There’s few things more satisfying than discovering a low-key, off-the-radar restaurant — the type of place that isn’t a household name yet, but has a loyal following among locals because of the great food and even better service.
While the pandemic has turned our lives upside down, it’s also given South Floridians the opportunity to rediscover what’s in our own backyard. Over the next few months, supporting the restaurant industry is vital for its survival. Now is a great time to find your neighborhood’s hidden gem and support a locally owned or family-run restaurant at the same time.
The guide below includes small, neighborhood restaurants scattered around Miami, from South Beach down to Kendall. Throw in some soul food in Overtown, Mexican cuisine in Wynwood, and traditional Indian food in Dadeland, and you’ll find something in nearly every neighborhood, in almost every flavor.
Blue Collar (MiMo)
Looking for “stick-to-your-ribs” American comfort food? Since opening in 2012, Blue Collar has gained a loyal following among locals looking for homestyle meals — think barbecue baby back ribs, braised pork, and brown stew chicken — with big portions. The ’70s-inspired dining space invokes nostalgia for throwback dishes such as chicken parmesan, one of the most popular menu items. The restaurant is also committed to social justice by donating $1 from every shrimp and grits meal to Black Lives Matter.
Dining at the restaurant: Blue Collar has both indoor and outdoor seating.
Takeout: The restaurant offers both takeout and delivery, but order early: popular items such as conch fritters, griot (roasted pork with gravy), and Italian artichokes sell out quickly.
Pisco y Nazca (Kendall)
Located south of Miami, Pisco y Nazca is a locally owned Peruvian restaurant named for two areas in Peru, Pisco and Nazca, that are both known for the production of grape brandy. The restaurant specializes in ceviche, offering nine different types. If you have trouble deciding, order the ceviche sampler that includes the traditional, passion fruit, and cremoso varieties — the latter is composed of a unique combination of shrimp, sweet potato, and a creamy leche de tigre, the citrusy marinade responsible for curing the fish.
Dining at the restaurant: The Kendall location can be found in The Palm at Town and Country shopping center, and the interior includes an open layout and bar seating with views of the kitchen. Outdoor dining is also available.
Takeout: To enjoy your meal at home, Pisco y Nazca offers takeout and delivery. The restaurant also provides catering for private events.
Ghee Indian Kitchen (Dadeland)
Acclaimed chef Niven Patel — Food & Wine magazine named him one of 2020’s best new chefs — created a menu at Ghee that’s inspired by his travels to the Cayman Islands, the Florida Keys, and parts of Europe. He employs a farm-to-table approach to food, seen through growing much of the produce served on the menu at his farm in nearby Homestead. That produce goes into dishes such as the restaurant’s spicy papaya salad and vegetarian dosas. Items on the menu can be ordered a la carte, or as a three-course family style meal for the entire table.
Dining at the restaurant: Ghee offers both indoor seating in the restaurant’s inviting dining room and outdoor seating on the restaurant’s patio.
Takeout: The restaurant offers both takeout and delivery, including large-format family meal boxes that can feed groups of up to ten people.
Via Emilia 9 (South Beach)
Located in the residential area of South Beach, Via Emilia 9 appears unassuming from the outside. But inside the restaurant diners will find a dining room that channels the spirit of the Emilia Romagna region of Italy. Whether sitting indoors or on the restaurant’s patio, eating at Via Emilia 9 feels like being invited over to a friend’s home. The menu includes daily-made fresh pasta daily to sample via dishes such as tortellini en brodo o alla panna (tortellini in broth and cream sauce).
Dining at the restaurant: The patio is framed by hanging light bulbs, while the wood-paneled dining room makes for a warm backdrop to enjoy a plate of prosciutto di Parma and cantaloupe alongside a glass of wine from the restaurant’s carefully chosen menu.
Takeout: Via Emilia 9 offers takeout and delivery. The restaurant also houses a market where diners can take home some of their favorite Italian ingredients.
Dukunoo Jamaican Kitchen (Wynwood)
Located in the colorful Wynwood neighborhood, this Caribbean restaurant serves up island classics such as jerk sliders, saltfish, and oxtail. The word “dukunoo” has West African roots that loosely translates to “sweet thing” or “sweet mouth,” and there’s lots on the dessert menu that will satisfy any sweet tooth, such as the boozy Jamaican rum cake.
Dining at the restaurant: Dukunoo is open for both indoor and outdoor seating, often accompanied by a live DJ. Walk-ins only.
Takeout: The restaurant offers a full menu for both takeout and delivery.
Meraki Greek Bistro (Downtown Miami)
This family-owned restaurant serves Greek dishes in an airy, white-washed setting that makes diners feel like they’ve been transported to Santorini. The restaurant serves staples such as tzatziki, kebabs, and gyros as well as house specialties such as youvetsi, a baked leg of lamb in herbed tomato sauce served over orzo.
Dining at the restaurant: Tastefully decorated in blues and whites, the restaurant spaces diners across a mix of long dining and four person tables. There’s also a private upstairs room, the Saloni lounge, for an even more intimate dining experience. For great people watching, ask for a seat on the restaurant’s outdoor patio.
Takeout: Meraki offers an extensive menu for both takeout and delivery, including the restaurant’s large selection of Greek wines.
Caffe Abbracci (Coral Gables)
Located away from the hustle and bustle of Miami in Coral Gables, Caffe Abbracci has been serving classic Italian food for more than three decades to locals alongside presidents, politicians, and professional athletes. Diners sit at white linen-clad tables set under stately chandeliers in the restaurant’s dining room, creating an opulent setting to enjoy dishes such as the squid ink-tinted black lobster ravioli and veal Milanese. The family-owned restaurant is so community-driven that 16 employees have been with the restaurant since its opening day in 1989.
Dining at the restaurant: Warm service in a buzzy dining room makes everyone feel like a regular.
Takeout: Caffe Abbracci offers the restaurant’s full menu for pickup or delivery.
Bella Cuba (Miami Beach)
South Floridians looking for a taste of Cuban dishes such as ham croquettes or oxtail stew know to go to Bella Cuba, an intimate, family-owned restaurant in the heart of South Beach. Featuring vibrant art on the walls and warm service, the recently renovated restaurant is a favorite among locals and visitors alike. Head there during happy hour, when from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m., all drinks are $5, with many rum-based cocktails and favorites such as homestyle tostones, empanadas, and Cuban egg rolls to snack on.
Dining at the restaurant: Bella Cuba has both indoor and outdoor seating.
Takeout: The restaurant offers delivery and pickup, featuring a large menu that includes meaty mains and a range of vegetarian options.
Pubbelly Sushi (Miami Beach)
With four locations in South Florida (Miami Beach, Aventura, Dadeland, and Brickell), you’re never too far from this restaurant’s top-notch sushi. The eclectic menu — created by Jose Mendin, a five-time James Beard Awards nominee — includes fish such as crispy salmon rolls and tuna pizza and cooked dishes like Japanese fried chicken and grilled meats on the robata.
Dining at the restaurant: Diners can choose from indoor and outdoor seating at the Miami Beach location. Stop by on the early side to take advantage of the special happy hour menu that’s offered from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m., or go on the weekend for creative brunch offerings such as the breakfast bao bun stuffed with eggs, bacon, chorizo, avocado-tomatillo salsa, and spicy mayo.
Takeout: Pubbelly offers both takeout and delivery options. For a sweet treat, consider ordering the miso bread pudding or the mochi ice cream from the dessert menu.
Phuc Yea (MiMo)
This cheekily named restaurant serves Cajun-inflected Vietnamese food inspired by owners Aniece Meinhold’s Vietnamese heritage and Cesar Zapata’s Gulf Coast culinary roots. Located on Biscayne Bay, the menu includes dishes such as Cajun fried rice packed with crab, shrimp, Andouille sausage, and Chinese sausage, alongside buttermilk- and lemongrass-marinated Vietnamese fried chicken.
Dining at the restaurant: Phuc Yea is serving inside the restaurant’s intimate, mural-filled dining room or outside on the patio. Pro-tip: if you’re looking to order pho, it’s only served during happy hour.
Takeout: The restaurant offers both takeout and delivery.
Bakan is a sprawling new 6,000-square-foot indoor/outdoor Mexican restaurant in Wynwood that uses the freshest ingredients on its Mexican menu. The open air set-up and frequent live music performances conjure up images of beachside restaurants in vacation destinations; fortunately, Floridians don’t have to leave home to enjoy fresh tortilla chips prepared on the grill and housemade salsas. Much of the seafood is also caught locally, including the fish used for the restaurant’s large selection of ceviche.
Dining at the restaurant: You can’t miss the cactus lined walkway leading to the expansive property, which is a great place to rest up with a cocktail after exploring Wynwood. Bakan is also open late, allowing locals to satisfy cravings for tacos and moles at any time of day.
Takeout: Bakan has a takeout option so diners can bring home the restaurant’s guacamole along with the rest of the menu.
Pinch Kitchen and Bar (Miami Upper Eastside)
Pinch Kitchen and Bar is a hip open kitchen restaurant that uses local ingredients and frequently changes its menu based on the seasons. The restaurant’s name comes from the common cooking phrase “a pinch of this — a pinch of that,” a philosophy that’s mirrored by the influence of various cultures on the menu. During the week, diners can sample dishes such as Tibetan momo dumplings or “K-Town” guacamole seasoned with housemade kimchi and Korean spices. On the weekends, the guava French toast and bottomless mimosas draw in locals to hang out all afternoon.
Dining at the restaurant: Pinch is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner, and has both indoor seating options and a covered patio. To complement the eclectic menu offerings, the restaurant also has a large menu of craft beers and cocktails.
Takeout: The restaurant offers takeout and delivery, and don’t forget to ask about the weekly specials.
Semilla (Miami Beach)
Opened in 2013, Semilla is a French-American bistro that uses Florida-grown fruit and vegetables to anchor many dishes on the menu. The menu mixes American comfort food and French staples, including organic roasted chicken, beef bourguignon, and a small menu of pastas and risottos. The restaurant also hosts cooking classes that include a two-hour lesson, a sit-down meal, and cocktail or wine pairings.
Dining at the restaurant: Diners can enjoy meals inside the modern space or sit al fresco at sidewalk tables in front of the restaurant. Happy hour runs from 5 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. with specials that include oysters, wagyu beef sliders, and truffle pasta.
Takeout: Semilla is available for delivery and pickup, and recently added a seven-course takeout brunch option that includes dishes such as avocado toast with smoked salmon and organic fried chicken with waffles, watermelon, and honey.
Lil Greenhouse Grill (Overtown)
Overtown is home to several soul food restaurants, including relative newcomer Lil Greenhouse Grill. What started as a food truck has grown into a full-service restaurant located in one of Miami’s oldest neighborhoods. Fire and smoke flavor many of the menu items, including slow-smoked barbecue wings, grilled shrimp, and a seafood cake burger.
Dining at the restaurant: Lil Greenhouse Grill gives diners the choice of indoor or outdoor seating. Beyond dining, the restaurant also strives to be part of the community, often hosting live music and open poetry nights. Walk-ins only.
Takeout: Both takeout and delivery are available — make like the locals and pick up an order of “dream fire” shrimp in a sweet and spicy sauce, or barbecue rib tips for a hearty lunch.
Mariette Williams is a South Florida-based travel and culture writer who has been featured in Travel + Leisure, Essence, VICE, and lots more. Follow her on Twitter @mariettewrites.