With its calm, flat water, Miami Beach is not generally known for its surf scene. In fact, more than half the time, there’s generally no swell at all on which to ride a board. But that hasn’t stopped Pretty Swell, the new restaurant at the Life House, South of Fifth hotel from naming itself after the nearby pier and seawall that do give rise to waves that are, at least some of the time, more than a foot and a half high.
But as much as the indoor-outdoor café draws inspiration from and honors the local beach community, it also takes cues from surfing regions all around the globe. These beach cultures all share some elements in common: Laid-back vibes. Healthy eats. And most of all, a desire for ocean conservation.
To that end, Pretty Swell engages in a number of sustainable practices. Accredited by the City of Miami Beach as a plastic-free property, it strives for zero waste as well. Expect to order, receive food, and pay via QR-based menus not just as a pandemic stopgap, but always.
Enjoy cocktails made with an ingenious, shelf-stable citrus super juice, created under the direction of Daniel Levine, head of corporate food and beverage for Life House, that uses all parts of the fruit, eliminating the majority of waste. Snack on chef John Iatrellis’s daily tiradito, poke, and/or ceviche ($10 apiece), a variety of street tacos ($4 each), and other fish dishes that don’t yet but soon will utilize invasive species such as lionfish.
In general, the drinks and the fare — from natural wines to grain-free, flax-bound cookies — nod to tropically set, surfing-based, health-obsessed cultures. In the mornings, Australian-inspired coffee drinks offer Big Little Lies feels. If it's still too early to stomach that just yet, you can cure your hangover with a "Detox Elixir" made with iced ginger tea, turmeric, lime juice, and orange juice ($8).
Breakfast on items such as the matcha bowl with coconut yogurt, mixed berries, house granola ($12); or a variety of toasts topped with everything from avocado mash ($13) and soyrizo (plant-based chorizo) to caramelized banana, sunflower butter, and fig jam ($11). Those spending their days on or in the water can power up on main courses that include poached eggs with avocado, kale slaw, sun-dried tomato hummus, sesame crunch, and green goddess dressing ($15); and "Sunrise Tacos" made with avocado, scrambled eggs, sweet potato, and pico de gallo ($15).
The all-day menu, while not extensive, does a great job catering to all diets, with items that range from vegan to gluten-free to dairy-free to flexitarian. Start with six East Coast oysters on the half-shell ($10) or smoked wahoo dip ($10). Salads made with items like crunchy jicama and cucumber ($10), sweet potato fries served with vegan dip ($10), and shrimp and waffles with pineapple salsa and jerk-honey butter ($10) are all great to share, as are a variety of toasts — avocado, ricotta, and crab (all $10).
Indeed, portions are large enough to feed two and then some, with lots of tajin and togarashi seasoning on the blander items like jicama, avocado, and sweet potato to stir and then satisfy palates. Everything is served tapas-style, with items coming out of the kitchen when they’re ready.
Overall, Pretty Swell is pretty chill. A front terrace is dominated by banquettes and low café tables, greenery, and fringed umbrellas. You can also dine in the indoor area, filled with wicker chairs and couches, as well as a long bar matched by a communal table, all under lazily turning fans. If you want to escape the modern nomad/remote worker vibe of the Millennial crowd, step onto the narrow back patio lined with bistro tables á deux, where the fence is planted with multihued bougainvillea and has a dinner-date vibe.
Regardles of whether you’re part of the SoFi — or global — surf community, you'll find a place to land at Pretty Swell.
Pretty Swell at Life House, South of Fifth Hotel. 321 Collins Ave., Miami Beach; 866-466-7534; lifehousehotels.com. 7 to 11 a.m. daily for breakfast; 1 to 11 p.m. daily for lunch and dinner.