Miami is a city for the senses. Practically from the first lungful of sultry air as you exit the airport, you’re in a world of neon-lit, Cohiba-scented, full-blown sensory overload. For the hedonistic traveler (and this is a city full of them), it used to be that Miami’s only letdown was the set of dining options, dominated by repetitive Cuban sandwiches and $50 steak entrees. But as the construction cranes become more ubiquitous and the city expands upwards and outwards, a sophisticated new culinary scene has sprung up as well.
It started in the Design District in 2007, when pioneering chef Michael Schwartz opened Michael’s Genuine Food & Drink. The food was simple, organic, locally-sourced — and unlike anything Miami had known before. Miamians flocked to the restaurant for familiar dishes (Florida shrimp ceviche, whole roast snapper…) prepared with unfamiliar aplomb, and continued to line up for Schwartz’s precise but simple cooking when he opened Harry’s Pizzeria and the Cypress Room nearby. The latter, an ode to 1920s Florida, is currently the hottest table in the city. And it’s truly a scene: vest-clad bartenders mix negronis at a vintage mahogany bar, and guests dine on dishes like Royal Red Shrimp beneath crystal chandeliers.
Such is the pace of Miami’s food evolution that the Design District, a culinary wasteland just a decade ago, is already considered bourgeois. Wynwood is where the cool kids congregate, sipping single origin espresso at Panther Coffee and washing down their Florida alligator bites with local craft beers at Kush. Even in this part of town, Miami’s unique high-low blend is in evidence at the stark new “restaurant-studio” Shikany, which sits beside the hipster-friendly warehouse bar Gramps.
Across the city, exciting new dining options are scattered like gems. Venture to Buns and Buns in South Miami for house-made herb rolls stuffed with bourbon-glazed pork belly. Or head to the top of 1111 Lincoln Road — a surprisingly elegant parking structure by the renowned architecture firm Herzog & de Meuron — for panoramic views and Juvia‘s vibrant crudo.
In South Beach’s Sunset Harbor neighborhood, formerly undistinguished save for its cruise-ship-sized Publix supermarket, a single block is home to three separate establishments — Pubbelly, PB Steak and Pubbelly Sushi — from one of the top local restaurant groups, as well as the outstanding Brooklyn pizza import Lucali. Behind a rundown strip mall on Alton Road you’ll discover Korean barbecue and tiki cocktails at the brand new Drunken Dragon, while the more familiar territory of Lincoln Road is shaking things up, as well. Just a few steps from the tourist throngs, there’s fiery Thai street food at Khong River House, which was recently nominated for a James Beard award.
Of course, Miami’s swankiest establishments have always excelled in high-end gastronomy; what’s new is the variety of the cuisine. You can drop $125 on brunch at Zuma at the sleek EPIC hotel — a sum that buys you an opulent feast of champagne, sashimi, robata, and more champagne — and then end the night among the locals at The Broken Shaker bar. Located at the stylish Freehand hostel (and no, that was not a typo), there’s no bottle service, no bouncer, no braying crowds. Instead, there’s just a daily changing menu of handcrafted cocktails and gourmet bar bites, plus the perfect poolside setting in which to soak it all up.