Miami Beach's Columbus Cafe "Worst in America": $45 Happy-Hour Mojito, Gray Meat

A lot of dubious honors have been bestowed upon Miami, but yesterday we received a new designation: having the worst restaurant in America.

The Daily Meal, in compiling its annual list of 101 best restaurants, also named the worst eateries in the nation. The introduction states that the bottom dwellers were chosen for their consistently terrible internet reviews that seemed to show a lack of good service, sanitation, and/or decent grub.

The countdown begins at a little place called Bistro Med in Washington, D.C., where one customer had her credit card number stolen and the restaurant amassed 56 health code violations. The rest of the establishments include Kissena Dominican Diner in Queens, New York; Ho Mei Chinese Restaurant in Denver; and Sun Taco in Los Angeles. Then there's number one. That distinction goes to the Colony Café at the Colony Hotel in Miami Beach. Of course, it has several aliases: Mauro's, Chef Vincent at Colony Hotel, Colony Bistro, and most recently, Columbus Café.

The Daily Meal states that not only is this restaurant possibly the single worst-reviewed on Yelp, but it also wins for "shadiest restaurant in America," with diners not getting their promised discounts (one reviewer said his rum and Coke was $18 after a so-called discount), adding tips in without notifying the customer, and telling guests the credit card machine was down, thus forcing them to use the overpriced ATM. And that's not even considering the food, which was called "gross" and "cold mush."

I decided to have a bite at Columbus Café early last night to see for myself.

At this usual Ocean Drive tourist spot on Columbus Day (coincidence?), there were about five tables filled with groups of people having what appeared to be freon-colored, oversized cocktails with Coronas stuck in them. A man in a red shirt told me this was happy hour and all food was 20 percent off and drinks were BOGO.

The server immediately pushed the paella. "It's a traditional Miami dish. It has seafood in it. Everything. Clams, mussels, shrimp, and crab legs. Ours has yellow rice." Declining the paella, I perused the menu and thought, What would a tourist eat? Here's the ensuing dialogue:

"I'll have the Cuban sandwich ($14.50)," I said. Then I asked the dreaded question that vacationers usually never ask. "I'd like a mojito -- but there are no prices on the menu. How much is it?"

My server: "Forty-five dollars."

Me: "What? No. That's not possible. A mojito. You know -- a drink."

Server: "Forty-five," he said, pointing to the mega-drinks. "Fifty-five if you want the Coronas."

Me: "But I don't want that giant glass. I want a normal glass. Just a normal-size drink."

Server: "We don't have those. This is happy hour. If you don't want a drink, you can have a Coke."

Me: "Wait -- $55 is the happy-hour price? Is there a manager I can speak with?"

Server: "No. We don't have one now."

Me (to myself): (Or ever, I'll venture.) "How about a Corona? You have those. Do you sell them? How much are they?"

Server: "$10."

Me: "Fine."

Server: "And a chicken sandwich, right?"

Me: (sigh) "No. A Cuban."

After about 15 minutes, my sandwich arrived. Not really a Cuban, it was more like a ham and cheese with pickles, lettuce, and tomato. I flagged someone down and said the sandwich wasn't pressed. "We don't do that here."

Of course.

I opened the sandwich and the meat was gray, so I took it out and ate a lettuce and tomato with cheese sandwich. For $14.50. All the while, the guy in the red shirt was busy hawking his paella, drinks, and hookahs to passersby.

I asked the couple sitting behind me what they thought of the food. "It's OK, " said Yvette, who was in Miami from New York for a few days of sun. "I had the penne and salmon. At least it had flavor. And the drinks are big." Her friend Steve, who was from West Orange, New Jersey, said he travels to Miami a few times a year to relax. "You know, we never really leave Ocean Drive, but that's OK."

I asked them if they wanted a few recommendations for good, inexpensive restaurants. They didn't appear too interested. It seems that for many tourists, the convenience of Ocean Drive is key.

In conclusion, Columbus Café might not be the worst restaurant in America (I didn't get sick to my stomach afterward, I received my 20 percent discount, and the prices were as negotiated after a long process), but it's sad that out-of-towners will be stuck with watered-down drinks, price gouging, and a tremendously bad Cuban sandwich. Muy triste.

Follow Laine Doss on Twitter @LaineDoss and Facebook.

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