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 15 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.
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.
Fooq’s works on many different levels. This place is cozy and cute enough for a date with a stranger or the love of your life. Bring out-of-towners here so they can see a chunk of Miami that’s the antithesis of Ocean Drive. Come with friends before a night out, since it’s just a block away from the 24/7 club district. Or, just come for the food, which is consistently great. The menu here is mostly Persian, with some Italian and French dishes too. They do a wonderful jeweled rice, and the kebab platter works great for sharing. Finish things off with the Persian Sundae, which comes in a pink floral teacup and will make you feel fancier than you should while within earshot of E11even.
For a cup of coffee and a light breakfast or lunch, All Day is your best bet. The sunny shop serves some of the best coffee in Miami, with everything from a perfect pour-over to a cold brew rosemary limeade. The drinks alone would be enough reason to come here, but the food also happens to be excellent. The Runny & Everything sandwich is the city’s best bacon, egg, and cheese, the french toast comes with a pecan butter you’ll want to shoot like a tequila shot, and the katsu sando is a great quick lunch. Feel free to loiter too, because the WiFi is strong and plenty of people come here to work.
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.
NIU Kitchen isn’t only one of Downtown’s best restaurants, but it’s also one of our favorite spots in the entire city. Eating at this tiny Catalan restaurant feels like you snuck into a very exclusive dinner party, where the courses include cold tomato soup with mustard ice cream, rice with rabbit confit and escargot, and a dozen other things you can - thankfully - take your time with instead of devouring before someone discovers you gave a fake name to the doorman. NIU Kitchen feels like a special occasion spot, but it’s really a place you can come back to more than once a month. It works for dates, catching up with a friend, or any other occasion where you want to feel just a little cooler than normal while trying a few wines you’ve maybe never heard of.
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.
Arson is the sister restaurant to NIU Kitchen and is just a few doors down from its sibling. The dishes here are showier here and, as the name implies, many of them 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. There are more misses than at the unanimously excellent NIU Kitchen, but it’s a cool spot and you can still get a very good meal here with a side of pyrotechnics.
You can go to Jaguar Sun just to drink, but if you sit in their little dining room, it feels more like a restaurant than a bar. And once the very good food shows up alongside your excellent drinks, it’s clear this place takes both of those aspects seriously. Any order here should start with the Parker House rolls with honey butter, which are soft and sweet and will make you consider ordering five more and just telling people you’re carbo-loading for some imaginary race. After that, the menu is mostly pasta-focused and it’s all very delicious - especially the bucatini.
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.
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.
Your quick, healthy options in Downtown are very limited, which makes Manna all the more valuable. This casual spot can work for takeout or a quiet sitdown meal, and the food is all plant-based and vegan (with the exception of some smoothies that use honey). It’s relaxing in here, with plants and a couch and a general atmosphere that is the opposite of the grimy traffic that awaits you outside. They have smoothies, soups, bowls, and a selection of “arepas” that look more like little pizzas. The coconut meat ceviche arepa is our favorite thing to get here. The slightly sweet ceviche comes in a cup and you can spoon it onto the arepa (or directly into your mouth).
Miami certainly isn’t known as a barbecue town and our options show it. Sparky’s, however, is a rare exception and makes simple, tasty barbecue. This casual spot is really the only place in Downtown where you can order a beer and a plate of smoked or grilled meat. The St. Louis-style ribs are great and they also have some Miami-specific barbecue takes, like their version of a vaca frita called the “fried cow,” which subs in pulled brisket for pork and is very good in sandwich-form.
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.
Sometimes lunch hits and you just need a sandwich that requires a minimum of two hands to eat. If you happen to be strolling through Downtown on one of those days, head to Vinaigrette. The small shop is mostly grab-and-go, though there are some outdoor tables that are a pleasant place to tear into a sub on a nice day. The “Italian specialties” chunk of the menu is what you want to focus on, and the titular Vinaigrette Sub - with prosciutto, mortadella, soppressata, and a lot more - is our go-to order.
This little Greek spot sits in a random yet adorable alleyway that can fool you into thinking you’ve escaped one of Miami’s most chaotic neighborhoods. This place is cozy with some outdoor tables that, again, feel more like a European sidestreet than a place where you can watch at least one car get rear-ended every hour on the hour. You won’t need to worry about any of that here, though, if you take a seat at one of their little wooden tables and order a glass wine and some honey and sesame cheese puffs, which we could probably eat a pound of.