Must-Have Miami Dishes & Delicacies

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By: Jenny Agress

Of the many wonderful things to do in Greater Miami & Miami Beach, sampling the area’s fabulous food should be high on your list. This melting pot of cultures from Latin America and the Caribbean, including Cuba, Haiti, the Dominican Republic and Jamaica, specializes in dishes that celebrate that rich mix of cuisines, too. Although quintessential Cuban delights – Cuban sandwiches, guava pastries and Cuban coffee among them – may be best known, you would be remiss to overlook delicious offerings such as Dominican mofongo, Haitian pork stew and Jamaican jerk chicken. Dig into some of Greater Miami & Miami Beach’s best local dishes on your next visit and expand your culinary horizons, and your taste buds will be happy.

Fried Snapper And Griot

Little Haiti – a neighborhood known for its flourishing arts scene, colorful street murals and quirky dive bars – is a popular destination for adventurous diners, too. Stop in at Chef Creole to dine on fried whole snapper, one of the house specialties. While you’re there, sample griot, likely the most famous Haitian dish, made from chunks of pork shoulder marinated in citrus and Scotch bonnet peppers, then simmered until very tender and subsequently fried up to a crisp. Enjoy it with a side of rice and “pikliz” – a spicy, pickled mixture of cabbage, carrots and bell peppers.

Mofongo AND Oxtail

A longtime island comfort food, mofongo arrived in Miami as people from the Dominican Republic moved here. The dish is made by mashing fried green plantains with garlic, salt and broth. At Club Tipico Dominicano, a traditional Dominican restaurant in the Allapattah neighborhood, enjoy it like the locals do back home: served piping hot, with fall-off-the-bone oxtail that’s stewed in a secret tomato-based sauce.

Vaca Frita

This Cuban specialty, which translates literally to “fried cow,” has become a Miami staple. To make vaca frita, flank steak is marinated in lime, garlic and salt, seared in small batches until it’s crispy, and then shredded. Enjoy it the traditional way at El Cristo, a family-style restaurant in Little Havana: topped with marinated sautéed onions and paired with black beans, rice and maduros (fried sweet plantains).

Jerk Chicken And Festivals

Jerk chicken, one of Jamaica’s best-loved exports to the U.S., is especially popular in Miami because of the destination’s proximity to that lush Caribbean island. Dating back to Jamaica’s early days, the dish is made by rubbing chicken with cinnamon, cloves, garlic, ginger, thyme, scallions, allspice and Scotch bonnet peppers, and slow-smoking it until tender. Festivals – sometimes called Caribbean dumplings or Jamaican fried dough – are soft and sweet dumplings made with cornmeal. They double as a side or a snack. At Dukunoo Jamaican Kitchen in Wynwood, prepare to dig into some of the best jerk chicken in town, served with two large festivals and a vinegar-based slaw.

Fritas

A visit to Miami isn’t complete without tasting one of the many Cuban versions of hamburgers. A frita is a juicy ground-beef patty seasoned with paprika, cumin and pepper, topped with chopped white onions and a pile of fried julienned potatoes, then stuffed into a soft Cuban roll. El Rey de las Fritas, which translates to “the king of the fritas,” has been a Little Havana mainstay for more than 40 years. They amp up their fritas with tender beef and chorizo patties, a signature sauce and add-ons such as plantains or eggs and bacon. Or, head to El Mago de las Fritas and try the plain frita. Anything but plain, it involves topping a juicy, all-beef patty doused in house seasonings with cooked and raw white onions, ketchup and Mago’s potato wisps.

Barbecue And Soul Food

Miami does comfort food well, boasting a roster of spots serving stand-out barbecue and soul food. Hometown Barbecue, a Brooklyn favorite that has opened a spot in Allapattah, offers hefty meat dishes including Korean rib tips, brisket, wood-fired Oaxacan chicken, pulled pork sandwiches, smoked wings and smoked turkey, served with mac ’n’ cheese and honey butter cornbread. Another New York transplant, Red Rooster, brings celebrity chef Marcus Samuelsson’s twist on Southern comfort food to Historic Overtown. Here, you can sample chicken-fried green tomatoes with lemon-pepper jelly, sour orange pig ribs with spicy pickled cabbage, iron-skillet cornbread, and chicken and waffles with jerk syrup.

Alligator Bites

This local novelty food is typically served in the form of crispy pieces of fried alligator tail (sometimes with a spicy Cajun kick) with mustard or tartar sauce for dipping. Head to LoKal in Coconut Grove or Kush in Wynwood to try fried gator bites prepared with Old Bay seasoning and served with creamy garlic sauce, spicy mayonnaise and cocktail sauce.

Stone Crab claws at Joe's

Stone Crabs

Florida stone crab season, which runs from October 15 through May 1, might as well be a holiday in Miami. It’s the only time fishermen can harvest this prized local delicacy. A great place to try these treats during the “season” is the iconic Joe’s Stone Crab. What started as a small Miami Beach lunch counter in 1913 is now a legendary sit-down restaurant with tuxedoed wait staff and VIP treatment. For the full experience, end your meal with a slice of the famous Key lime pie. Note that Joe’s Stone Crab doesn’t take reservations, so be prepared to relax with a drink and wait for a table. Just northwest of Downtown Miami, along the Miami River, Garcia’s Seafood Grille & Fish Market is an unpretentious, old-school spot that serves up stone crab claws and other fresh seafood on an outdoor patio with river views.

Cinnamon Rolls

While cinnamon rolls might not come to mind as an iconic Miami dish, locals know that the huge, gooey, melt-in-your-mouth treats found at Knaus Berry Farms are not your average cinnamon rolls. These delicious treats are made at a family-run bakery that’s open only from November through mid-April. If you’re in town during that time, wake up early and head to Homestead to wait in line for up to an hour for these treats. They’re that good.

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