Thursday, December 1, 2011

Art Basel Dining Guide: Off the Beaten Path in Downtown and North Beach

This week has seen no end of Art Basel guides: art fair guides, music guides, party guides, and, yes, food guides, some even in handy Q&A format. I got into the act myself last year. And while many of last year's recommendations will still hold up, I thought I'd take a slightly different approach this time, while expanding a bit on some of last year's list.

See, here's the thing: if you're just getting around to looking at this now, it's going to be too late to snag a table at most of the hot spots in South Beach where Art Basel proper resides, or in the Design District / Midtown / Wynwood enclave where you'll find most of the satellite fairs and local galleries. But! You shouldn't starve, just because you didn't have the foresight to make a reservation or don't want to wait hours for a table. Just expand your horizons a bit, there are good eats to be found elsewhere. May I humbly suggest you explore a couple of Miami's less heralded destinations: Downtown and North Beach?


Downtown Miami has a lot more office buildings than art galleries, but the city is running a free shuttle during Art Basel (11am - 11pm) that will take you between the downtown area and most of the major fairs and hot spots in the Wynwood / Midtown area. So try:

Phuc Yea! - Miami's first contemporary Vietnamese pop-up restaurant is open only for another week, but that's just enough time for you to get in there. They're rolling their own Viet-style porchetta di testa or coming up with creations like "When Elvis Met 'Nam" (seared foie gras, caramelized banana, peanut butter, jalapeño jelly, and nuoc cham caramel on french toast) along with more customary items like spring rolls, banh cuon, and salt n pepper calamari. Read all my thoughts on Phuc Yea! here.

Oodles of Noodles

19 SE 2nd Avenue, Miami

neMesis Urban Bistro - Chef Micah Edelstein's shoebox of a restaurant in the deserted northern outskirts of downtown serves up a very personal vision of global cuisine: shepherd's pie gets crossed with an empanada, "sushi" goes Tuscan with prosciutto, mascarpone and gorgonzola dolce, South African bobotie is served with passion fruit vinaigrette and garam masala pecans. I went in skeptical and came out very pleasantly surprised. There's often strange stuff brewing here - including, one time, a house-made coffee-infused beer - but it's often delicious.

1035 N. Miami Ave., Miami (LegalArt Building)

Little Lotus - this tiny Japanese restaurant is also hard to find, buried inside a nondescript office building, but serves up a nice selection of izakaya classics - lots of meats on sticks, takoyaki, chicken kara age, noodle dishes and rice bowls - along with a standard lineup of sushi items and some Indonesian classics thrown in for good measure. The team includes folks from local izakaya stand-out Yakko-San and Morimoto NY.

25 N. Miami Ave. Suite 107, Miami

Sparky's Roadside BBQ - it may not be competition-level 'cue, but it's better than a lot of BBQ pretenders in Miami, you can get a plate of pulled pork with a couple of sides for $10.50, they've got a super selection of brews, and you won't meet nicer guys in Miami than the ones running this place.

204 N.E. 1st St., Miami

(continued ...)

North Beach:

Only a couple miles north of South Beach you'll find an abundance of dining options that are actually much more representative of South Florida's population and culture than the glut of generic steakhouses, burger joints and Italian restaurants that fill much of South Beach. Many are within walking distance of the NADA Art Fair at the Deauville Hotel. I mentioned many of these places last year, here's a bit more detail, working our way south to north on Collins Avenue:

El Rey del Chivito - "Chivito" translates as "little goat." There is no goat in a chivito sandwich, but there is just about everything else you could think of. You can get the full contents of this Uruguayan classic, and the backstory on its name, in my post here. You can get the sandwich at El Rey del Chivito on Collins Avenue, just a few blocks north of the Deauville.

chivito sandwich

6987 Collins Avenue, Miami Beach

Le Perrada de Edgar - if a chivito doesn't have quite enough ingredients for you, maybe a hot dog from Le Perrada de Edgar, directly across the street, is in order. Their most basic dog, the "American," comes topped with mozzarella cheese, pickles, onions, ketchup and mustard. But maybe only a surrealist could appreciate the "Edgar Special" with mozzarella, pineapple, blackberry and plum sauces, plus whipped cream. What's it like? Kind of like this:

6979 Collins Avenue, Miami Beach

Buenos Aires Bakery - Up the street, Manolo claims to have the best churros in town. They're full of crap. The best churros are at Buenos Aires Bakery, where they're light, crisp and un-greasy - and possibly even better when filled with dulce de leche. They also have a very nice selection of Argentinian empanadas, as well as sandwiches and a short selection of hot dishes.

7134 Collins Avenue, Miami Beach

El Rincon de Chabuca - I may just like it because I call it "El Rincon de Chewbacca," but aside from that, you can also get a fine sampling of Peruvian staples here - ceviches, causas, anticuchos, plus heartier fare like lomito and arroz chaufa. You can read all my thoughts on El Rincon de Chabuca here.

7118 Collins Avenue, Miami Beach

Sazon Cuban Cuisine - it seems the first question 90% of the visitors to Miami ask is, "Where can I get good Cuban food?" And I have a confession to make: I just don't get all that excited over Cuban food. Somehow the spice route seems to have entirely bypassed Cuba, leaving it to create a cuisine entirely based on garlic, bay leaf and oregano. But it can be hearty and satisfying, and when I'm in the mood, my neighborhood place is Sazon. Their garbanzos fritos, generously studded with chorizo and ham, are flat-out delicious, and everything else is always done right. If you're in South Beach, and drunk, sure, go to Puerto Sagua, it's the Cuban equivalent of a greasy spoon diner. If you'd like a decent meal, try Sazon.

7305 Collins Avenue, Miami Beach

Moises Bakery - not exactly a sit-down place though there may be a couple tables outside, pop in to get some of their baked goods. The sweet stuff looks tempting, but my favorites are the savory items: fried Venezuelan empanadas, chewy, pretzel-like cheese-stuffed tequeños, and the fantastic cachitos stuffed with ham and cheese.

7310 Collins Avenue, Miami Beach

If we're still hungry for more tomorrow, we may wind our way back up the causeway through the Normandy Circle area and back to the mainland.


  1. Great roundup for this neighborhood, thanks

  2. Sending tourists to El Rey del Chivito is some sort of suicide mission I think.

  3. The chivito sandwich presents no more danger to tourists than it does to locals, though cardiologists will tell you that danger is substantial.

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