For a while, eating out in Miami meant one of two scenarios: picking at bland, overpriced salads while overlooking the beach from an Ocean Drive hotel’s patio, or leaving the tourists and nightclubs behind for Cuban sandwiches at charming hole-in-the-walls.
The desire for dishes like ropa vieja hasn’t waned, but the city’s culinary scene has taken an inspired, imaginative turn, with funky spots popping up in arty neighborhoods like Wynwood, the Design District, and MiMo—all proving that South Beach isn’t the only reason to pay Miami a visit.
Even so, when the chefs aren’t manning their own stoves, they know that heading to Little Havana will reward them with the soulful, low-key meals they crave, or that fried chicken served out of a Little Haiti take-out window always hits the spot.
We asked a baker’s dozen of Miami chefs where they like to kick back off the clock. From empanadas to conch roti, here are the best under-the-radar eats in the city.
Chef/partner at Pubbelly, Pubbelly Sushi, PB Station, and Pawn Broker
Favorite under-the-radar spot: La Latina (3509 NE 2nd Ave; 305-571-9655, lalatinamiami.com)
Mendín says: “It offers comfort food in a very casual environment. They are great at what they do, which is Venezuelan arepas. I love the reina pepiada arepa (chicken salad and avocado) and the cachapas, which are sweet-corn pancakes with cheese.” (Photo: Yelp/Vanessa G.)
Chef/owner at Alter
Kilgore says: “In a city where you can get empanadas at every gas station, this one small café in South Beach sells out every day. Get the chicken empanada and a Cuban cafecito. There are three sauces, too: green, red, and redder.” (Photo: Yelp/Ling H.)
Chef/owner at gastroPod
Bullfrog says: “This is my new go-to for fried chicken in Little Haiti. We pick it up for family meal all the time. It is just a window on the street, but this place is slamming. It’s cheap, consistently very good, and convenient. The chicken legs, diri kolé (beans and rice), and pikliz (spicy slaw) are where it’s at. F*ck that fancy fried chicken.” (Photo: Yelp/Katrina W.)
Chef/owner at Sakaya Kitchen and Centro Taco
Hales says: “I first went to Konata’s because it’s a vegan place, and I try to eat vegan as much as possible. The owner is a great guy and cooks one meal a day. It’s all made fresh and you never really know what it will be. It’s a real homey experience to walk in and ask what is cooking, plus the food is fantastic. I always start with a Jamaican patty while I am waiting. The lunch usually contains seasoned rice, bean stew, curry vegetables, fried bananas, avocado, and some raw vegetables.” (Photos: Burgerbeast.com, Yelp/Laura L.)
Executive chef at Yardbird Southern Table & Bar
Favorite under-the-radar spot: Proof Pizza & Pasta (3328 N Miami Ave; 786-536-9562, proofpizza.com)
Dworsky says: “It’s super casual and focuses on nothing more than good food—no crazy decorations, just fresh ingredients and a great product that keeps me going back again and again. They change their menu frequently, but you really can’t go wrong with any of their pizzas. I always order the black garlic and duck confit.” (Photo: Yelp/Jorge M.)
Chef/owner at Cena by Michy, Crumb on Parchment, and Seagrape
Bernstein says: “It’s a small, busy place for awesome Cuban food. You have to have a Cuban sandwich, pan con bistec, or my personal favorite lunch of all, chicken on the plancha flattened out with caramelized onions, rice and beans, and maduros.” (Photos: Facebook, Yelp/Stephen W.)
Executive chef and partner at SUGARCANE Raw Bar Grill
Favorite under-the-radar spot: La Camaronera (1952 W Flagler St; 305-642-3322, garciabrothersseafood.com)
Balloo says: “It’s small, unpretentious, and flavorful. You have to get the side of yellow rice, which comes with huge pieces of locally caught fish.” (Photo: Yelp/Jorge M.)
Executive chef/owner at Blue Collar
Serfer says: “I always get the duck, conch, and shrimp combo roti—out of habit, but also because I think it is the most delicious thing offered. LC always greets me really warmly, and often brings me to the back to try some stuff she saves for herself.” (Photo: Yelp/Nicole C.)
Executive chef at La Mar by Gaston Acurio
Oka says: “As a Peruvian, I crave Asian food at least once a week. Cake has a relaxed ambiance, is family-owned, and, of course, serves great, authentic food. I like this place because it is small—just eight tables—and you have to go with a friend so you can share a lot. I eat anything they want to send, but musts for me are the spicy crispy pork belly and the papaya salad.” (Photos: Michael Pissari, Yelp/Sean M.)
Owner at Zak the Baker
Stern says: “I get whatever the daily special is, but I love the rabo encendido (the oxtail stew).” (Photo: Yelp/Romi C.)
Chef/owner at Federal Food, Drink & Provisions
Zapata says: “It’s small and divey, but the food is ridiculous. The lady who cooks in there prepares 200 Vietnamese dishes, and it’s really special because we have no legit Vietnamese food in Miami. We get bánh xèo and bún bò huế, plus a papaya salad. The first two items are specialties from the Hué area—crispy sizzling crepes with roast pork and shrimp eaten in lettuce bundles and herbs, along with a spicy pork knuckle soup; so good.” (Photos: Felipe Cuevas, Yelp/Savanna M.)
Executive Chef at the Forge Restaurant
Lee says: “It’s great because they serve awesome food while you do your laundry. Order the steak sandwich (it has crispy potatoes on it) and a banana smoothie. It’s heaven while you wait for the spin cycle to finish.” (Photos: The Forge, Yelp/Amanda T.)
Chef/founder at Zuma
Becker says: “This is a great Mexican spot in Little Havana, which serves authentic, home-cooked food. Every item tastes like it was made with love and passion. It’s casual, so it’s a great way to wind down. If I have any room left after the carne asada tacos or enchiladas suizas for something sweet (almost always impossible), I always visit the bakery in the back, as the smell is just mesmerizing.” (Photo: Yelp/Michelle C.)