Down by the River

Historical Miami, you might say, is a thing of the past. Sure, there are still rickety pockets of the original city to be found, but it's not easy. Most old structures lay holed up in neighborhoods like bandits with high bounties on their heads. One of the best ways to get a taste of the way things were is by heading to the Miami River, as few areas have retained more of their old-timey flavor. And there's no better stretch of water to sit by than the one that flows past Joe's and Garcia's, two downtown fish market/restaurants where you can leave the skyscrapers behind and indulge in some mighty tasty seafood.

Both eateries have existed side by side since Garcia's opened as a restaurant on NW North River Drive eight years ago. Grab a table on the back terrace of either spot and watch as crews unload cargo from boats arriving from Bolivia, Colombia, Peru -- no, you probably won't get to witness a drug bust, but if you've recently had a bicycle stolen, you might be given the opportunity to wave goodbye to it as it heads toward Haiti with hundreds of others piled high on the stern. Altogether it's a colorful, third world-type scene with murky water, worn warehouses, and docks in disarray, but as old Miami disappears a little each day, these sore sights can be sights for sore eyes.

Perhaps the flavor of the area isn't quite your cup of chowder, but the flavor of fresh fish is reason enough to visit. The question then becomes, Which restaurant to choose? Let the meal times be your guide: Garcia's is open only until 6:30 p.m.; Joe's serves in the daytime as well, but their extensive menu, full liquor bar, and later hours make it more suitable for dinner.


Joe's Seafood Restaurant

So it's Garcia's before the sun goes down -- their grilled dolphin, snapper, or grouper sandwich one of the best lunch treats in town. Folded into a soft bun, the sparkling fresh fillet comes with a cup of creamy coleslaw and choice of white or yellow rice, French fries, plantains, parslied potatoes, or salad. Larger portions of the same fish come fried or grilled in simple fashion without the bun, as do shrimp, conch steak, swordfish, kingfish, lobster, and whole yellowtail. Complimentary fish spread and crackers precede the main course, but don't let that discourage you from ordering one of a dozen appetizers (fried shrimp, conch fritters, stone crabs, oysters on the half shell). The more you eat, the longer you get to dwell amid the cool nautical setting.

Service at Garcia's is smooth, a few of the friendly and experienced waiters having come over from East Coast Fisheries, the now-shuttered landmark seafood restaurant up the block. Equally smooth: an ice-cold beer to go with your lunch.

Joe's starts you off with fish spread and crackers as well, theirs a little fishier than Garcia's. While the lunch selection is limited to ten main items, the dinner menu encompasses a multiplicity of fish and shellfish prepared in all manner of style: grilled, broiled, or fried; in garlic sauce, green sauce, or wine sauce; a la diabla, Thermidor, or paella. Prices are fair enough, most dinners ranging from $13.95 to $22.95; only shrimp or lobster stuffed with Alaskan king crab and Canadian scallops, and a surf and turf of filet mignon and lobster tail, cost more than $25. Entrées come with green salad or grouper soup, and yellow rice or fries. Desserts include key lime pie, cheesecake, tres leches, and flan. Garcia's offers a similar selection.

These are ideal places to take those out-of-town visitors who wish to get beyond South Beach and Bayside; both are also apt sites for a woosome twosome, as there's something romantic about dining by a river (even a murky one). In any event don't put your visit off too long. While today the question is Joe's or Garcia's, tomorrow's options may be Houlihan's or Hooters.


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