you a 10-second insight into the daily lives of South Beach’s elite. This is arguably the place to be seen in Miami, and you may well feel like you’ve just wandered onto the set of the next Calvin Klein commercial.
With the restaurant’s decor every bit as chic as its average diner, can its modern seafood-centric fare compete? Fear not. This is the home of lauded chef Claude Troisgros who describes his style as ‘French technique with a Brazilian touch’, and while his newly updated menu may have been designed with the image-conscious in mind, the emphasis is firmly on high-end, exquisitely prepared fish dishes.
If you’re here on a balmy night, dine al fresco on the leafy low-lit terrace overlooking the pool. The delectable scallops or ceviche appetizers will set the standard for what’s to come, so follow with the delicately flavourful Loup Cajou (pan-seared Chilean seabass with hearts of palm and soy-glazed cashews) or the sesame-crusted tuna tataki roll. The sublime Boeuf Gorgonzola will wow any committed carnivores, but for the ultimate blowout go for the restaurant’s signature dish, Hommard Banana; roasted Maine lobster with caramelized banana in a coriander-lime sauce – perfect for a special occasion. And if you’ve got something to celebrate, this is definitely the place to come.
Blue Door Fish at the Delano, 1685 Collins Ave, Miami
All Night Grub – The 11th Street Diner
You won’t find anything more all-American in Miami than this gleaming, original Art Deco diner on the intersection of 11th Street and Washington Avenue. It lived in Pennsylvania for 44 years before being dismantled and moved to South Beach’s Art Deco district, where it was painstakingly restored to its original state before re-opening its doors in September 1992.
Besides being utterly authentic down to the tiniest detail (hence its popular use as a filming location, including music videos by the Bee Gees and Will Smith), the menu is deservingly celebrated too. Voted one of the best five diners in the USA by Food Network and winner of multiple Zagat awards, its traditional diner favourites – milkshakes, malts, 15 different types of burger, baked apple pie and cheesecake – are especially praised. But the best thing about this place, other than it being open 24 hours, is that unlike many of its fast-food competitors, the 11th Street Diner also offers a really wide variety of high-quality, healthy-eating options too: plenty of interesting salads, vegetables, fresh fruit bowls, granola and cereals. There’s genuinely something for everyone.
11th St. Diner, 1065 Washington Ave, Miami
If you’re looking for somewhere to stay in Miami, the Delano (home of the Blue Door Fish) is a Virgin Atlantic Flying Club partner hotel, so members of our frequent flyer programme can earn miles with every night they stay.
Do you have any more recommendations for places to eat in Miami? Share them with us in the comments below.