Where To Escape Art Basel
If you want absolutely nothing to do with Art Basel and its traffic, try one of these spots.
Every December, tens of thousands of people rush to Miami for Art Basel, driven by the prospect of free champagne and the proximity to various celebrities. Maybe you’re one of them. Or maybe you hate the traffic and kind of want to punch the whole concept of Art Basel in its face. That’s fair. That’s also what this guide is for. It’s full of places that are hanging out just past the fence of Art Basel mayhem, like Wilson from Home Improvement. These spots steer clear of the ridiculous Basel neighborhoods like Wynwood, South Beach, Mid-Beach, and Downtown—and we can just about guarantee you won’t have to watch a live mural painting in the dining room or have your reservation bumped for Pharrell's party of 16.
Awash Ethiopian Restaurant
Awash Ethiopian, Miami-Dade’s only Ethiopian restaurant, is in Miami Gardens, a city well north of all the Basel stuff. The relaxing little restaurant is a great place to hide from traffic and influencers while tearing off chunks of spongy injera and scooping up piles of beautifully seasoned vegetables and meat. The best things to get here are the Taste of Awash platter or the vegetarian combo. An Ethiopian coffee to finish things off is a good call, especially if you have to fight through 45 minutes worth of traffic on the way home.
If you just want a beer, a fried chicken sandwich, and to be left the hell alone, go to Off Site. The Little River beer bar is not only a great casual drinking option that never really gets too crowded, but this place is so much more delicious than it has the right to be. They have a small menu with recognizable things like a burger, Cuban sandwich, hot dog, wings, and that glorious fried chicken sandwich. It seems like normal bar food, but each dish is outrageously good and among the best versions of these very popular foods you’ll find anywhere in Miami.
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Vinya Wine & Market
Art Basel crowds can make you want to flee to an island. And Key Biscayne is technically an island. Even though getting to this casual wine bar might put you face-to-face with some hideous traffic, at least once you end up at Vinya, you're guaranteed two things: free parking, wine, and great food. The dishes here are much better than your average wine bar charcuterie. There are small plates, salads (including a gorgeous niçoise), and bigger entrees, like lobster thermidor sitting in a delicious gruyère sauce you get to mop up with slices of toasted brioche. And they have a phenomenal liquor store inside, so you can buy enough booze to ensure you don't have to leave the house until everyone's gone back to New York.
El Carajo Tapas and Wine
Sage from Brooklyn—who’s in town to perform his newest piece entitled Unplugged, in which he screams at a pile of AirPods for 17-hours to protest toxic consumerism—is not going anywhere near a Coconut Grove gas station. Which is good, because that’s where the tapas restaurant El Carajo is located. They serve things like bacon-wrapped dates, Spanish omelettes, and a great pulpo al ajillo alongside a huge wine selection. Pick out your own bottle for retail price (plus a $10 corkage fee), which is the same price Sage is asking people to donate to his GoFundMe for his “streaming cleanse” in Tulum.
Maxwell Bros. Clothing Store
The Art Basel crowd probably couldn’t point out Palmetto Bay on a map, even if that map was just a map of Palmetto Bay. So it’s a safe bet that they won’t follow you to Maxwell Bros, a fun beer bar and pizza shop in Palmetto Bay. Come here to (spoiler alert) drink beer and eat very good pizza. They also have an ice cream shop right next door, and we truly can’t think of a better antidote to Art Basel than an unpretentious night of beer, pizza, and ice cream.
Kush by Stephens
You won’t stumble into a Paris Hilton DJ set in Hialeah. But you will find this classic Jewish deli that’s been revamped by the Kush team. Here, you can relax while sipping a whiskey egg cream and eating an excellent deli sandwich. The Rachel, which is like a Reuben with pastrami instead of corned beef, is our favorite thing to eat here. After you polish that off, check out the little cocktail bar in the back.
Korean Kitchen is a great casual Korean spot in North Miami with a little covered outdoor deck that’s perfect for lazily drinking a bottle of soju while making fun of the kind of people who think NFTs are the future. But you should still come here if you’re not in a soju mood, because this place makes some of Miami’s best Korean food, like a huge seafood pancake, bibimbap, Korean corndogs, and fish cakes in a spicy broth.
Mi Rinconcito Mexicano
The crowds in Little Havana will probably swell during Art Basel, but Mi Rinconcito Mexicano won’t look much different than it does any other time of year. The dining room will be mostly full of people who know that this is one of the best places for a no-nonsense Mexican meal in town. Get a horchata, pork gorditas, and appreciate all the piñatas hanging from the ceiling, which is the kind of art we can get behind.
Panya Thai is our favorite Thai restaurant in town, thanks to a consistently excellent menu that includes familiar dishes like pad thai along with hard-to-find (in Miami, at least) Thai dishes like boat noodle soup, yen ta fo, and a great steamed pumpkin custard for dessert. The restaurant itself is refreshingly quiet and calm. Everything here tastes incredible too, and is so much more fun than spending 45 minutes looking at paintings that make your bank account feel bad about itself.
The closest thing to a mural at Steve’s is the random graffiti left by scribbling locals. The next-closest thing to a mural at Steve’s is pizza, which isn’t even close to a mural, which is exactly our point. This North Miami spot is a simple restaurant where locals come to sit down and eat good NY-style pizza, so come here to do the same if you need a break from conversations about the importance of establishing oneself as a “thought leader” on social media.
The Upper Eastside’s Pinch kind of looks like a house from the street, and it feels that way when you step inside, too. It’s quiet in here, with no blaring music or servers sprinting through the dining room. No one seems to be in a rush or a bad mood, and that could be because it’s very hard to be upset when you’re eating the food here—which includes very good things like croquetas, gambas al ajillo, and a fantastic burger.
Wabi Sabi Miami
Wabi Sabi is a great Japanese restaurant, and is also generally quiet enough to read a book or bring a sleeping baby you’re not trying to wake up. They serve sushi in a few different forms. Their bowls are excellent and filling, with a base of sushi rice, cha-soba noodles, or greens. They offer maki as well as a la carte nigiri, sashimi, and very good hand rolls. Their location just off 79th Street causeway should keep you far from central’s Miami’s very bad traffic, which will have both babies and adults crying within five minutes.
This is the only spot on the guide that falls well within the Art Basel bubble. We’re including it just in case—willingly or accidentally—you find yourself in or around the Design District during Basel. There will probably be a rugby scrum of people trying to get a table at Mandolin, so what you should do is walk two blocks north to Lemoni, where you will get solid Mediterranean food while everyone at Mandolin is bludgeoning each other with $7,000 absurdist sculptures they just bought at an art fair.
Tropical Chinese Restaurant
Tropical Chinese is a classic spot in Miami for dim sum, which they serve Monday-Saturday from 11:30-3:30pm, and Sunday from 10:30-3:30pm—while most of the Art Basel crowd is probably fighting off a hangover via one of those companies that come to your apartment with an IV drip. The Bird Road restaurant is far enough southwest of Basel that you could stay here for hours eating dumplings, shrimp rice rolls, and their incredible baked roast pork buns without seeing a single influencer.