There is no neighborhood that better embodies Miami’s ridiculous extremes than Downtown. Here, in just a 10-minute walk, you’ll pass abandoned wig stores, highrise apartments your favorite celebrity couldn’t even afford, and people wandering out of nightclubs at 10am, hissing at the sun like vampires.
Downtown’s restaurants are every bit as wide-ranging, with dining rooms full of people who might actually say something like, “Well, I just had caviar last night,” mere blocks away from cash-only cafeterias with no AC. This guide spans that entire spectrum with everything from a kosher restaurant in an abandoned strip mall to one of the best places for Spanish food in the city. These 13 restaurants will keep you away from the expensive duds and work for dates, waterfront oysters, or if your car got towed and you just need something delicious to cheer you up.
Arson is the sister restaurant to NIU Kitchen, a Catalan spot that is one of our favorite restaurants in the entire city. Since the pandemic, the two restaurants have merged, and NIU is operating out of Arson’s space. The menu is now a greatest hits of both restaurants. Many dishes here, as the name implies, come into contact with fire at some point before you eat them. If you order the charbroiled oyster (and you should), your server will singe them with hot coals at the table. The tender scallops carpaccio receives a blow torch shower tableside, and the salt-baked dorada gets a damn Viking funeral in front of the whole dining room. And our favorite NIU Kitchen dishes - like the cold tomato soup with mustard ice cream and the ous, a bowl of poached eggs and truffled potato foam - are available as well.
There are a lot of occasions that could justify going to Over Under, a small cocktail bar and restaurant in the heart of Downtown. It’s a good place to bring a date or catch up with a few friends over some strong (and delicious) cocktails. Stop by on a Wednesday when you don’t feel like cooking and happen to be craving a cheeseburger, or Friday for sunset oysters and a boilermaker. Brunch is a very tasty thing here too, with dishes like jackfruit chilaquiles or horchata french toast. This place somehow has the DNA of a dive bar, upscale cocktail bar, and a very good restaurant all rolled into one - and it’s kind of harder to think of a reason not to come here.
This place looks like an Italian family with a slight hoarding issue broke into a Downtown building and no one’s decided to kick them out because their pasta is so good. There’s no restaurant in the area with as much personality as Soya: a dim, cavernous space stuffed with books, mismatched furniture, and antiques. They do live jazz here Thursday-Saturday, so stop by one of those days if you want a little extra romance. But it’s worth parallel parking for the eggplant parm - music or no music - and the slightly sweet fazzoletti di formaggio e pera is one of our favorite plates of pasta in town thanks to the surprisingly great combination of pear and ricotta.
Motek is an Israeli restaurant. We’ve tried their hummus tehina, Jerusalem grilled cheese, and the arayes burger, and we loved just about every bite. The hummus was perfect and the Jerusalem bagel grilled cheese - how could that be bad? Our favorite thing, though, is the arayes burger, which comes with four soft little pitas stuffed with beef and then grilled. Next time, we’ll be checking out the shakshuka and crispy chicken schnitzel plate. The indoor restaurant is also BYOB with no corkage fee.
Eleventh Street Pizza is a great New York-style pizza spot operating out of the old Fooq’s space in Downtown, and they’re serving some of the best pizza in Miami. They are foldable yet firm, and made with a delicious sourdough crust. Our favorite is the pepperoni and hot honey pizza, which comes topped with Calabrian chili paste, caramelized onions, and little pepperoni cups. The huge Sicilian square slices are great too. They used to be a to-go-only spot, but now have indoor and outdoor seating where you can enjoy your pizza with a bottle of wine.
Manila Kantina is a small Filipino restaurant and grocer along Flagler where you can sit down and eat a selection of tasty dishes buffet-style for $12 per person. Your options include chicken adobo, dinuguan (pork blood stew), chop suey, lechon kawali, fried lumpia, pinakbet (stewed vegetables), and more. It’s all great, but before you leave, browse the shelves to take home some Filipino pantry staples like pancit noodles, bagoong jars, and bibingka mixes.
Taqueria Hoja is the casual little taco spot Downtown Miami so badly needed. Both the restaurant and menu are pretty small - but this place makes some of the best tacos in Miami. Taco options include a classic carne asada with beautifully charred beef, and a heritage pork al pastor. They also have some vegetarian-friendly ones, like the very good vegan koji sweet potato taco topped with a great morita sauce made from peanuts and almonds. They have some simple but delicious burritos too, which range from $6 to $10 and aren’t too overstuffed or obnoxiously big. The shrimp and potato flautas? Also crispy and delicious, and go very well with the excellent margaritas here. This is a good place to come hungry and order an amount of food that can barely fit on the table, which shouldn’t be too hard since nothing on the menu is over $10.
Like Goldilocks and her porridge, it can be hard to find an omakase that’s “just right” - one that hits that sweet spot between formal and informal, suspiciously cheap and give-your-accountant-a-heart-attack expensive. But Mr. Omakase in Downtown walks that line perfectly. It’s not cheap, but both the 10 and 14-course options come in under $100 (at least before service, taxes, and sake), and that’s a lot better than most upscale omakase options in Miami. The food is the main event here, and every piece of fish, uni, or beef that’s laid in front of you seemingly gets better and better, like a well-paced action movie starring Keanu Reeves. And by the time you reach the otoro or the A5 wagyu, you’ll want to stand up and applaud.
Since 1966, this spot has been the best place to eat on the Miami River - where you can watch yachts, boats that are almost certainly smuggling something illegal, and the occasional lost dolphin all drift by in the course of a lunch. It’s still a good choice because it’s delicious, simple, and one of the few waterfront spots where you won’t be surrounded by $200 bottles of rosé and people who arrived via luxury jet ski. Start with some fried shellfish, listen closely to the daily specials, and if it’s stone crab season, you know what to do.
If you want to eat seafood somewhere that sandals won’t be considered formalwear, then Mignonette is a good choice. The place isn’t super upscale, but it’s nice enough to work for a dinner with someone you want to impress. Or you can always sit at the bar during Happy Hour for a more casual vibe. Either way, come here for the seafood, which is very good if a tad bit pricey. Oysters are $3 a pop, but worth it. If you want to keep the tab down, order some of the $6 veggies, which taste great and will help you leave full.
Bali Café is a little cash-only Indonesian spot where you can get big portions of dishes you won’t find anywhere else in the area. The menu is very large and includes everything from dumplings to sushi rolls - but you should focus on the Indonesian food, like the nasi goreng special. It comes on a little cafeteria-style tray with separated portions of fried rice, coconut chicken curry, and an awesomely tender pile of rendang. There’s no shortage of things to look at in the restaurant, which is decorated with colorful statues and masks you’ll want to touch and try on. Please don’t.
Not only does Verde have one of the best views in Miami, but it’s casual enough to show up in shorts and a tank top. The restaurant is located in the back of the Pérez Art Museum and has a beautiful, uninterrupted view of Biscayne Bay. That’s really why you should come here (and why you shouldn’t sit inside), but the food - mostly salads, pizza, and sandwiches - is solid and the mimosas are also bottomless during brunch for only $24. They go great with the squash blossom pizza.
If you enjoy eating inside semi-abandoned strip malls as much as we do, then you’ll like Shirin Glatt Kosher. Here, on the second floor, stuffed into the corner of a humid food court, is a kosher Bucharian and Mediterranean restaurant. There are recognizable plates like lamb kebab wrapped in a pita or the shakshuka - both very tasty - but there are also some dishes that would cause absolute mayhem in a spelling bee, like the gojgije, which is essentially just a samosa filled with beef and onions. That and the mashed potato-stuffed piroshki are reason enough to make a trip to this place, which would work fantastically as the setting for a zombie apocalypse movie.