Metal detectors can very easily tell the difference between an old sock and a diamond ring so you don’t have to dig a hole and find out yourself. We wish something similar existed that could help us easily find the best restaurants in South Beach, because this neighborhood can be a minefield. Of course, most of us know to avoid Ocean Drive - or risk paying $75 for a margarita that is not suppose to be that color - but it’s still hard to figure out which places are only in business thanks to the occasional wandering tourist and which actually serve good food.
Consider this guide to be your restaurant metal detector in South Beach. It has 16 great spots - including one of Miami’s best pizzas, a few places that work great for dates, and an omakase inside the Versace Mansion. Now you can eat in South Beach worry-free.
Macchialina is energetic enough for a fun date or a catch-up meal with loud friends, and they debuted a great outdoor seating setup during the pandemic. It’s covered, too, in case you’re worried about random thunderstorms. But the atmosphere isn’t necessarily why you go to Macchialina - you come here for the pasta. It’s all made from scratch and only costs $10 every Thursday, which is so much cheaper than the best pasta in Miami has any business being.
Come to Taquiza for the best tacos in South Beach and because it’s both casual enough to eat after a beach day and nice enough to visit before a night out in clothes that don’t smell like sunscreen. The blue masa tortillas are made fresh daily and, besides being integral to the wonderful tacos, are also the star of Taquiza’s best dish: the chewy totopos that come with a side of guacamole and will probably be gone about 30 seconds after they hit the table. This place has margaritas on tap too, which you can use to distract your friends while you eat all the totopos.
Abba Telavivian Kitchen is an Israeli restaurant in South of Fifth that’s an excellent choice for a sit-down breakfast or lazy lunch. The breakfast menu is a little smaller, but you can still find a great shakshuka or Jerusalem bagel. The bigger lunch menu has more very good dishes, like crispy falafel and roasted local fish. But even if you got stuck on the causeway and missed the 4pm lunch cut off, don't turn around and go home. They have a small "sunset menu" from 4-7pm, which offers glasses of wine, beer, and various salads and spreads like roasted onion tahini - along with that fantastic roasted fish. And you can eat all that while enjoying the actual sunset on their shaded outdoor patio.
Why do places hiding in random office buildings tend to be so good? Maybe the search effort makes things taste better - but at Mister 01, it’s definitely just because this is one of the best pizza places in Miami. The pizzeria is in a signless office building that can be a bit hard to find, and it’s where you should eat on Lincoln Road, if you absolutely have to. Mister 01 does a very popular star-shaped pizza with a stuffed ricotta crust, but it’s worth it to branch out to some of the stranger ones, like the room-temperature Claudio pie, which is great and will make your entire fridge smell like white truffle if you bring one home.
If you’re in search of great Italian food - and a lot of it - then go to Casa Isola in Sunset Harbour. Dinner here is going to be good from the first dish, which should be the pane al prosciutto: a warm little circle of bread with cubes of prosciutto baked in and a parmesan honey butter for smearing. After that, move on to the rigatoni alla vodka or the veal chop parmigiana that arrives plated alongside the deep-fried bone it was once attached to. They have some outdoor seating and a dining room you’ve probably seen in another Italian restaurant somewhere, with fake vines wrapped around an indoor pergola. But you’ll be way too into the food to spend much time dwelling on the design.
This Argentinian restaurant is one of the best options in South Beach when you’re looking for something between take-out and take-out-a-loan, which is a small circle for this area. But Orilla is stylish enough to remind you that you are, in fact, in South Beach, and the outdoor seating along 5th Street is about as close as you want to get to eating on Ocean Drive. There are very tasty small plates like grilled pork sausage, jumbo prawns with grilled avocado, and arancini. You’ll be fine if you stick to those instead of the larger entrees, but the very good $18 wagyu cheeseburger is one of the best you’ll find in South Beach.
Impromptu trips to La Sandwicherie are as inevitable in Miami as traffic, terrifyingly hot summers, and spotting iguanas in your backyard. It’s hard not to cross paths with this little sidewalk sandwich cafe eventually. Maybe it’ll be for some 3am late-night food after some beers at Mac’s across the street, or 3pm after a long, hot beach day. But you will find yourself here at some point, and when you do, get the Napoli on a baguette, locate the squeeze bottle of vinaigrette, and shower her in sauce until you can’t see the sandwich anymore.
There are many different kinds of South Beach, but if you’re looking for the version that’s wearing a neon pink suit and driving a yellow Lamborghini down Ocean Drive, make a reservation at Sushi By Bou. The more you describe this place, the more ridiculous it sounds. It’s a six-seat omakase inside the Versace Mansion - like actually inside. The place still looks and feels like Gianni’s old cigar lounge, because it was. The 17-course sushi dinner (which is good, by the way) costs $125 per person. And if you’re interested in this very specific version of South Beach, the kind made out of velvet ropes and $100 bills, it’s worth trying once. And probably just once.
We normally tell folks to come to Sweet Liberty to drink, since it’s more on the “bar” end of the spectrum, but you can also come here to eat. Ideally, you’ll do both and have a very good time. Sweet Liberty’s food menu isn’t huge, but does include some great things like lobster hot pockets, one of Miami’s best fried chicken sandwiches, and a caviar onion dip with house-cut potato chips that are the optimal thickness. If you want more of a dinner atmosphere, come on the earlier side, before the late-night crowd (and excellent cocktails) have raised the volume of the place considerably.
La Leggenda is a pizzeria in a part of South Beach where your food options are severely limited. Luckily this place is not like the touristy spots you’ll find across the street on Española Way. It’s actually good, especially their Neapolitan pizzas. They don’t overcomplicate things here: the dough is tender, the cheese-to-sauce ratio is on point, and we never expected to have such a pleasant meal so close to a Señor Frog’s.
Las Olas is our favorite ventanita in South Beach. And like all good ventanitas, you can order Cuban coffee, croqeutas, and one of the best Cuban sandwiches in Miami here. There are some tables inside the small restaurant, but it’s also a solid to-go option, whether you’re hungover or on your way to the beach.
If you’re looking for a nice dinner spot in South of Fifth - maybe to celebrate a special occasion or just the fact that you made it across the MacArthur in less than five minutes - Stubborn Seed is the best place to go. It’s a small spot that feels like an old-school cocktail lounge that ran into a steel mill, with lots of dark wood and metal pipes lining the leather booths. The reason you come here, though, is for the excellent food, which changes up regularly, but always includes lots of fresh seafood. Skip some of the more decadent entrees like the foie gras dishes to save room for the snickerdoodles for dessert.
Remember when your school would get a new kid, and that new kid was cool and handsome and almost instantly more popular than you? Lucali is like that. This place rolled into town one day from New York with a reputation for making some of the best pizza in the world. Maybe you hated them a bit, but then you had a slice and realized you were wrong. Lucali blends all the great qualities of a thin-crust Neapolitan pie with a classic New York slice, and the result is amazing and having a better time at prom than you ever will.
Pubbelly is an essential South Beach spot and a great place to sit outside with some cocktails and small plates while you judge the neon paint jobs on passing Ferraris. Sushi takes up the bulk of the menu - just don’t forget to put in an order for the butter krab roll, which is really just an efficient delivery system for warm clarified butter.
Joe’s has been celebrating dads’ birthdays for over 100 years and tolerating their dad jokes about the $14-per-claw price tag all the while. It’s still that sort-of-fancy, old-school spot that can be really fun every once in a while. The place is packed during stone crab season (and you’ll wait at least an hour for a table) but you should also order the fried chicken and hashed brown potatoes. A few things to keep in mind about Joe’s: they close from August to mid-October, don’t take reservations, and have a more casual dining room next door (also closed during June and July) for takeout or a quick sit-down meal.
On the spectrum of $200-per-person omakase dinners and that place nearby that does surprisingly good rolls for under $10, you’ll find Blue Ribbon just about in the middle, tilted slightly towards the fancier side of the scale. They serve high-quality fish and the space fits in well with the art deco-style of the cute little hotel that it’s housed in. Come here to eat any roll with fatty tuna and great fried chicken while nodding your head to censored hip-hop songs.
Yardbird serves those big, heavy Southern dishes we know will put us out for the next six hours, but we happily eat anyway because they’re that good. Fried chicken is the main attraction here, and the best way to get it is in the chicken ‘n’ watermelon ‘n’ waffles, which (as you may have guessed) comes with waffles and an amazing chilled spicy watermelon. Brunch here is also a great way to get way too full on a lazy Sunday morning. Take a stroll down Lincoln Road to recover, where people will be too busy fighting their way through the Apple Store to judge your “I ate too many biscuits” face.