72-Hours In Miami: What to Eat, Drink & See
All three of those "words" stand for me, myself, and I. And that's exactly who I took to Miami this past week for a few days of rest and relaxation. Me! Not only did I book it last minute (thanks third snowstorm in three weeks) but I looked forward to vacationing alone, without an agenda or having to adhere to someone else's plans. If you want to go somewhere or do something just go ahead and DO IT. Trust me, it's really freeing to experience and explore things alone. Take your time to enjoy every moment. Here are a few of my favorite moments from Spring Break 2018 😉.
My flight landed around 5 p.m. in Miami and just seeing the crystal blue waters from 10,000 feet above made me instantly happy. So happy, in fact, that I didn't care if thousands of college kids were ready to hit the beach and beer pong in front of me until they puked (luckily this didn't happen). As soon as our wheels touched the ground, the overhead speaker started blasting "Welcome to Miami" by Will Smith. As much as I loathe that song, it did make me feel like I was officially on vacation!
Now, I know, when one goes to Miami, South Beach is the ultimate destination. Well, because it was the end of Miami Music Week and spring break, the hotel rates were ridiculous (up to $700/night) so I opted for a reasonably priced Best Western on the Bay thanks to hotels.com. Yes, it was located on a busy street and it didn't have room service but there was a fun little outdoor restaurant and bar called Shuckers (best coconut shrimp ever) adjacent to my hotel and I really didn't care about the traffic once I hit the pool - all I wanted was some sun! The room was really spacious and I even had a little balcony all to myself. After realizing I hadn't eaten since breakfast and felt like I was going to faint, I ended up at the gift shop quickly dissecting a turkey sandwich for its protein resource while chatting with the cashier about places grab a bite nearby.*
*She was the third person in about 10 minutes to tell about the "amazing Benihana" next door. Considering we had Benihana's in almost every Bay Area City I'd ever driven through, not to mention I'd celebrated my 18th birthday there, I figured I could skip the Japanese steakhouse chain and head for somewhere more local. She had mentioned a Columbian restaurant called Sabor. Enough said. Point me in the right direction.
Turns out it literally was across the street within a little strip mall that looked like it hadn't been renovated since the 1980's. I was all for it. I entered into a complete time warp - the inside also looked like it could be part of an 80's arcade hall - and sat down in a booth. Not only was I the only customer but I was definitely the only English-speaking diner. I did feel a bit embarrassed about my Spanglish but my waitress got the gist. After asking "what her favorite dish was" three different ways, I ended up with a plate of Camarones con Arroz y Tostones (aka garlic shrimp with rice and fried plantains) 🍤. There may not have been any greens on my plate but boy was it the best $12 I've ever spent. The tostones were crispy yet soft in the middle and the camarones were slathered in garlicky butter, perfect for soaking up with some fluffy rice.
I was in and out of there in 30 minutes and back in my room curled up in my massive bed, where I finished up an article for work and then watched my very addicting British reality show called The Only Way Is Essex. I really should write an entire post about my obsession with this show. I'm on season 22 (yes, you read that right) and I am completely in love with everyone on it. I happily went to bed, excited to see what Monday morning would bring me in the sunshine state.
I woke up earlier than I had anticipated which ended up being great because I had more time to explore my breakfast options before hitting the beach. I'd read a semi-recent Washington Post article about where to eat local pastries in the north end of Miami and came across Moises Bakery. Apparently, this small bakery used to serve mostly European pastries, but back in 1991 the owner decided to cater to its Latin and South American population. I walked in and immediately felt immersed in the Latin culture. Nobody spoke English and I was practically glared at for not speaking Spanish. I kind of loved it. Upon recommendation I ordered the chicken empanadas. They were honestly the best empanadas I've ever tasted. The dough was so springy and light yet dense enough to hold a hefty filling of marinated chicken and spices. I got mine fried but baked empanadas were also an option. I was about to pay when I met eyes with a large doughnut stuffed with creme patissiere. I still don't technically know what this cream-stuffed pastry was but I'd certainly travel 1,000 miles again to find out. It was warm, doughy, sprinkled with sugar, and filled to the brim with custard. Here it is in all its glory at the beach:
You'd think I'd be full by this point, but no, I had to try the other suggested restaurant on the list: Manolo's. This South American hot spot reminded me of a mix between an upscaled Denny's and a Mel's Diner. It exuded 80's decor (yet again) but it had all the amenities of an up-to-date diner (think big screen TV's and a to-go coffee area). I didn't realize I was at the to-go counter when I ordered but the staff was so friendly that they let me sit at a table for six without charging me. Back in New York, I would have been crucified. The woman at the cash register said they were known for their churros so I decided on a custard-filled one (are you sensing a theme?). I also ordered a plate of Tortilla de Papas, per the Washington Post recommendation. Not only was this thing THE SIZE OF A SMALL PIZZA but it was easily an inch thick and loaded with pepperoni, peppers, potatoes, and cheese. It was literally a mound of deliciousness. I sat in the corner and ate 1/16th of it, feeling guilty that I couldn't take it with me to the beach. If you ever have to feed a large family for less than $10, this is the gigantic egg pie to order.
It was finally time to hit the beach! Located just a block from these wonderful eateries - on Collins Ave. and 73rd St. to be exact - was North Shore Open Space Park Beach. This location was the polar opposite of the party I was expecting on South Beach - it was definitely more family-friendly, so be prepared for screaming kids and stereos. Overall, it wasn't too bad though. Plus, the picturesque views of the turquoise ocean literally took my breath away. It was like I was in the middle of the Caribbean. The water was so warm and clear so I hopped in for a swim before committing to my afternoon of sunbathing.
P.S. Shout out to Banana Boat Dry Balance Sunscreen Spray (SPF 30). This stuff sprayed onto my skin like silk! I never once looked or felt greasy because it dried into a soft matte finish. It literally felt like I was wearing nothing! I highly recommend this bottle of sunscreen for your next trip to the beach or pool.
I cracked open the pages of Little Fires Everywhere, but let's be honest, I never really read at the beach. I'm too worried about burning my backside (especially since I couldn't ask a total stranger to lather me up with sunscreen). I opted for just enjoying the sun and hopping back and forth into the ocean for the majority of the afternoon. Things were going swimmingly until a crazy woman (wearing a long silk red dress - red flag) showed up and started taking sea shells and cutting people with it at random. Then she went off on a woman about keying her car and kept screaming that she wanted to kill her. Once the lady in red started picking up sharp pebbles and throwing them my direction, I knew it was time to go. 911 was eventually called but I wasn't sticking around to find out what happened! #yikes
Sunburned and happy, I made my way back to my hotel via Uber. For the record, that was the one downside to staying on the north side of town. I was constantly taking Ubers. Granted there were Citibikes and a free trolley available so if you're on a tight budget it's definitely easy to stay on budget.
The sun went down and I headed out to the artsy Wynwood neighborhood of Miami. This area did not disappoint. It reminded me of an upscale Mission district in San Francisco with its plethora of taquerias and murals. Just walking around a few block radius, I noticed a handful of outdoor bars that ranged from casual to upscale. I took the internet's suggestion of heading to Coyo Taco for dinner and drinks - there was even a fancy speakeasy in the back. The line was out the door (always a good sign of decent food) and by the time I ordered, a spot had opened up at the communal high top table. With a blood orange margarita in hand, I took a seat and listened to the orders fly by (literally, the cashier puts your order onto a zip line and throws it across the room to the chefs in the kitchen). I opted for the carne asada tacos and an elote.
The best part about my trip to this taqueria was meeting Barbara, Perry, and Vanessa. These three friends were sitting next to me as I annoyingly took a photo of my mediocre tacos (hence why I didn't share it with you) and we struck up a conversation. They invited me out with them for the evening and I eagerly obliged. I was very grateful for the company and together we headed over to a casual outdoor bar called Wood Tavern. With large fans, a huge wooden dance floor, and plenty of bleacher seating, it reminded me of a bar I'd go to on spring break in Mexico. Perfect! It was a Monday night but I could tell this place was going to fill up fast. With Modelos in hand, we sat down and got to know each other before heading back over to Coyo Taco to check out the famed speakeasy. We arrived just in time as it was already starting to get crowded at 10 p.m. - hello, Monday! It was dark yet welcoming and almost everyone, besides those getting a drink at the bar, was dancing to house techno on the dance floor. I sipped on Palomas, made conversation with random Miamians, and danced the night away. It was a perfect evening - with new friends to boot!
The sun tickled my face through my hotel window and a slight headache kept me from sleeping in. I wasn't exactly sure what my plans were for the day - would I head to Little Havana for a Cuban sandwich and cigar shopping or to another beach further south? After much discussion with the front desk attendant, I decided to head to the beach. I ran back upstairs, ate my leftover Coyo Taco, and headed down to meet my Uber. When the front desk woman noticed I didn't have my own car, she suggested not going. Apparently, you really need a car to go from place to place in the Key Biscayne area of Miami. Well, that made my decision to go to Little Havana easier. The only problem? I had just eaten breakfast and was now going to eat lunch 15 minutes later! Oh well, the foodie in me had to experience a Cuban sandwich, right?
About 20 minutes later, I arrived at Versailles, the popular casual Cuban eatery that has been around since 1971. It was already packed but seating for one made it a bit easier to get a table. I noticed all the old men standing by the cafe, smoking cigars and catching up on what I can assume was retired life. My waitress called my name and I walked passed a wall of ornate etched glass and green banquettes to my seat. Although I didn't need to look at the menu (I was definitely getting a Cuban Sandwich and a Cuban Mojito), I did notice they had an extensive list of Cuban favorites like Croquette Sandwich and Lechon Asado (suckling pig).
My sandwich arrived - it looked quite bland thanks to the lack of toppings - but that was what made it so great. Sandwiched between two slices of Cuban bread were layers of ham, pork, cheese, mustard, and pickles. It was simple but delicious. Unfortunately, my impromptu cheese quesadilla breakfast was reminding me that I was already full so I couldn't even eat half of it. I got a box to go, took a large final sip of my mojito (I definitely recommend this minty libation), and headed for yet another Uber. My driver, Maria, noticed that I was taking pictures along the way and asked if I would like a tour of Little Havana. I didn't have much time, as I wanted to get back to the hotel pool and enjoy the rest of my afternoon, but I decided to take a leap of faith and let Maria show me around. Boy am I glad I did! She was not only a certified tour guide but she knew every little nook and cranny about the history of Calle Ocho and the surrounding area.
We stopped at Domino Park, where retirees pass the time playing multiple games of everyone's favorite tile game, a vintage cigar shop, and a wonderful bar called Ball & Chain. I wish I could had stopped to have a drink as this place exuded a calm and simpler time. It felt like I could have mingled with the likes of Billie Holiday or Ella Fitzgerald. In fact, I found out later that Holiday did perform at this venue multiple times. She even used to babysit the owner's kids back in the '50s. There was a live jazz band performing and dancing and lots of open-air seating - including a spacious patio out back. It was the ideal place to enjoy another mojito. But Maria was waiting! I snapped a few pictures and headed for the car. Once we started further along Calle Ocho, she pointed out all of the rooster sculptures along the street. TD Bank even had a green one proudly displayed out front. Apparently these colorful birds were established in 2002 as part of a "Rooster Walk" project by artists in the Little Havana neighborhood. However, Maria later told me that this area was actually known for cock fighting. Ha! She eventually took me to the Our Lady of Charity National Shrine, which is located right along the bay. This shrine was quite beautiful and since I was there on the week leading up to Easter it was neat to see everyone praying and giving thanks inside.
Maria dropped me off back at the hotel and I forced myself to take a shower and head over to South Beach - at least for dessert! I made my way over to the W South Beach and took a seat at The Dutch. I'd heard about Chef Andrew Carmellini's Banana Cream Pie and opted for a slice of that and a glass of red wine. The addition of bruleed bananas, caramel coconut ice cream, and what seemed like bits of toffee on top, made this piece of pie one of the best I'd ever had. Now that I know Andrew Carmellini was behind this masterpiece, I might have to see if it's available over at Locanda Verde or one of his other many restaurants in NYC.
Now, I was all ready to go back to the hotel and call it a night but the bartender at The Dutch told me about a bar called the Broken Shaker, located within a hostel called Freehand. Funny enough, my roommate had just stayed at Freehand Chicago and told me that the bartender she met there was moving to Miami and to look out for him. So, who do I find even before I order my cocktail? Mike! Just the bartender I was looking for. He was so happy that a customer sought him out that he eagerly bought me a drink (and a shot) and told me to check out the property while he took orders from the frenzy of folks behind me. I SO wish I had stayed here (although going to sleep with this all night party may have required ear plugs). The pool and bungalow buildings were hipster enough to draw my attention but not pretentious at all. I sipped on my Salty Dew seasonal cocktail (New Amsterdam Vodka, Martini Bitter, Grapefruit, Spice Agave, and Broken Shaker Tonic) and snagged an Adirondack chair along the pebble-lined walkway. After a solid 15 minutes of people watching, I meandered over to Mike again to ask about whether or not I should go to the mecca of South Beach: Ocean Ave. I wasn't particularly in the mood to drink but felt like I should at least see what all the fuss was about. Mike informed me that if I was going to do anything, I should hit up the cheesiest of bars - Mangos. Not only that but I should order a Miami Vice (aka half pina colada, half daquiri - what he didn't mention was that it was topped with Bacardi 151).
I made it to Mangos...
Just in time to pay the $10 cover charge and immediately ordered a Miami Vice. I was definitely the oldest spring breaker in the room (by far) but it made for excellent people watching. Three sequined disco queens took the stage singing YMCA and then a duo of fiery Latin dancers wowed the audience with their sultry moves. I walked further back to another stage, where a live samba band kept everyone out on the dance floor. This place stays open until 5 a.m. and I could tell I was there on the earlier side, around midnight. As much as I wish I had the energy to stay out, I was fine going back to crash at my hotel. I got back to my room, heated up the rest of my Cuban sando and called it a night.
I woke up happy not to have a hangover and booked it to the pool to claim my lounge chair. But not before one last trip to Sabor! Now that I was an expert, I walked in, order my breakfast in Spanish, and waited for my cafe con leche. Little did I know that my plate of eggs and cheese arepa came with a huge portion of calentado (rice, beans, and whatever is left in the kitchen). Again, I could have fed an entire family. Well, off to the pool where I could show off my pudgy (and very full) belly. I opted not to use my SPF 50 facial sunscreen as I only had a few hours until I had to leave for the airport. WHAT A MISTAKE. I ended up sun burning my eye lids (not to mention the rest of my face). The sun sure felt great at the time. My only other regret was that I didn't stay an extra day. I think three full days in Miami would have been perfect. I ordered one last batch of coconut shrimp from Shuckers for the road and headed to the airport. I left way too early (in true Petrone style) but with spring break and rush hour ahead, I figured I wouldn't chance it. A quick 2.5 hour flight back to Newark - shout out to Copa Di Vino for the to-go Chard - and I was back to the cold, dreary city. The next day it rained but I didn't mind. My sunburned face appreciated the cooler weather.
🌴 So, what did I learn about Miami? 🌴
It's a great little getaway if you're simply looking for sun, good food, cocktails, and the beach. It's an even better option if you're sick of winter and just want to head somewhere sunny by yourself. My pants are a bit tighter (shout out to all the fried food I consumed in a 72-hour time period) and I'm currently sitting here with aloe all over my body, but it was well worth it. Just watch out for that crazy lady in the red silk dress. 💃🏻
(This was me before and after I saw her on the beach! )
shop the look: welcome to miami!
From one-piece bathing suits (my newfound favorite) to matching bralette & pants sets (never thought I'd wear these!), shop what I wore below. That includes what I threw into my #beachbag!