Miami vs. Seattle Food Scenes: The Magic City Falls Short

Seattle and Miami are the odd couple of American cities. The former is hilly, its Scandinavian influence as supersonic cool as its metallic-gray skies. Our town lies flat on its back, its Hispanic influence burning as white a heat as the sunshine above. There's a 16-foot statue of Vladimir Lenin in Seattle's Fremont neighborhood. We have a 16.9-foot sculpture of oranges at Government Center.

Residents of the Emerald City are for the most part civic-minded, politically conscientious, and literate enough to require quite a few enormous, nonchain bookstores. Folks in the Magic City are, um, less so.

Happy hour is a big deal there; even coffee shops and retail stores run specials during this time. The result: By midnight, that West Coast hamlet snores — just about the hour Miami wakes up.

Pike Place Market is an impressive showcase for the bounty of Seattle's fresh seafood.
Lee Klein
Pike Place Market is an impressive showcase for the bounty of Seattle's fresh seafood.

The two cities really are like Oscar and Felix. Thank God we don't have to live together. In fact, it's likely the reason we're separated by just about as many miles as possible — a diagonal line across the map from extreme south and east to extreme north and west. I recently spent a week in Washington's biggest city, which gave me the perfect chance to see how our budding culinary scenes stack up.

So how do these polar opposites rate as food destinations? In short: The edge goes to Seattle.

Miami's gastronomic environment has come so far that it's easy to ignore its deficiencies. But a week in Seattle illuminates just how glaring those weaknesses are. Take Pike Place Market.

Like Bayside Marketplace, Pike Place is located on the waterfront, close to the city's downtown area, and draws a daily deluge of tourists. Unlike Bayside, and unlike the other shoreline spots along Miami Beach, Coconut Grove, Key Biscayne, and elsewhere in Miami-Dade County, Pike Place is an impressive showcase for the bounty of Seattle's fresh seafood (and its other culinary products). The venue isn't all dolled-up, but retains its original gritty, fish-market ambiance — to the delight of tourists and to the convenience of locals, who can pick up fresh fish for dinner as well as a gorgeously arranged floral bouquet for a total of $10.

Most important, there are affordable, affable, everyday eateries in and around Pike Place. Strollers are privy to grab-and-go seafood snacks such as smoked-salmon-on-a-stick and cups of shrimp cocktail, ceviche, oyster chowder, and so forth. Across the street, folks line up for warm, homemade piroshky at Piroshky Piroshky, or for grilled cheese on artisan bread ($7) and mac 'n' cheese ($5.50) at Beecher's Handmade Cheese, where you can watch the curds get separated from the whey through a glass partition between factory and store.

Contrast that scene with restaurants at Miami's aforementioned waterfront locales (plus those along Ocean Drive): The overwhelming majority of them exist only to soak tourists to the bone. There is no place to get great homemade ethnic food for a few bucks. There are precious few places to eat affordably priced fish fleshed from the water (Garcia's Seafood Market & Grill being an exception). Our coastline is reserved for the privileged.

Even our stone crab is pricier than their Dungeness — but also sweeter. The latter crab, however, is more versatile, showing up in BLTs, eggs Benedict, omelets, ceviche, and so forth. Local seafood in Seattle is far more accessible to the public. The streets are bolstered by boisterous oyster bars — such as Taylor Shellfish, a retail oyster market where you can choose from a variety of species served in ice-filled trays, grab a stool at a high-top table, and slurp your shellfish with a baguette, white wine, craft beer, or whatever. No fuss, no pretense. Well, maybe a little pretense among the clientele — this is, after all, a big city.

Seattle has salmon, halibut, and plenty more, but it's not as though South Florida isn't swimming with grouper, yellowtail, and other great fish too. Thing is, a lot fewer tourists come here with a meal of grouper on their to-do list than visitors go to Seattle with salmon dinner in mind. It's a matter not only of marketing but also of markets.

Markets and bakeries are the nuts and bolts of a food community, and Miami still lags behind other cities on both counts. There are bakeries galore in Seattle, and absolutely fantastic bread is served at restaurants (usually with a $2 or $3 surcharge). The superiority of fish markets has already been implied; meats too,are of higher quality. Because of demand among South Americans, we have more steak houses, and probably better ones. But seemingly every marketplace in Seattle — and there are many — sells house-cured sausages and charcuterie, aged cuts of beef, and fresh farm-raised chicken and pork. Matt's in the Market makes its own headcheese. Revel, a hip and hot Pacific Rim-influenced restaurant, runs a "Summer Grill" menu in which whole animals are fabricated daily into various cuts for the dinner plate; the night we dined, a pig from Pure Country Farm in Washington was served as sausage, pork belly, smoked ham steak, etc.

Salumi, owned and operated by Mario Batali's family, produces its own charcuterie too (such as Tuscan finocchiona salami and a kick-ass sopressata). And they make sensational salumi sandwiches on fresh focaccia for around $10. A brisket sandwich at the Boar's Nest goes for $7. You can get a Cheez Whiz-smeared Philly cheesesteak at Tat's Deli. A grilled Reuben sandwich at the Market House (since 1948) features corned beef cured in-house and piled high on marbled rye with sauerkraut, Thousand Island dressing, and Swiss cheese, along with a fiery side of horseradish, potato salad, a pickle spear, and a chocolate chip cookie — for $8.95.

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Bayside sucks donkey nuts. They should (at least) have something similar to the New Orleans French Market where you can eat a variety of fresh seafood-oysters, etc.


Last few times I have been to Seattle I love to go to Pikes Market to eat at the small lunch counter inside. I always get the great fresh fish sandwich on homemade bread and made from scratch clam chower. The Market maybe "touristy" but it has the best selection of local fruits, veggies and home made local products. Wished we had somthing similar in Miami but after seeing Downtown Bayside or The Yellow Green Market in Hollywood there is no comparison both are primarliy international flea markets. I also wished Miami had donuts as yummy as Top Pots not sure if it's the way the store looks or smells but boy those are awesome. If you are planning to go in the summer I recommend going to the Squim Lavendar Festival most of the foods are made with lavendar and the smells are divine.


I spent a month in Seattle last summer and tried many restaurants. I agree with many of your points. The Vietnamese pho joints are great there, reasonably priced, large portions and very tasty. Very good dim sum in the International District. Chandler's Crabhouse on Lake Union had excellent food and a gorgeous waterfront view. Glo's on E. Olive had fabulous breakfasts, better than any in Miami. Great coffee scene with indies in most neighborhoods. By far the best coffee was at Fonte which is downtown. I have never tasted better.

I do disagree with some points. Nowhere to get good Jewish deli in Seattle. I love great bread and was not impressed at most places. IMHO Miami is just as good. Went twice to Sitka and Spruce. Very small portions and not memorable. Pike Place Market is great and we were very fortunate. It was Rainier cherry season at $2.99 a pound for the best cherries you will ever have.

I would give Seattle an edge but Miami is gaining fast. BTW we had one day of rain in July with temperatures in the 70's.

Rosey Grier
Rosey Grier

Temperatures in the 70's in July, huh?