Every December, tens of thousands of people rush to Miami for Art Basel, driven by the prospect of free champagne and the proximity to various celebrities. It’s one big week of corporate-sponsored murals, people in wide-brimmed hats trying to lie their way past bouncers, and some of the worst traffic we’ll see all year. Plenty of people want to stay far away from all of it. And even if you’re ready and eager to participate, you will need a break eventually.
That’s what this guide is for. It’s full of places that are hanging out just past the fence of Art Basel mayhem, like Wilson from Home Improvement. These spots steer clear of the ridiculous Basel neighborhoods like Wynwood, South Beach, Mid-Beach, Downtown, and Brickell - and we can just about guarantee you won’t have to watch a live mural painting in the dining room or have your reservation bumped for Adam Levine’s party of 12.
Amelia’s is one of our favorite Cuban spots in town - especially when we’ve grown a little tired of typical Cuban dishes. Amelia’s serves up food that blends Korean, Chinese, Peruvian, and more cuisines with Cuban ingredients. You won’t find chicharron-battered mozzarella sticks, mojo pork bao, and oxtail nachos anywhere else in town - and we’re pretty sure no Manhattan gallerist is going to sacrifice precious networking time to take an Uber out to Tamiami.
Sage from Brooklyn - who’s in town to perform his newest piece entitled Unplugged, in which he screams at a pile of AirPods for 17-hours to protest toxic consumerism - is not going anywhere near a Coconut Grove gas station. Which is good, because that’s where the tapas restaurant El Carajo is located. They serve things like bacon-wrapped dates, Spanish omelettes, and a great pulpo al ajillo alongside a huge wine selection. Pick out your own bottle for retail price (plus a $10 corkage fee), which is the same price Sage is asking people to donate to his GoFundMe for his “streaming cleanse” in Tulum.
You won’t stumble into a Paris Hilton DJ set in Hialeah. But you will find Stephen’s, a classic Jewish deli that’s been revamped by the Kush team. Here, you can relax while sipping a whiskey egg cream and eating an excellent deli sandwich. The Rachel, which is like a Reuben with pastrami instead of corned beef, is our favorite thing to eat here. After you polish that off, check out the Cuban cocktail bar in the back.
If you are more interested in sitting in a booth with perfectly cooked conch, shrimp, and grouper than a VIP section with two-thirds of the cast of Vanderpump Rules, Captain Jim’s is a good choice. This neighborhood seafood spot serves local catches (and more seafood) blackened, grilled, or fried. It’s in North Miami, so it should be safely out of the Basel zone - but this place is so good you should plan on coming back when the dust clears.
The crowds in Little Havana will probably swell during Art Basel, but Mi Rinconcito Mexicano won’t look much different than it does any other time of year. The dining room will be mostly full of people who know that this is one of the best places for a no-nonsense Mexican meal in town. Get a horchata, pork gorditas, and know that the piñatas hanging from the ceiling are about as artsy as it’s going to get.
The closest thing to a mural at Steve’s is the random graffiti left by scribbling locals. The next-closest thing to a mural at Steve’s is pizza, which isn’t even close to a mural, which is exactly our point. This North Miami spot is a simple restaurant where locals come to sit down and eat very good NY-style pizza, so come here to do the same if you need a break from conversations about the importance of establishing oneself as a “thought leader” on social media.
The Upper Eastside’s Pinch kind of looks like a house from the street, and it feels that way when you step inside, too. It’s quiet in here, with no blaring music or overworked servers sprinting through the dining room. No one seems to be in a rush or a bad mood, and that could be because it’s very hard to be upset when you’re eating the food here - which includes very good things like croquetas, gambas al ajillo, and incredible steaks.
Wabi Sabi is one of the best Japanese restaurants in the city, and is generally quiet enough to read a book or bring a sleeping baby you’re not trying to wake up. They specialize in bowls you can customize with bases of sushi rice, cha-soba noodles, or greens, and top with things like salmon, tuna, avocado, and more. Their location just off 79th Street causeway should keep you far from central’s Miami’s very bad traffic, which will have both babies and adults crying within five minutes.
The Art Basel crowd is probably going to stay away from barbecue for fear of getting sauce on their $800 Balenciaga T-shirt. And the Art Basel crowd is probably going to stay away from Little Havana’s Miami Smokers, because it’s not particularly close to any sort of artisanal soap shop. And this means you get to eat bacon-wrapped plantains, fantastic smoked chicken wings, and bacon cookies in peace.
This is the only spot on the guide that falls well within the Art Basel bubble. We’re including it just in case - willingly or accidentally - you find yourself in or around the Design District during Basel. There will probably be a rugby scrum of people trying to get a table at Mandolin, so what you should do is walk two blocks north to Lemoni, where you will get solid Mediterranean food while everyone at Mandolin is bludgeoning each other with $7,000 absurdist sculptures they just bought at an art fair.
Tropical Chinese is our favorite spot in Miami for dim sum, which they serve Monday-Saturday from 11:30-3:30pm, and Sunday from 10:30-3:30pm, while most of the Art Basel crowd is probably fighting off a hangover via one of those companies that come to your apartment with an IV drip. The Bird Road restaurant is far enough southwest of Basel that you could stay here for hours eating dumplings, shrimp rice rolls, and their incredible baked roast pork buns without seeing a single influencer.
Miami Beach is basically one big no-no during Basel, but the further north you go, the calmer it gets. And by the time you hit Josh’s Deli in Surfside, you’re in the clear. Come here for breakfast, brunch, or lunch since they close at 3pm. But you can expect one of the best pastrami sandwiches in town, some cocktails good for day drinking, and a simple everything bagel with lox.
This North Miami spot is in a strip mall next to a TGI Fridays, which is the least Art Basel sentence we can think of. But the food is really good, and the restaurant is comfortable and quiet. Oishi has a big menu, and even though it’s got “Thai” in its name, sushi - and really anything with raw fish - is what you want to eat here. Start with the white fish truffle, served in little spoons of lychee, yuzu, truffle oil, and white fish that you get to slurp like an oyster. Then take your pick of any of the hand rolls, which pretty much all taste as good as they sound.