Old Miami and new Miami rarely coexist in the same space. And when it comes to picking a restaurant, you usually have to choose between the two worlds: Joe’s Stone Crab or Alter, Versailles or Cafe La Trova, and other places that are either 100 years old or were built five minutes ago. But Stephen’s Deli in Hialeah might be the only restaurant in Miami that’s somehow both old and new - and eating here feels nostalgic and exciting at the same time.
Stephen’s doesn’t look a whole lot different than it did when it first opened in 1954. A customer from that era would recognize the deli’s wood paneling, vinyl stools, and stained-glass sign that says “Welcome to Stephen’s.” But if you threw that same customer in a time machine and sent them to Stephen’s now, they would probably be more than a little confused by the hybrid deli sandwiches with things like pulled pork, egg creams with optional shots of whiskey, and the flat-screen TV above the counter playing a constant stream of Seinfeld.
The people behind Kush and Lokal took over the diner in June 2019, and while they added a lot of new aspects to the place, they thankfully left the right things alone. The expanded menu has all-day breakfast, burgers, and about a dozen new sandwiches named after sitcom characters, but you can still expect great, simple versions of classics like matzoh ball soup, latkes, and whitefish. The corned beef and pastrami sandwiches are especially outstanding - super tender and served in big portions without being so obnoxiously overstuffed that they fall apart the second you breathe on them.
But people who couldn’t care less about New York delis or nostalgia in sandwich form are still going to find some great things to eat here, like pastrami croquetas that are usually sold out by lunch. And - now that Stephen’s is in the Kush family - you can come here and order the same fantastic burgers you’d find at Kush and Lokal without having to go east of I-95.
The one part of Stephen’s that does feel lightyears apart from 1954 is the cocktail bar in the back. Down the hallway, past a pair of chancletas encased behind glass like a fire extinguisher and a random portrait of DJ Laz, is La Cocina. The bar is to Hialeah what Medieval Times is to the actual Middle Ages: every square inch of space is designed to immerse its guests in the neighborhood. They serve very good cocktails with names like “Ya Tu Sabes” and “Papi Chulo” underneath a big Cuban flag and what looks to be an actual sign from Hialeah’s own local department store.
It’s the kind of place where you’ll have two more drinks than you’d planned and it’s reason enough to come here - even if you’re not particularly craving pastrami, or a spiked egg cream, or any of the other things on the menu you probably won’t find anywhere else in the city. Stephen’s is just completely unique compared to most other restaurants in Miami, whether they’ve been around for five minutes or 100 years.
Do yourself a favor and ask for extra napkins in advance. Once you start tearing into this sandwich of hot pastrami, swiss cheese, coleslaw, and Russian dressing, you’ll be too distracted to flag down a server for help.
If Stephen’s is a music festival, this is the headliner. Don’t be that person who went to the bathroom and missed their set. Order this if it’s your first, seventh, or 12th time here.
We’re glad this Cuban-Jewish hybrid exists, but it’s never going to be our first or second choice here. It’s a tasty sandwich, but the pulled pork and corned beef kind of cancel each other out and it’s hard to tell what you’re tasting.
These excellent, crispy latkes come with a side of sour cream and applesauce so good we were tempted to ask for an extra bowl of it.
This fist-sized lump of white fish comes with crackers, a lemon wedge, and a little bowl of diced jalapenos - and it should absolutely be on the table if you’re trying to get a few appetizers.
Fans of simple, classic matzoh ball soup are going to be very happy with this version. The broth and matzoh ball are both so good that you might be too distracted to notice the tasty noodles floating around the bottom of the bowl.