Restaurant Reviews

Upper Buena Vista Is a New Restaurant Mecca

Chicken paillard with quinoa salad at Vista, an Italian/South American/American restaurant that anchors the complex.
Chicken paillard with quinoa salad at Vista, an Italian/South American/American restaurant that anchors the complex. Photo courtesy of Vista

Names can make neighborhoods. Take, for instance, SoBe, Wynwood, MiMo, or Brickell. Simply hearing one of them conjures images, maybe of the beach, an iconic building, or a road lined with cars spitting out exhaust.

Now, quickly, what do you imagine when you hear "Buena Vista"? We'll do it for you: Try banyan trees festooned with colorful ribbons carrying wishes to the gods, a giant Mickey Mouse head fashioned from red feathers, and colorful shops and eateries waiting to be explored.

On a recent weekday evening, a recently opened complex on NE Second Avenue at 50th Terrace was filled with visitors taking selfies with a giant Pinocchio or cooling off with cholados, icy Colombian beverages made with fresh fruit and sweetened condensed milk.

"There is a need for our type of restaurant here."

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This is Upper Buena Vista, a chic little area that's more like the reimagined town square of a Caribbean resort village than a commercial complex on a busy street that stretches a few blocks to the north and south. The complex that is the heart of the area includes a tattoo shop, a nail salon, a hair salon, a sunglass shop, a home decor shop, a vintage clothing store, several boutiques, and a sneaker store. There's also a cryotherapy business where you can freeze away your wrinkles.

So why not try happy hour and a tattoo or brunch followed by three minutes in a cryotherapy chamber? Laura Varona, owner of Kov Cryotherapy, keeps the cryo chamber right at the front window. "People who are coming to dinner are curious and stop in to try it for themselves," she says.

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Vista's chef de cuisine, Giuliano Leverone.
Photo courtesy of Vista

The complex, though, is anchored by the spacious two-story restaurant Vista (5020 NE Second Ave., Miami; 305-405-7547;

"There is a need for our type of restaurant here," says Fiorella Blanco, who owns the Italian/South America/American hybrid. The restaurateur, who, along with her husband Roberto Bearzi, also owns the popular Fratelli Milano in downtown Miami, says of her decision to open an eatery farther north: "We've seen the growth of Second Avenue over the past few years, and we're confident it will become a go-to place for many."

The all-day menu includes a sweet grilled peach salad with stracciatella and toasted pine nuts ($11) and a daily rotating risotto ($21). The gnocchetti arrives with a spring-green purée of poblano peppers and mint, garnished with a creamy parmigiana foam ($18). Crushed pistachios give the dish added texture and an earthy, sweet finish.

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Photo courtesy of Vista

Other main courses range from a half roasted chicken ($21) and veal chop milanesa ($23) to an eight-ounce burger made with a blend of sirloin, brisket, and rib eye, garnished with portobello mushrooms, mozzarella, and sun-dried tomato spread ($17).

In addition to offering large indoor and outdoor dining areas, Vista will soon boast the neighborhood's first rooftop bar. When it opens sometime this fall, it will serve flatbread, charcuterie, and cheeses, as well as chicken wings and croquettes.

What follows is a guide to the other eateries in the area:

Palat. Another Italian eatery, Palat is more traditional than Vista. It opened this past January three blocks south of Varona's place. Chef/owner Pippo Lamberti offers a small but robust selection of plates, including charred octopus with artichoke and rosemary pesto ($15) and beet ravioli complemented by goat cheese and hazelnuts ($16). Lamberti, who hails from a family of restaurant owners in the Northeast, worked at Café Boulud in Palm Beach before launching Palat. The restaurant is located on a quiet street corner and features a large dining room that flows onto a patio. For now, weekend evenings tend to be busiest. Begin with a few crostini, prepared using Sullivan Street Bakery bread and topped with eggplant and truffle ($10), or steak tartare with horseradish and egg ($11). As for entrées, don't miss the sea-urchin/squid-ink pasta with crabmeat, one of Palat's most popular items. Mussels in a white-wine reduction with crème fraîche are another popular choice ($12). 4702 NE Second Ave., Miami; 786-953-7577;

Café Crème. Claude Postel and Corentin Finot, who opened Buena Vista Deli in 2010, have returned to the neighborhood with Café Crème. Similar to the flagship in North Miami, the 500-square-foot spot, which opened in May, is stocked with Nutella beignets, chocolate croissants, small cakes, and sandwiches ($2 and up). Items are prepared in North Miami and delivered fresh to the small but homey café, which faces NE Second Avenue near the front of Upper Buena Vista. Outside, find numerous wooden picnic tables with shade. This is the kind of place to nurse a latte and a chocolate-filled croissant for a couple of hours. 5010 NE Second Ave., Miami; 786-452-7433;

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Photo courtesy of Vista

Kraken Lab. The edgier, younger sibling of midtown's Kraken Crudo is the small raw bar Kraken Lab, located inside the complex. The bright-red space with seating along a wraparound bar offers a menu of vegetable-focused bowls brimming with ingredients such as watermelon, Japanese pear, bonito flakes, and cauliflower rice ($7.50 and up). In addition to bowls filled with fish, including tuna, octopus, and salmon, Kraken Lab serves hummus with Japanese furikake, as well as the Buddha and Chill bowl, containing hummus, falafel, avocado, tomato, and watermelon. Similar to Café Crème, the space, which opened in May, measures only about 500 square feet, making this outpost suitable for take-out or a quick meal. 5026 NE Second Ave., Miami; 786-577-0167;

La Piazzetta. For the past year, La Piazzetta has churned out more than two dozen kinds of pies in a space located less than a block north of the complex. Inside, find an Italian-farmhouse setting outfitted with brick and wood walls, wine barrels, and a central pizza oven. At mismatched tables with similarly eclectic chairs, dine on pizza topped with everything from smoked mozzarella to pumpkin cream. Pizzas, which boast light and crisp crusts, range from savory to sweet. Perhaps the best is the municipio, topped with stracciatella, smoked salmon, and cherry tomatoes ($24). Also try the panna prosciutto e funghi, layered with mozzarella, heavy cream, ham, and wild mixed mushrooms ($15). Finish with a pie smeared in Nutella topped with fruit, crushed pistachios, or candy ($14). 5143 NE Second Ave., Miami; 786-409-3693.

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Photo courtesy of Vista

Amazonica. Inspired by Colombian street food, Amazonica serves refreshing tropical treats, from exotic fruits and fresh-squeezed juices to shaved ice. Opened this past March, the shop is decorated with colorful tropical wallpaper. It offers an extensive lineup of cholados — icy Colombian drinks made with fruit and condensed milk. Flavors include mango and passionfruit ice garnished with mango squares, pineapple tamarind, and tajin; coconut lemonade ice with chocolate, granola, shredded coconut, green apple, and pineapple; and a guava variety topped with a Maria cookie ($5 and up). Amazonica is the only place in the area serving frozen treats of this kind. 5030 NE Second Ave., Miami; 305-336-6198;

Laine Doss contributed to this report.

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Clarissa Buch Zilberman is a writer and editor, with her work appearing in print and digital titles worldwide.
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