South Beach has the hustle, the energy, the vibrant sense of adventure—but North Beach has the relaxation and escape. As Laura, a local radio DJ, shows us, when you want to transport yourself to another place and another time, North Beach is the place to do it. Historic hotels, unique Miami Modern architecture, beautifully quiet beaches, and some of Miami’s most interesting bars and restaurants make it a special place to explore.
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North Beach is home to a large community of Argentineans, and the food has followed. Locals universally recognize Buenos Aires Bakery as having some of the best empanadas and pastelitos in Miami—and that’s a hard contest to win. Stop by any morning to find it bustling with neighborhood residents and visitors in line to get a box of their favorite pastries (plus lunch, coffee, and other goodies). It never takes long to make your way to the counter, and it’s always worth the wait.
Sometimes you just need a great burger, fresh cut fries, and a hand-spun milkshake. That’s when you go to Burgers & Shakes, a perennial favorite for North Beach residents, children’s soccer teams, and late night adventurers in need of sustenance. The menu is so delightfully simple that there’s not much to say, except that the food is good and it’s the perfect end to a day of sunny relaxation.
The Argentinian Cea family opened Cafe Prima Pasta with just 28 seats in 1993. In the years since, it’s grown to four dining rooms on a bustling property that’s locally renowned for delicious Italian food and the kind of intimate service experience you can only get from a family-owned place steeped in history. Founder Gerardo and his brother Fabian run the operation, while father Arturo runs the kitchen and their mother Carla bakes bread and desserts. Fresh appetizers like carpaccio lead into homemade pasta of every variety, alongside tender veal and fish in classic Italian styles.
Another family affair brings authentic Mexican food to North Beach, from Mexico City native Jose Ortiz and his son. The family has operated El Rancho Grande for more than 20 years, serving favorites like guacamole, tortas (a stacked sandwich with meat, beans, cheese, and other additions), and tacos al pastor along with giant margaritas that don’t disappoint on quality.
A truly hidden gem even many locals don’t know, Japanese Market serves what some consider the best sushi in Miami, at a small sushi bar in a tiny corner of an otherwise uninteresting Japanese grocery store. Chef Michio Kushi learned his craft in his hometown of Katsuura, Japan, and worked at Sushin (Miami’s first Sushi restaurant) in the 1980s, before opening the small sushi bar in 2002. Though there’s a menu of rolls and other items, the best experience is to order “omakase,” where the chef chooses a selection to make just for you. Be aware of the many rules the owners have for their cozy sushi counter (no phones, no computers, no photos), and you’ll have a delightful meal.
For an upscale night in North Beach, Normandy Isle’s Rouge is a transcendent experience in Moroccan-French cooking. Moroccan-born chef/owner Nabil Hach Al-luch bought the restaurant space in 2012, and stepped into the kitchen to create a menu that’s a mix of French style and North African spices, with dishes like Moroccan braised duck and apricot, rabbit stew, and branzino en papillote. Each Wednesday there’s live jazz alongside dinner in the restaurant’s hidden courtyard garden.
Tucked behind a small boutique hotel (which they also own and operate), owners Lou Ramirez and Ann Castellano serve dozens of craft beers alongside gastropub food like burgers and mussels. The whole affair takes place next to the hotel’s pool, lined with comfy couches and simple tables, surrounded by lush greenery and an excited crowd of locals who are in on the secret.
Norman's American Bar & Grill
Norman’s is the classic sports bar and locals hangout. With a menu of classic bar food (burgers, wings, salads, fries), rows of giant TVs, and a full bar open until 5a.m., it’s the perfect place to find locals watching a game or gathering for a celebration. The surprise: there’s also a 28-room boutique hotel above the bar.
This is a place that lives up to its name: there’s sand in the bar. Everywhere. Though we’re not sure where it comes from (and we’re not sure we want to know), the sand lining the floors at this longstanding dive makes it feel like you’re taking the bar to the beach. Pool tables and healthy pours keep a retinue of locals coming back night after night.
The essential waterfront experience. Shuckers is a beloved Miami institution, in equal parts for its cheap beer, chicken wings, dozens of TVs to watch sports, and sweeping views of Biscayne Bay. This is the place for hot summer afternoons; for meeting up with friends to forget the time and let yourself sink into the Miami experience.
No trip to North Beach is complete without the place for which it’s named. It’s only a few short miles away, but North Beach feels like another planet from the bustle of South Beach. It’s quiet, lined with families but with plenty of space to open up and spread out. The boardwalk becomes a flat trail here, and winds its way up to Surfside on a path that’s popular with runners, bikers, and dog-walkers from the neighborhood.
Built in 1961, the Bandshell is on the National Register of Historic Places as a prime example of Miami Modern architecture. Now under management of the nonprofit Rhythm Foundation, the Bandshell hosts regular concerts of music from around the world in an intimate venue that brings a mix of families, young people, and neighborhood residents. Fun fact: the Bandshell sits on the site of Miami Beach’s first structure, the Biscayne House of Refuge, which was built in 1875 by the United States Life-Saving Service (now the Coast Guard) to rescue shipwrecked sailors.
Where many of Miami’s beaches sit in the shadow of hotels and waterfront property, the North Shore Open Space Park is a preserve of nature. Filled with picnic tables, grills, playgrounds, and lush greenery, it delivers what its name promises: open space. Most weekends, you’ll find families hosting parties and locals running or biking through the park. But it’s never busy and never overwhelming, and that’s why you come to North Beach.