If you think Miami’s ethnic food scene is purely made up of Cuban restaurants, think again. With one on nearly every corner, it would be easy to think that’s all there is, but you’d be shortchanging yourself (and your taste buds). Within the Latin American spectrum, there are also Peruvian, Mexican, Argentinian and Spanish eateries located all over Miami. Miami is also home to countless other flavors, like West Indian, Jamaican and Caribbean comfort food. Allow us to broaden your international palate and enliven your senses with these irresistible ethnic restaurants. As an added bonus, most of these choices are less touristy and very authentic.
In the early 1960s, a concentration of Cuban immigrants took root west of Downtown Miami, creating a thriving community that honors their ancestry in name and spirit to this day – Little Havana. The neighborhood has since evolved into a cultural, social and political beacon for Latin Americans of all nationalities, not just Cuban Americans. If you can’t make it to one of Little Havana’s boisterous block parties, the next best way to discover the rich heritage of the region is to eat your way through it!
When it comes to Cuban food, look no further than Versailles on Calle Ocho (8th Street). This is the real deal, a 40-plus-year-old institution, boasting a menu that’s almost as sprawling as Little Havana itself. Picadillo (seasoned ground meat with olives, raisins and spices), arroz con pollo (chicken and yellow rice), and ropa vieja (Cuban-style pot roast) are just a few landmark dishes you’ll want to consider. But some would argue the sides outshine the main fare. Think plantains, black beans and buttered, flaky Cuban bread, sure to enhance any entree. Want to beat the crowd? Dine at Versailles during weekdays. As one would expect, Little Havana has no shortage of exceptional Cuban restaurants, El Cristo and El Exquisito being two of several excellent alternatives to Versailles.
Mexican food may be a minority in Miami’s Latin food pool, but like Spanish fare, it reigns supreme for tapas and finger food. Mi Riconcito Mexicano, also in Little Havana, offers South-of-the-Border signatures like lengua (tongue) tacos and enchiladas, slathered in mole sauce. Feeling overwhelmed by the expansive menu? Don’t choose just one item, opt for a hearty combo platter instead. Alternatively, El Rincon Asturiano has your Spanish cravings covered for a slightly higher price point.
If you’d like to venture out of Latin American food, yet stay in Little Havana, Mr. Yum is a popular choice for tropical sushi and Thai curry.
Little Haiti, “La Petite Haiti,” or Lemon City (its name changes depending on who you ask) remains Miami’s longstanding epicenter for Haitian heritage, spanning a three-and-a-half-mile radius. This evolving ethnic neighborhood lies adjacent to Liberty City and the MiMo (Miami Modern) Historic District, which runs roughly from 50th Street to 77th Street along Biscayne Boulevard. Pastel painted streets are lined with colorful, family-owned businesses, like music shops, art galleries and delicious eateries, many of which feature flavorful Caribbean cuisine.
Little Haiti’s Clive’s Café offers some of the finest Caribbean food you’ll find in Miami. The stripped down ambiance allows traditional Caribbean dishes – jerk chicken, brown stew, oxtail – to take center stage. Stop by anytime from 8 am to 6:30 pm, Monday through Friday, or until 3 pm on Saturday. Chef Creole Seafood & Catering on NW 54th Street features plenty of signature recipes, but mainly focuses on spiced-up seafood courtesy of Owner Wilkinson Sejour. The restaurant’s creative cuisine crosses all cultural barriers while paying tribute to traditional Haitian and Bahamian flavors.
Although not located in Little Haiti, a survey of Miami’s Haitian food scene would be incomplete without mentioning Tap Tap. This cozy Miami Beach staple has tons of character that draws both locals and tourists back again and again. With lively Haitian folk music playing in the background, this is the perfect spot to get amped up for a never-ending night of dancing with a hearty plate of kabrit nan sos (or goat stew).
Liberty City and Overtown
Bordering Little Haiti is one of Miami’s historic and predominantly African American neighborhoods – Liberty City. During the height of the Civil Rights movement, Liberty City entertained Martin Luther King, Jr. and Althea King, and the event is commemorated with a longstanding mural. In keeping with African American tradition, Liberty City offers an abundance of soul food, both Southern and Caribbean.
Naomi’s take-out window serves up massive portions of beloved Caribbean comfort food. Long heralded by locals and visitors alike as a hidden gem, Naomi’s has all your savory Island favorites on call – peas and rice, plantains and curried chicken. The prices couldn’t be better, and the staff couldn’t be friendlier. Walk up and chow down at one of the picnic tables for a memorable, no-frills dining experience. With a focus on seafood, The Bahamian Pot Restaurant specializes in tasty steamed and fried conch. The seafood, always fresh and seasoned to perfection, will leave you yearning for a trip to see the bright blue waters of the Bahamas.
Overtown’s soul food scene, just north of downtown Miami and south of Wynwood, also competes for the laurels of finger-licking goodness. Muhammad Ali and Dwayne Wade are lifelong fans of Jackson Soul Food. Chances are you’ll be one too after grubbing at this storied Overtown breakfast joint. Grits, pancakes, biscuits – everything - is home cooked and served piping hot in all its Southern glory. Jackson Soul Food is only open from 6 am to 1 pm daily, so rise and shine and get there before it’s gone!
Coconut Grove/Village West
Originally settled in the 1800s, Coconut Grove remains a charming, bayside village within the urban dynamic of Miami. The Grove, as it's commonly called, is the oldest continuously inhabited neighborhood of Miami. The pedestrian friendly village center in Coconut Grove is filled with sidewalk cafes, galleries and boutiques.
The Village West neighborhood in Coconut Grove is the present day historic enclave of the Bahamian and African-American descendants of the early settlers of Coconut Grove. Their presence as the first black community on the South Florida mainland began here in the late 1870s when Blacks primarily from the Bahamas came via Key West to work at the Peacock Inn.
With its infectious bohemian charm and one-of-a-kind dining options, Coconut Grove and Village West are big favorites among foodies. The neighborhoods offer plenty of quaint eateries and restaurants that are popular with both visitors and locals.
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