Little Haiti is a small, non-touristy pocket in Miami where you can experience authentic Haitian culture and flavors. Don’t go to Little Haiti for attractions or heavily polished tourist-ready destinations, go there for a real glimpse of life in the Haitian culture and a taste of what the island’s unique cuisine has to offer.
Little Haiti’s main strip is NE 2nd Avenue. This busy street changes as it runs through Downtown Miami, along the east side of Wynwood and through the heart of the Design District. Just a few blocks below Little Haiti you’ll find stores like Louis Vuitton and Marni, which draw a fancy set of highbrow tourists and locals.
Authentic Flavors, Haitian Food and Pastries
The tropical and Caribbean flavors, ingredients and influence in Haitian food is similar to Miami’s much revered Cuban food, but with a few key differences. The two countries are neighbors and they both make use of their proximity to the ocean’s treasures. They both pack their traditional menus with seafood and shellfish options; both use rice and beans as staples - the Cubans call it arroz con frijoles and it’s typically a black bean with white rice, while Haitians serve red kidney or pinto beans and call it diri kole ak pwa - both are examples of criollo cooking. One major difference in the two cuisines is the presence of spice in the Haitian dishes. While Cuban food is anchored by a blend of sweet and savory (think: grilled chicken or steak served with sweet plantains on the side), their Haitian brothers and sisters aren’t afraid of a little heat. The fried plantains or banane pesée are still there, but they cause a tingle in the back of your throat from peppers.
Follow your main course with a traditional Haitian dessert like beyen, tasty fried bananas, or pain patate, sweet potato bread. If you’re a fan of coconut, you’re in luck. Like many island cuisines, Haitians have made use of this natural resource and sweetened up many of their dessert options with this healthy and flavorful treat.
Chez Le Bebe has been in town pretty much as long as the Haitian community has. This local haunt opened its doors in the 1980s when the major wave of Haitians were moving to Miami and hasn’t closed them since. This small menu is the home of the self-proclaimed “best griot in town” and you’ll be hard pressed to find someone who disagrees. Recently, Anthony Bourdain paid them a visit on a trip to Miami for his show The Layover and Andrew Zimmern, another Travel Channel favorite, popped in for his show Bizarre Foods.
A Trendy Neighborhood
Part of Miami’s charm, and what makes it a truly metropolitan city, is the change in character you can experience within just a few blocks. Murals that commemorate significant events in Haitian history and heroic characters are on one side of the block right next to the bakeries and bodegas, while a trendy emerging area where hipsters are hanging out is on the other side of the block. Little Haiti has seen a lot of change in the past few years as the Design District has grown and expanded and the creative class has started to call the area home.
Right below the blocks that make up Little Haiti proper, is a stretch that connects the area to the emerging Design District that’s lined with quaint cafes like the Buena Vista Bistro, Buena Vista Deli and Lemoni Café. All three are hip but homey joints with great food and friendly service.
On nearby Biscayne Boulevard is The Federal Food Drink & Provisions, a new foodie favorite serving food in the style of a “modern American tavern.” The Federal is in a strip mall that doesn’t look like it houses a restaurant that reinterprets regional American cuisine. This creative restaurant serves unusual dishes like Jar-o-Duck and buffalo-style pig wings - new takes on classic American ingredients, under mason jar lights or outside on the porch. Don’t miss the Federal if you’re a fan of food, willing to experiment with what you think you know to be traditional American food or like the vibe of a hidden, mysterious restaurant with a great wine selection.
A little further up Biscayne Boulevard at the 55th Street Station, a community block of adorable shops like a curated vintage shop and an eclectic home store, is Soyka, a restaurant and lounge. Soyka is a local favorite with an airy dining room and a mouthwatering menu. This casual and comfortable eatery is perfect for meeting with friends or having a nice date night. Order a funky salad like the Mango + Quinoa or a classic favorite like Crispy Calamari to start, following it with an entrée like a burger or seafood dish like Lobster Ravioli, Porcini Shrimp Risotto or Florida Snapper. Enjoy live Jazz music on Fridays and Saturdays from 9 p.m. to 1 a.m.
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