11 quintessential Miami dishes you must try

The fried chicken at Yardbird Table & Bar in South Beach can be ordered as a whole bird, alongside waffles and chilled spiced watermelon. | Credit: Yardbird Table & Bar

Miami is best known for its pristine beaches, Art Deco architecture, and buzzing nightlife. But the Magic City has much more on the menu: It’s also home to an array of multicultural cuisines, courtesy of the many communities—Cuban, Haitian, and Venezuelan, just to name a few—that call it home.

The greatest hits across Miami’s restaurant scene feature plenty of hand-held classics that can be eaten on-the-go. A family-owned Argentinian mainstay with outposts across the city serves pillow-like empanadas; a Venezuelan arepa spot in Edgewater features more than 20 varieties, including the fan favorite, shredded beef with gouda cheese. But heartier comfort foods also reign supreme in this tropical city. Dig into a plate of Jamaican jerk chicken at a lush garden brewery in Wynwood. Or opt for weekend dim sum service, complete with Hong Kong-style push carts, at a Chinese stalwart on the city’s outskirts.

Read on for a list of 11 must-try dishes and where to try them for a taste of essential Miami.

Empanadas at Graziano’s

A Miami trip isn’t complete until you’ve had an empanada. The fried (or sometimes baked) half moon-shaped hand pie, which traces its origins to Spain, is crammed with various savory fillings. Graziano’s bakery counter has some of the best you’ll find. At this family-owned Argentinian spot with multiple beloved locations across the city, the empanadas are baked and pillowy and stuffed with classic fillings including beef, ham and cheese, spinach, and shredded chicken. For those looking for something a little different, there are avant-garde options, such as plum, bacon, and mozzarella, plus a breakfast-friendly bacon, egg, and cheese version. 

Fried chicken at Yardbird Table & Bar

Chicken and waffles at Yardbird Table & Bar. | Credit: Yardbird Table & Bar

Yardbird Table & Bar is tucked off the main drag in the heart of South Beach. As its name suggests, the award-winning spot turns out exceptionally good fried chicken, served whole, half, or alongside waffles. That last dish, one of the restaurant’s most famous creations, consists of a Vermont sharp cheddar cheese waffle topped with Yardbird’s renowned fried chicken, honey hot sauce, and bourbon maple syrup, served with a side of chilled, spiced watermelon. Pro tip: if you’re unable to make it to the restaurant, pop into Spring Chicken, the brand’s fast-casual outpost at Miami International Airport, for a to-go version. 

Cheeseburger at Blue Collar

Blue Collar’s burger is easily the most talked about in Miami. The dry-aged patty, sandwiched between Portuguese muffins (sweeter, cornmeal-free versions of their English counterparts, equipped to soak in all the juice) is practically perfect. It’s made with prime NY strip steak and brisket, cooked to order; options are “blue,” rare, or well done. Toppings include melted American cheese, lettuce, tomato, and onion. Blue Collar was considered one of the first standalone restaurants in the then up-and-coming MiMo neighborhood when it opened in 2012. It continues to draw crowds for its diner-inspired menu, which also includes a braised meat of the day and a daily parm special.

Vaca Frita at Havana Vieja

Cuban food is Miami food. And vaca frita (Spanish for “fried cow”) is one of Cuba’s most popular culinary ambassadors. The hearty entree is made with braised, shredded, and griddled flank steak that’stopped with sliced onions and a citrusy mojo marinade. At Havana Vieja, a South Beach spot known for its leafy terrace and vibrant orange walls, the dish is served with a side of white rice and black beans, making it the ultimate comfort meal. 

Jamaican jerk chicken at Cerveceria La Tropical

Chef Cindy Hutson’s Jamaican jerk chicken is served with a tamarind barbecue sauce. | Credit: Cerveceria La Tropical

Cindy Hutson, one of the city’s most well-known chefs, serves a knockout Jamaican jerk chicken at this Wynwood oasis (the Miami edition of one of Cuba’s oldest breweries). Hutson’s version, served with a sweet and tangy tamarind jerk barbecue sauce, is inspired by recipes from her late mother-in-law, renowned Jamaican chef Norma Shirley. It’s accompanied by a Caribbean slaw, a crunchy blend of jicama, peppers, shredded carrots, cabbage, and a fruity mint vinaigrette. Feast on it in Cerveceria’s sprawling, 10,000-square-foot garden, teeming with orchids and exotic plants. 

Ceviche at OLA Restaurant

Ceviche, a marinated raw fish dish that originated in ancient Incan times, is still a faithful appetizer in pockets of Latin America and the Caribbean. At OLA, a modern Latin American restaurant in South Beach, the menu features three different ceviches, including a lobster-forward take accompanied by an heirloom tomato-hot sauce sorbet. But the ceviche mixto, a Peruvian-inspired take on the tasty shapeshifter, is the most popular. Corvina, shrimp, and octopus are tossed in ginger coconut juice, brightened with lemon-flavored pepper, cilantro, and heirloom olives, then drizzled with a yellow pepper sauce. The result is a flavor explosion and the ideal opening act to a tasty meal at this swish waterfront spot. 

Cubano at Sanguich De Miami

If Miami had an official dish, it might just be the Cubano. Legend has it that the sandwich, a riff on a ham-and-cheese, originated in the 1890s at cafes catering to Cuban cigar workers in Tampa and Key West; Cuban expats eventually brought the dish to Miami. At Sanguich De Miami, owners Daniel Figueredo and Rosa Romero set out to recreate the sandwiches they’d scarfed down as children, layering their version with ham, lechon, Swiss cheese, mustard, and pickles on freshly pressed Cuban bread. All the ingredients on the handheld classic, including the mustard and pickles, are made from scratch. 

Key lime pie at Stiltsville Fish Bar

Stiltsville’s version of the iconic Floridian dessert features tropical accents. | Credit: Grove Bay Hospitality Group

The official pie of Florida is a must-try when in the state’s largest city (though there’s been some controversy over the dessert’s actual origins). In true Miami style, Stiltsville, a laid-back, maritime-inspired spot, embellishes the classic key lime pie recipe with tropical accents. The restaurant’s decadent version features a coconut graham cracker crust, whipped cream, toasted coconut, and, yes, lots of tart Key limes. 

 

Dim Sum at Tropical Chinese

Weekend dim sum service at this Cantonese institution has drawn crowds since 1984. Despite its modest strip mall address, Tropical Chinese serves up a legendary spread. Grab plates from Hong Kong-style pushcarts (aka a buffet on wheels), piled high with plates such as pork buns, shrimp rolls, roasted duck, and egg custard tarts—there are a whopping 50 dishes to choose from. On weekdays, an a la carte menu offers a lineup of nearly a dozen kinds of dumplings including pork and shrimp, scallop, ginger pork, and more.

Croquetas at Isla Canarias

Isla Canarias’s croquetas are available as ham or chicken versions. | Credit: Isla Canarias

Croquetas, fried and breadcrumbed béchamel rolls, are a dime a dozen in Miami. But nearly everyone in the city agrees that the best place to get them is Isla Canarias. Family-owned and operated since 1977, this West Kendall Cuban spot is a haven for croqueta lovers. Isla Canarias goes through so many croquetas a day that it has a factory in nearby Hialeah dedicated to making them; come Valentine’s Day, the restaurant even sells them in heart-shaped boxes. Available in ham or chicken versions, there’s no wrong option when it comes to these delicious, golden finger foods.

Arepas at La Latina

Miami’s sizable Venezulean community means access to top-notch arepas, or traditional corn cakes that can be sliced and stuffed with meats and cheeses. At La Latina in Edgewater, the arepa menu features almost 20 different varieties. Each is filled to the brim, elevating this simple snack to meal status. Some of the most popular fillings are shredded beef with gouda cheese and shredded chicken with plantains and avocado. Pair your treat with a dipping sauce (cilantro or garlic); both dips are creamy and delicious, adding an extra hit of flavor to an already heavenly arepa.

Amber Love Bond is a Miami-based food + beverage writer who can typically be found somewhere delicious with her laptop in tow and a cocktail in hand. See what she’s sipping and follow her adventures on Instagram.