A classic restaurant is like a classic car. They’re familiar to lots of people, often endearingly imperfect, and you’ll more than likely see Jerry Seinfeld sitting in one of them. We don’t think of a classic as something that solely equates to age though. Like, be real, that stain on your kitchen wall isn’t “a classic stain.” It’s the scene of a so-so ragu you cooked ten years ago. Something as special as a classic restaurant needs more than longevity and more than perfect food. It needs to make you feel something.
You see, a classic restaurant doesn’t have to be faultless. It can have great dumplings but bad lighting, average lechon and an amazing atmosphere. But as long as it gives everyone that feeling—that contentment that only a true institution can offer—well, then that’s what makes it a stone-cold classic. These are the classic restaurants in Miami.
It seems fair to start this guide with the most famous restaurant belonging to Miami’s most prominent ethnic group. Tourists invariably ask about Versailles, and while it may not serve the city’s best Cuban food, it’s hard to argue with its claim as “The World’s Most Famous Cuban Restaurant.” Inside the palatial dining room, which feels both casual and muy fancy with chandeliers floating over the bare formica tables, you’ll find solid interpretations of traditional Cuban dishes—but the place to be is always at the ventanita outside. There, you can order a cafecito, a croquetica, and listen to an array of viejo hot takes on politics, sports, and god knows what else. It’s an undeniably quintessential Miami affair that every citizen of the county should be legally required to experience at least once.
This city has a lot of places claiming to make the best versions of key lime pie, but no one messes with Florida’s favorite dessert in such a beautiful, Miami-specific way as Sweet Delights Key Lime Pies in Florida City. Sweet Delights takes the tart, creamy classic pie and infuses it with local tropical fruits, like guava, mamey, and the owner’s own backyard soursop (AKA guanábana). Most ingredients are local, and the owner Debra Allen (who, by the way, is an angel) might even point out that the lychees in the sample of pie you’re devouring came from the man who’s standing at the register. Miss Debbie, as she is affectionately known in the area, is generous with the samples (they are all but mandatory for customers), but she already knows you’re going to walk out with a toddler’s weight in frozen pies to take back home with you (or eat in the car, since this shop is a to-go operation).
Joe’s has been open in South Beach for more than 100 years, making it Miami Beach’s oldest restaurant. And everything about this place is still unapologetically old school—from their limited reservation system to the formally dressed waitstaff. The restaurant also has that vintage grandeur that makes us feel like we’re about to vie for Mae West’s affection, and that mink won’t be out of place here. But as fancy as this place feels, everyone’s coming here to do the same thing: rip apart a pile of stone crab claws, the best kind of crabs in the world. Everything is à la carte, and must-order sides include the hashed brown potatoes and creamed spinach. Joe’s has certainly outpaced inflation over the last century, but you can still have a good meal sticking to sides, the $9 fried chicken, and their legendary key lime pie.
Tropical Chinese has been one of Miami’s best Chinese restaurants since 1984, and is responsible for introducing a large portion of Miami-Dade County to the wonders of dim sum. The Bird Road spot has a huge menu of Chinese classics, but the reason we make sure to come here more often than we see our dentist is for that dim sum, a traffic jam of over 50 dishes wheeled around the dining room on huge carts. The plates up for grabs range from chicken feet to egg custard tarts and all kinds of dumplings and buns, like translucent-skinned har gow and plump shumai. The baked roast pork buns are also a must—perfectly round and smooth with a center of delicious roast pork. Just remember that dim sum is only available for brunch and lunch.
Jackson Soul Food is an Overtown institution and one of the best (and only remaining) places in Miami serving classic soul food for breakfast, lunch, or brunch. They’ve got a big selection of dishes like smothered pork chops, fried catfish, black-eyed peas, as well as the requisite grits, buttery biscuits, and sweet cornbread. Order it all—just make sure to get their super crispy fried catfish. It’s cooked perfectly and has a really crunchy exterior, which adds some much-needed texture to a table full of soft breakfast dishes. While you’re waiting for the food, take a lap around the diner. The walls here are a mini Overtown history lesson, lined with old photos, memorabilia, and news clips that showcase the impressive history of this place.
Pinolandia is our favorite fritanga in Miami for several reasons: the Little Havana location is open 24 hours a day (useful information when you’re leaving Space), they have ample off-street parking, a 24-hour Nicaraguan bodega, and the food is dependably great. The best thing to get here is the carne asada, which you can watch being grilled while the aroma of flame-licked beef marinated in naranja agría fills the restaurant. You’ll also want to grab a slice or two of queso frito, which is thick, squeaky, and really creamy. And, like almost all fritangas in Miami, you can’t say you’ve been there without ordering a traditional drink. We like the cacao, our favorite version of chocolate milk made with ground cacao seeds.
Royal Castle has been around since 1958 and is like the local equivalent of White Castle (although it hasn’t had a stoner bromantic comedy made about it—yet). Back then, the Miami-born concept was a very successful chain with over 150 locations around the American south. Today though, there’s only one left in Gladeview, an area west of Liberty City. The restaurant feels like a time capsule, with its peach sherbet-colored formica counter and ’60s-mod white swivel chairs. This place stays open 24/7, though we like it best in the morning when you can get a solid Southern breakfast. The sliders are the reason to come here though—you can order them in “six-packs” with some pretty good crinkle-cut fries. And there’s no rule against having sliders for breakfast. We checked.
Since 1966, this casual Cuban seafood restaurant, where you can watch yachts and old-school fishing boats drift by over the course of lunch or dinner, has been the best place to eat on the Miami River. And, chances are, it’s still the only place your grandpa ever wants to go for his beloved grouper, which Garcia’s simply fries and serves with classic Cuban sides like rice and tostones. It’s hard to beat Garcia’s and its Old Man and the Sea personality for a dine-in experience but it’s also worth checking out its sister restaurant, La Camaronera, for the incredibly tasty pan con minuta, a fried snapper sandwich (served with the tail still attached) on a Cuban roll. Together, the two spots are to Miami Cuban seafood what Crockett and Tubbs are to fighting crime in aggressively neon suits. But Garcia’s is no doubt the main character.
photo credit: Merritt Smail
This Haitian fried chicken spot was the best restaurant on this strip of NE 2nd Avenue before this area became gentrified, and it continues to be one of our favorites in the neighborhood. Pack does make very good Haitian staples, but you’re coming to this casual restaurant for some of Miami’s best fried chicken. The juicy drumsticks—the only part of the bird they serve—are fried just enough to produce a crispy skin, but aren’t so heavily breaded that you can’t taste the well-seasoned meat in each bite. It’s an exceptional deal, because you can get three drumsticks—plus a side of rice and beans and pikliz—for just over $5. And while they have a fried chicken takeout window, you can also go inside and order at the counter while enjoying the wonders of air conditioning.
This tiny sub shop has been the official hangout for Killian students and anyone searching for an obnoxiously overstuffed sandwich since the late ‘70s. The whole point of coming to Hungry Bear is customization and the gluttonous possibilities of your own imagination. You can start with one of their own unique creations, like the oriental chicken, which features shaved meat, a sweet/spicy sauce, and crunchy noodles. Then feel free to add absurd amounts of cheese, condiments, vegetables, and sauces to make your own beautiful little monster—nobody here will judge you for it. It’s strictly takeout, but there are a couple of picnic tables in an open courtyard in front of the shop if the munchies kick in right as they hand you your sandwich.
photo credit: Tasty Planet
Victoriano “Benito” Gonzalez (AKA El Rey) sold fritas in Cuba years before making “Cuban hamburgers” popular when he opened this cafeteria in Miami. And this place still makes our favorite version in the city. The patty is a blend of beef and pork served with onions and papitas on Cuban bread. The fritas aren’t huge and only about $4 each, so you can easily order so many that you can no longer see the table you’re sitting at. If you want something heartier, go with one of their souped-up fritas, which includes versions stuffed with maduros, queso frito, bacon, American cheese, and a fried egg. The Little Havana location is as unpretentious and efficient as a fast food joint, but it’s got way better food and the charm of a classic neighborhood diner.
Since 1980, B&M Market has been a go-to for some of the best West Indian food in Miami. But it’s easy to drive right by this place if you don’t know that, because it looks like just another market—until you walk to the back of the store and smell ackee and saltfish, oxtail stew, and jerk chicken wrapped in one of Miami’s best rotis. To place an order, just stick your head into the tiny kitchen and let the chef know what you want (or go online and place a takeout order in advance). While you wait for the food, check out the shop’s selection of Caribbean drinks, which includes an Irish Moss that tastes like a cinnamon milkshake and is a lifesaver if you accidentally go overboard with the very (very) spicy pepper sauce on the two dine-in tables they have. Oh, and don’t forget to say hi to the cat, an essential worker in any proper market.
Shorty’s may not serve Miami’s best barbecue, but there is something essentially Miami about going to a 70-year-old barbecue spot in a log cabin under the Metrorail tracks in Kendall. Shorty’s transports us to a time when most of Dade was farmland, and the friendly service and communal wooden tables make us feel like we just crashed a cookout. The food is solid enough to give us a reason to keep coming back here, too. The spare ribs are the best thing to get from the smoker—the meat falls off the bone and has a deep hickory flavor. Make sure to ask for their vinegar sauce to slather over everything. And save room for a big slice of homemade key lime pie, which is custardy, intensely sweet, and mildly tart. Shorty’s does offer all this food to go and has two newer locations in Miami and Davie, but we always feel a little guilty cheating on the original Dadeland location.
For decades, this North Miami Beach bakery has been one of Miami’s only sources for Cantonese baked goods, and people flock to the minimal bakery to order special occasion cakes and pastries for Chinese New Year, Mid-Autumn Festival, and other holidays. There are no tables inside the small space, just a display case full of pastries and baked goods we’d like to propose to. There are things like curry beef puffs, egg custard tarts, and some of the best barbecue pork buns in Miami. Plus, the mildly sweet swiss rolls made with delicate angel food cake and filled with whipped cream are great to bring to parties when the thought of having to eat another Publix cake makes you want to move to Nebraska.
Zak The Baker made Miami care more about bread than any bakery in town. And you can now encounter slices of his sourdough in nearly every cafe within Miami-Dade County. But we still love taking trips to this Wynwood bakery, even though the crowds can be intense, because it’s only at the bakery that you’ll find Zak’s best stuff: a rotating cast of croissants, danishes, cookies, cinnamon rolls, and traditional Jewish baked goods like boureka and a consistently perfect babka. That babka comes in big chunks, and it contains multitudes: dense and chewy and light and flaky in all the right places. And if you stop by on a Friday at noon when the challah comes out of the oven, take home a loaf. If you want to avoid waiting pero like literally forever, bro, place an order online.
Los Ranchos has been an institution since 1981, which was around the time Nicaraguans started settling in Miami. For years, it was the standard bearer of Nicaraguan food in this city and introduced local diners to dishes like gallo pinto and tres leches—originally a Nicaraguan dessert. The original location on 107th Avenue in Sweetwater (now sadly closed) was not only a place where the local Nicaraguan community could sample a taste of home, but also a community center where expats could discuss anything from their homeland’s politics to their new city. Los Ranchos currently has two locations—Hialeah and The Falls shopping center—and they’re both excellent places to cut into carne asada, queso frito, and vigorón in a setting a lot fancier than a fritanga.
Although Chef Creole is the first name that comes to mind when many Miamians think of Haitian food, the restaurant makes no claim to be exclusively Haitian. It’s more of a general Caribbean-American restaurant, and it’s one of the best places to take in a wide selection of the kinds of regional staples Miami does so well. The menu has Haitian classics like griot and ke bèf (oxtails), but it also features the best grilled conch in town. There are currently five Chef Creole locations in South Florida—including one inside the Miami airport—but our favorite is in Little Haiti, because there’s an outdoor tiki hut that’s great for sitting down and eating. Take your styrofoam container of food, grab a Prestige beer, find a table, and sway to the kompa music playing overhead while you munch on bannann peze.
El Atlacatl serves country glam, rancher-strikes-it-rich realness with rustic crystal chandeliers, royal blue accent walls, and brightly colored contemporary art in the hacienda-like space. This is Miami’s most iconic Salvadoran restaurant, and the place to get pupusas with impossibly thin crusts of crisp corn masa and rich fillings inside. The loroco and cheese, a meatless option, is stuffed with loroco flower buds that taste like mild asparagus. The chicharrón option features fried pork belly that gets braised in a tangy tomato-based sauce. There are several locations throughout the city, but the original in Little Havana is where you want to be for its beautiful digs and charming covered patio.
photo credit: Rami Sabban
Piman Bouk is right across the street from a Toussaint L’Ouverture memorial in Little Haiti, an ode to the man responsible for the first successful slave revolt in the Americas as well as the creation of the first free Black republic in the world, Haiti. The bakery has been the go-to spot to grab Haitian pate for decades, which are lard- and butter-enriched puff pastries with spicy, savory meat fillings. Piman Bouk keeps them warm and ready to eat all day along with dense, rich Creole bread, which is why they often have a line out the door. Other good things here include coconut bread and tablèt pistach, a crunchy Haitian peanut brittle spiked with fresh ginger. A couple things to know before you go: it’s a takeout spot and they’re also cash-only.
The yellow and red awnings of Palacio are like Miami’s version of the golden arches: a sign that we have arrived at something satisfyingly familiar, except here a happy meal comes with masitas de puerco and guarapo. What started out as a single juice and produce stand has evolved into the entire county’s favorite spot for quick, casual Latin food. Now, there are 10 locations throughout Dade and a menu that features everything from fresh coconut water and local tropical produce to boxes of arroz con pollo and brown paper bags of crunchy chicharrones. Almost all the locations offer a similar experience, but you may find some unique features at your friendly neighborhood Palacio: like locally-made Cuban sweets on the counter, or goosenecked avocados sourced from a neighbor’s backyard.
Believe it or not, there was a time when Peruvian food was hard to find in Miami and some locals gagged at the thought of eating “raw fish” in ceviche form. But since 1985, El Chalan has been giving Miamians a taste of classic dishes from Lima. You’re not going to find the Nikkei fusion and cheffy innovations of many of Miami’s newer Peruvian restaurants here. Instead, this is the place to enjoy old-school dishes like tallarines verdes con apanado, mondonguito a la italiana, and a traditional ceviche mixto. The Bird Road location across from Tropical Park is the OG establishment, but the South Beach location is also a classic in its own right and has the same menu.
If you are even in the slightest mood for Jamaican food, all roads in Miami lead to Clive’s. This Little Haiti spot makes our favorite versions of so many Jamaican dishes. Their jerk chicken is our favorite in town, but there are more phenomenal staples like curry goat, oxtail, ackee and saltfish, and conch served steamed, fried, or in a curry. Needless to say, ordering here can be a difficult thing. But whatever you get, portions are generous and the quality is consistent. Clive’s works for both takeout or dine-in, and we firmly consider a fork full of equal parts Clive’s mac and cheese, plantain, and jerk chicken to be the best bite one can have in Miami.
Not unlike iguanas or professional athletes enjoying their offseason, Miami is absolutely saturated with sceney steakhouses. It’s become quite a prolific genre of restaurant these days. But none of them do it better than the city’s original sceney steakhouse: Prime 112. And this South Beach spot is still one of Miami’s best places to dress up and spend too much money on steak and dangerously spillable martinis. Prime 112 is a reminder of how Miami used to do see-and-be-seen restaurants, back when reservations had to be made over the phone and celebrities ate in the same dining rooms as civilians. Luckily, this place still holds up—and not just because of the scene, but also thanks to a fantastic ribeye, multiple forms of delicious potatoes, and complimentary bar bacon.
Adelita’s is located right across from the McArthur Dairy Plant in Little Haiti, which is kind of perfect since our favorite dishes at the classic Honduran spot are smothered in sour cream and cheese. Adelita is a real person, she’s regularly in the kitchen, and she’ll occasionally step out to say hello while you’re enjoying one of her masterpieces. There are a bunch of great traditional options here, like enchiladas and cheese-filled baked sweet plantains, as well as Honduran-style spaghetti enriched with sour cream. However, the baleadas are where it’s at: fluffy flour tortillas, refried beans, mantequilla (AKA Honduran sour cream), and sharp crumbled cheese. Also make sure to get their very nuanced horchata made with rice, seeds, nuts, and spices.
For a city that gets so infernally hot, Miami has a severe lack of shaved ice. Fortunately, Raspados Loly’s in Sweetwater has been picking up the slack for several decades, although this family-owned shaved ice and ice cream shop got its start over 50 years ago in Nicaragua. There, the family’s matriarch experimented with her own creations, like burying buttery cubes of Nicaraguan pound cake and housemade dulce de leche between layers of crushed ice. Loly’s masterpieces also feature the family’s own homemade jams made with Central American fruit (we love the nance). The raspados are enormous, and the ice is crushed in such a way that it melts slowly—meaning you can take your time and enjoy it even on the hottest day of summer.