Ten Best Miami Restaurants to Bite the Dust
Chef Allen Susser works the line at his now-shuttered restaurant.
Photo by Jacob Katel
It's difficult to believe, but the holidays are almost upon us.
This is the time of year to get nostalgic about some of the restaurants we've loved and lost. Some of them had been around since we were kids, some came and went like a flash of lightning, but all captured our hearts. One thing is certain: Each of these restaurants served a combination of good food, great ambiance, and everlasting memories.
See also: A Look Back at Tobacco Road (Video)
10. Pacific Time
When Jonathan Eismann opened Pacific Time on Lincoln Road, the pedestrian mall, once a marvel of MiMo design and consumerism, had fallen on hard times. But the talented chef changed all of that with both his exquisite pan-Asian cuisine and his ability to see the potential in South Beach. For 14 years, Pacific Time was one of the finest places to dine in Miami Beach, and Eismann saw Lincoln Road thrive around the restaurant. He moved Pacific Time to another up-and-coming neighborhood: Miami's Design District. He then opened Fin, Q, and Pizza Volante, only to close all of them in rapid succession.
Photo by Michael McElroy
9. Blue Door
Blue Door at the Delano was one of the first restaurants to put Miami Beach on the culinary map. Both the hotel and the restaurant were to become the turning point for South Beach, long thought of as a past-its-prime place for the elderly to retire to. Chef Geoffrey Zakarian was tapped to open Blue Door in 1995, and the combination of a gorgeous refurbishment and a world-class restaurant immediately sent the message that South Beach was, once again, a vibrant place to vacation and possibly live. In 2010, after many chef changes, Blue Door reopened as Blue Door Fish. A year later, it closed permanently.
In June 2003, husband-and-wife team Frank Randazzo and Andrea Curto-Randazzo opened Talula, serving what the duo called "creative American food." The dishes were well executed, the atmosphere homey, and the prices reasonable. Though that description seems like it could apply to any solid restaurant found in Anytown, U.S.A., so many South Beach restaurants lack that strong foundation. When Talula closed in 2010, we missed the terrace, the dry-aged rib eye, and, most of all, that feeling we were in the humble dining room of a couple of friends who happened to love cooking and each other.
7. Tobacco Road
Like a scraggly old tabby cat, Tobacco Road has had many lives. For a century, Miami's oldest bar was a speakeasy, a bakery, a brothel, a gay bar, a gangster hideout, and a place to get good smoked meat and a beer while listening to live music. But 100 years of wear and the business of progress was too much for the ol' gal, and she closed October 25. Although a new location was announced for the Road, along with a tribute bar on a cruise ship, unless our feet stick to the floor while we're enjoying a cold one, it's just not the same.
Photo by Jacob Katel
6. Chef Allen's
Allen Susser is a Miami culinary treasure. As part of Florida's Mango Gang, Susser helped bring national attention to the local culinary scene. Chef Allen's opened in 1986, and the chef won many accolades, including the 1994 James Beard Award for Best Chef. More than anything else, Susser was, and still is, generous with his knowledge. Some of Miami's best chefs spent time in his kitchens, including Timon Balloo, Danny Serfer, and Jamie DeRosa. When Susser announced the closing of Chef Allen's after 25 years in 2011, he urged fans of his cooking to rejoice, saying, "Don't be distressed. Just think of the 25 years of celebration." While the chef's mark is still strong in the community, we do miss his swordfish.
In a culinary arena where chefs and restaurateurs throw around phrases like "New World cuisine" and "locally sourced," chef Norman Van Aken was the first to actually fuse the flavors of Latin America, the Caribbean, Africa, and Asia into American sensibilities. Van Aken did fusion cuisine before there was fusion cuisine. When the chef opened Norman's in 1995, it was lauded by both critics and fans of a good meal. Norman's was nominated as a finalist for the James Beard Foundation's Best Restaurant in America, and the chef himself is the only Floridian to be on Beard's "Who's Who in American Food and Beverage." Van Aken closed Norman's in 2007, citing "greater opportunities... in hotels." Maybe he's right, because his Norman's at the Ritz-Carlton in Orlando is a great success. Van Aken went on to open Norman's 180 in Coral Gables and then headed up Miami Culinary Institute's Tuyo, but they didn't have the magic of Norman's. Van Aken is set to open a culinary school in the MiMo District in the coming months. Let's hope the magic returns to Miami.
Miss that 3 a.m. mac 'n' cheese.
This New York transplant had what seemed to be the ultimate business model for a successful Miami Beach restaurant. Serve high-end and trendy versions of diner comfort food like mac 'n' cheese and green eggs 'n' ham along with lots of cocktails and stay open 24 hours a day. In the wee hours of the morning, break out the DJs and disco balls to keep the party going till dawn, when the pancakes and bloody marys come out. Opening in late 2003, Cafeteria was an instant success, with people waiting upward of two hours for weekend brunch. Even in the early-morning hours, the restaurant was always lively, with people hangry from their postclubbing experiences hankering for a well-made burger at 4 a.m. But one morning in June 2007, both patrons and employees were greeted with locked doors and a sign that read, "Cafeteria out of business." It was the day the party died. The NYC branch, located in Chelsea and featured on Sex and the City, is alive and well.
Van Dyke via Facebook
3. Van Dyke Café
Miami Beach's Lincoln Road has seen many changes in the past two decades, but one thing had been a constant: the crowds that flocked to Van Dyke Café to sip wine and people-watch. Since 1994, this ivy-covered spot was the anchor of Lincoln Road life for both locals and tourists alike. The restaurant teemed with life as people, dogs, and children enjoyed the breeze and the views. Upstairs at the Van Dyke was one of the few places to enjoy live music nightly. There were rumors of owner Graspa Group closing the restaurant due to high rents, and in January 2014 the restaurant was finally shuttered. The most unkind cut of all: The café, once a hub of community, is being turned into the high-priced yoga shop Lululemon, its beautiful façade torn up so it can look more like a homogenized mall.
2. Joe Allen
Joe Allen was the venerable port in a tropical storm for New Yorkers who found themselves a little too burned by the sun and glitz of South Beach. The dark, friendly bar welcomed businesspeople, couples, and groups. Whether you wanted to toss back an old-fashioned or have a helping of chicken roasted in a matzo-meal crust, longtime restaurant partner/manager/host/table-runner/everything-in-between Mario Rubeo welcomed you with a smile as if you were long-lost mishpucha. Rubeo was the heartbeat of this restaurant, as was the solid wine list, drinks, and consistent food. That's what made this outpost of his NYC Theater District mainstay work so well. In a transient city like Miami Beach, Joe Allen was a second home for more than a decade.
1. Wolfie Cohen's Rascal House
Your grandparents probably have fonder memories of Rascal House than you do. There's good reason for that. The restaurant, which opened in 1954, brought classic Jewish deli food to Miami Beach, back when it was a winter haven for New Yorkers who yearned for a tan. Its signature dish, an overstacked corned beef on rye, was in great demand among celebrities like Jackie Gleason, who frequented the deli with the neon sign as large as its brisket plates. Rascal House was a celebrity in its own right, making guest appearances on Miami Vice and in the Bee Gees' "Night Fever" video. In 2005, Hurricane Wilma damaged the restaurant's façade and iconic sign, and by 2008, the restaurant closed, taking a large chunk of Miami Beach pop culture with it.
Photo by Ciara Osorio
Considered the complete opposite of a night on the town, the little seafood shack on Virginia Key was, well, a shack. Technically, it's a stretch to even call it a restaurant. Or a bar. Or anything other than a fire hazard with a great vibe. Established in 1954 by shrimper Jimbo Luznar, the place was basically an old dock, some rundown remnants of what might have been structures, and a damn fine place to get smoked fish and beer. Even though the city shut down power to the place in 2009, Jimbo's remained open by the grace of some duct tape, generators, and the willpower of Jimbo, then a salty 85-year-old. In 2013, Jimbo's finally closed with these words: "The time has come for me to retire from operating Jimbo's, as I am no longer able to be on the site on a day-to-day basis. I would like to give the site back to the City of Miami to become a city park for public use."
Note: Michy's was not included on this list because we still have faith that chef Michelle Bernstein will reopen her MiMo restaurant.
Get the Food & Drink Newsletter
Our weekly guide to Miami dining includes food news and reviews, as well as dining events and interviews with chefs and restaurant owners.