Miamians spend a lot of time in their cars, and they really love food, so it's surprising the city doesn't have more drive-thru windows. Beyond the usual fast-food chains, though, there are some lesser-known drive-thrus.
They serve beverages, sweets, hot food, soul food, snacks, groceries, and full meals. You can find a window to meet any of your cravings. Read our list below, and we'll see you at the next window.
If you have never been to one of Esther's three locations, they do "real food to go fast," specializing in a mix of Cuban and soul food. And if you go to the location on NW 103rd Street just off I-95, you can experience the glory of Esther's from the comfort of your car. If someone dares to ask, "What she order, fish fillet?" just roll your eyes, because at Esther's, you can have the fried catfish, okra-and-tomato stew, and congri. In the morning, you can have fluffy pancakes and eggs. Later in the day, go for the ribs and some of the most delicious mac 'n' cheese.
9. Dairy Queen
Miamians know hurricanes; we don't do snowstorms. But the Dairy Queen in the Bird Ludlam Shopping Center (4040 Ludlam Rd., Miami; 305-665-1387) will show you the magic of Blizzards, and you'll probably have a good time with the owner. This location has been there for 28 years. If you want to step out of the comfort of your car, step inside to look at the ice-cream cakes, and you can see how involved the owners are with the community. Grab an Oreo or brownie-batter Blizzard for the road or, if you want to be healthier, get an Orange Julius drink and slurp up Americana.
This fast-food restaurant is known for its fried fish, but it also has sides that are not to be missed, like savory hush puppies, fried okra, mac 'n' cheese, pigeon peas and rice, and fresh conch salad. Each dinner is served with fries and a piece of white bread hiding underneath to soak up all the greasy deliciousness. If you and the family want something beyond seafood, try the fried chicken gizzards.
Before tackling the Turnpike, Palmetto, or I-95, you might need a caffeine fix. Thankfully, near the interchange is one of the coolest Starbucks — it's all drive-thru (199 NE 167th St.). This cool space is only 614 square feet, with no room for customers to plug in and hang out. It is strictly a drive-thru and window walk-up. You can see the same pastry case with croissants and cake pops and the baristas in green aprons frothing and pumping your beverage, but you can't get too close. The benefit is that you also get to order your embarrassingly complicated drink with some privacy, like a confessional. The whole world doesn't have to know you need an extra-hot Venti Skinny Vanilla Latte with three Splendas and one pump of chocolate.
6. 3 Chefs and a Chicken
If you're looking for big portions of healthful food from the confines of your car, head to 3 Chefs and a Chicken (8195 Bird Rd., Miami; 305-267-3011). It's like Chicken Kitchen but better. Yeah, those are fighting words, but taste it and see. The Sweet Potato Stacker — grilled chicken, sour cream, guacamole, real bacon bits, and cheese piled into baked sweet potatoes — is too sweet to be missed. Get there early, because this drive-thru line flows into the street.
5. El Atlakat
Salvadoran food at a drive-thru is unexpected, but it's welcomed with open hands and mouths. The pupusa is one of Central America's most glorious foods, and El Atlakat makes it correctly. Bonus: This spot is open till midnight. Try the Super Antojitos Atlakat, a Salvadoran sampler with a bit of everything for $12.99. Also order the classic pupusa with cheese and loroco.
Sergio's has been a staple since 1975, but fast-forward 30 years, and now you can get the same food you've always loved at a drive-thru. This modern marvel earned Sergio's a "Best of Miami" 2015 award for Best Drive-Thru. So next time you're craving vaca frita or lechón asado, you don't have to sit down or take it to go, because there's a new option in town: Sergio's ventanita.
3. Krispy Kreme
Located near the cool, modular drive-thru Starbucks on NE 167th Street is a drive-thru Krispy Kreme, otherwise known as Heaven. Get your dozen hot glazed doughnuts here and you will be transported to another level. One of the beauties of drive-thrus is that no one cares what you're wearing. Pull up in your pajamas — no one will think twice, and you can have breakfast in your PJs.
2. Farm Stores
You must visit Farm Stores, the drive-thru convenience store with the cow on the sign, affectionately known to Spanish-speaking Miamians as "La Vaquita." In addition to staples such as milk and eggs, you can also find loaves of warm French bread, refreshing pistachio ice cream, and even flan or tres leches if you're in the right neighborhood. If you've been going nuts with Instacart coupon codes, go old school and see how much faster grocery delivery is when you stay in your car and listen to your favorite song on the radio. Forget hectic supermarket parking lots and long checkout lines — milk the cow of convenience.
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Other cities can keep their burger-and-fries drive-thrus. We will have our Islas Canarias any day with fritas and the most delicious croquetas anywhere. In case you missed it, these are the best croquetas in Miami. And the fact that you can order them at a drive-thru is mind-blowing. Islas Canarias offers the best of all worlds: the greatest food, the fried glory you crave in the car, a rich history, and a Miami story. Just try to save some croquetas for when you arrive at your destination instead of inhaling them all while driving.
Follow Carina on Twitter, @CarinaOst