Metal detectors can very easily tell the difference between an old sock and a diamond ring so you don’t have to dig a hole and find out yourself. If a piece of technology existed that could do the same with great and terrible restaurants, we would use it in South Beach because it can be a minefield. Of course, most of us know to avoid Ocean Drive - or risk paying $75 for a margarita that is not suppose to be that color - but it’s still hard to figure out which places in the area are only in business thanks to the occasional wandering tourist and which actually serve good food.
Consider this guide to be your restaurant metal detector in South Beach. We did a lot of digging and came face-to-face with terrifying sushi and dining rooms that look like the aftermath of a college dayglow party, but we also found 16 great spots - including some with incredible pasta, a few that work great for dates, and the only place to actually have a good meal on Ocean Drive. Now you can eat in South Beach worry-free.
Macchialina is energetic enough for a fun date or a catch-up meal with loud friends, and the dining room has low ceilings and brick walls that’ll trick your brain into thinking you’re eating in a cool basement rather than a traffic-prone stretch of Alton Road. But the atmosphere and dining room aren’t why you go to Macchialina - you come here for the pasta. It’s all made from scratch and only costs $10 every Thursday, which is so much cheaper than some of Miami’s best pasta has any business being.
Come to Taquiza for the best tacos in South Beach and because it’s both casual enough to hit up straight from the beach and nice enough to visit before a night out in clothes that don’t smell like sunscreen. The blue masa tortillas are made fresh daily and, besides being integral to the wonderful tacos, are also the star of Taquiza’s best dish: the chewy totopos that come with a side of guacamole and will probably be gone about 30 seconds after they hit the table. This place has margaritas on tap too, which you can use to distract your friends while you eat all the totopos.
Upland’s round green booths are a great choice for big groups with that one person who responds to every suggestion in the group text with a thumbs-down emoji. Even they will happily take a slice of one of the pizzas, which lands right in that sweet spot between thin and thick crust. There are more unconventional things on the menu too - like the carrots covered in a crunchy sunflower/coriander crust that are probably the coolest way we’ve ever seen anyone treat a carrot. The dining room is huge, the service is great, and it’s so much more reliable than any suggestion that’s going to come from your dreaded cousin Rachael, who once tried to order her mozzarella sticks “medium rare.”
Impromptu trips to La Sandwicherie are as inevitable in Miami as traffic, terrifyingly hot summers, and spotting iguanas in your backyard. It’s hard not to cross paths with this little sidewalk sandwich cafe eventually. Maybe it’ll be at 3am after some beers at Mac’s across the street, or 3pm after a long, hot beach day. But you will find yourself here at some point, and when you do, get the Napoli on a baguette, locate the squeeze bottle of vinaigrette, and shower her in sauce until you can’t see the sandwich anymore.
If you’re looking for a nice dinner spot in South of Fifth - maybe to celebrate a special occasion or just the fact that you made it across the MacArthur in less than five minutes - Stubborn Seed is the best place to go. It’s a small spot that feels like an old-school cocktail lounge that ran into a steel mill, with lots of dark wood and metal pipes lining the leather booths. The reason you come here, though, is for the excellent food, which changes up regularly, but always includes lots of fresh seafood. Skip some of the more decadent entrees like the foie gras dishes to save room for the snickerdoodles for dessert.
Pubbelly is an essential South Beach spot and a great place to sit outside with some cocktails and small plates while you judge the neon paint jobs on passing Ferraris. Sushi takes up the bulk of the menu - just don’t forget to put in an order for the butter krab roll, which is really just an efficient delivery system for warm clarified butter.
We love a good, salty seafood shack where the server has a wooden leg and mumbles something about buried treasure while passing you oysters. But it’s nice to have options, and if you want to eat seafood in a slightly more upscale environment, try Stiltsville Fish Bar. You can still dig into some simple and delicious things like sweet corn spoon bread, smoked fish dip, and grouper, but here you can do it while wearing pants and you won’t have to worry about a seagull snatching any of it off your fork. Stay vigilant if you sit outside, though. You never know with seagulls.
The Alley does a very solid pizza that has a soft, bubbly crust, tasty whipped ricotta that is very easy to finish, and pasta you will not regret ordering. But the food is not what makes this place slightly remarkable. The stylish little restaurant attached to The Betsy Hotel happens to be right on Ocean Drive, where you will find pretty much nothing but the absolute worst restaurants in Miami. The Alley is not one of them, and is thus a true lifesaver if you happen to be hungry in this area and would rather not spend $65 on medium-rare chicken tenders and a Long Island Iced Tea that could unclog your sink.
Joe’s has been celebrating dads’ birthdays for over 100 years and tolerating their dad jokes about the $14-per-claw price tag all the while. It’s still that sort-of-fancy, old-school spot that can be really fun every once in a while. The place is packed during stone crab season, but it’s still also worth coming here the rest of the time to dig into the great fried chicken and hashed brown potatoes. A few things to keep in mind about Joe’s: they close from August to mid-October, don’t take reservations, and have a more casual dining room next door (also closed during June and July) for takeout or a quick sit-down meal.
Remember when your school would get a new kid, and that new kid was cool and handsome and almost instantly more popular than you? Lucali is like that. This place rolled into town one day from New York with a reputation for making some of the best pizza in the world. Maybe you hated them a bit, but then you had a slice and realized you were wrong. Lucali blends all the great qualities of a thin-crust Neapolitan pie with a classic New York slice, and the result is delicious and having a better time at prom than you ever will.
On the spectrum of $200-per-person omakase dinners and that place nearby that does surprisingly good rolls for under $10, you’ll find Blue Ribbon just about in the middle, tilted slightly towards the fancier side of the scale. They serve high-quality fish and the space fits in well with the art deco-style of the cute little hotel that it’s housed in. Come here to eat any roll with fatty tuna and great fried chicken while nodding your head to censored hip-hop songs.
Why is it that places hiding in random office buildings or faraway strip malls tend to be so good? Maybe the search effort just makes things taste better - but at Mister 01, it’s definitely just the fact that the pizza is awesome. This place is just off Lincoln Road, so it’s not necessarily hidden, but it is in a signless office building where an employee waiting outside has to let you in. Mister 01 does a very popular star-shaped pizza with a stuffed ricotta crust, but it’s worth it to branch out to some of the stranger ones, like the room-temperature Claudio pie, which is great and will make your entire fridge smell like white truffle if you bring one home.
Yardbird serves those big, heavy Southern dishes we know will put us out for the next six hours, but we happily eat anyway because they’re that good. Fried chicken is the main attraction here, and the best way to get it is in the chicken ‘n’ watermelon ‘n’ waffles, which (as you may have guessed) comes with waffles and an amazing chilled spicy watermelon. Brunch here is also a great way to get way too full on a lazy Sunday morning. Take a stroll down Lincoln Road to recover, where people will be too busy fighting their way through the Apple Store to judge your “I ate too many biscuits” face.
This huge, pink food hall right off Lincoln Road looks a bit overwhelming from the sidewalk, but there are a few good reasons to go inside and eat. Some great restaurants have outposts here, like Kush, Coyo Taco, Azucar, Wabi Sabi, Stephen’s Deli, and Ariete. None of the vendors here are quite as good as their original locations - and you’ll have to eat the food at long communal benches that always make us feel like we’re at summer camp - but we’d do far, far worse things for a Kush burger.
Most Miamians probably know at all times approximately how far away they are from a Palacio de los Jugos. Perhaps we should have the same wherewithal when it comes to, say, hospitals - but this is a city that values its Cuban food as much as its emergency rooms. The only Palacio in Miami Beach is right in South Beach. Here you’ll find the same pork-heavy, cafeteria-style selection of Cuban food like lechon and ropa vieja, as well as lots of juice that tastes especially good on an obnoxiously hot summer day.
There is no mistaking you’re in South Beach when you go to Planta. There are small trees in the dining room and a clean, bright design that’s equal parts day spa and plastic surgeon’s office. This place screams health, but make it fashion, and all the food here is plant-based - which is great if you’re vegan, but also shouldn’t matter too much if you’re not. Their burgers, sushi, and queso are all very good, regardless of ingredients.