What makes a restaurant old-school? Is it the amount of time it's been in operation or the fact that the menu is timeless? For some people, it's the smell upon walking in, the feel of the chairs, or handwritten checks. For others, the food has to feel nostalgic.
Here are the ten finest examples of establishments that have stood the test of time. These Miami institutions have one thing in common regardless of criteria: They're the kind of place where you ate as a child and will likely take your grandchildren someday.
1. Joe’s Stone Crab. Now in its 104th season, Joe’s continues to be one of the hardest tables to get in town and still refuses to take reservations. Barack Obama allegedly had stone crab delivered right before his presidential debate in 2012, and many other notables have rocked bibs and cracked claws at Joe’s, including Madonna, Muhammad Ali, and Jennifer Lopez. But claws aren’t the only time-honored delicacy on the menu; the fried chicken and key lime pie are as much of a Miami legacy as Joe’s itself. 11 Washington Ave., Miami Beach; 305-673-0365; joesstonecrab.com. Tuesday through Thursday 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. and 5 to 10 p.m., Friday and Saturday 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. and 5 to 11 p.m., Sunday and Monday 5 to 10 p.m.
2. The Forge. Named for its original incarnation as an actual forge circa the Roaring '20s, the Forge was turned into a restaurant and casino in the '30s and saw stars such as Frank Sinatra, Judy Garland, and Jackie Gleason pass through its doors for gambling and a good time. Though plenty of chefs have come and gone (including Dewey LoSasso and Christopher Lee), today the extensive wine cellar continues to be a draw for big names such as Beyoncé, Justin Timberlake, and Kim Kardashian, as well as locals who want to bite into a piece of Miami history. 432 Arthur Godfrey Rd., Miami Beach; 305-538-8533; theforge.com. Sunday through Thursday from 6 to 11 p.m.; Friday and Saturday from 6 p.m. to midnight.
3. Caffe Abbracci. From politicians to athletes to actors such as Sean Connery and Paul Newman, there’s no shortage of recognizable names and faces at Caffe Abbracci. But besides its celebrity sightings, the allure here is how the restaurant makes patrons feel, as if they've stepped into a Martin Scorsese film. Enjoy all the usual Italian suspects: vitello tonnato, penne puttanesca, veal scaloppine, and longtime favorite cannelloni di Mauro. 318 Aragon Ave., Coral Gables, 305-441-0700; caffeabbracci.com. Monday through Thursday 11:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. and 6 to 10 p.m., Friday and Saturday 6 p.m. to midnight, Sunday 6 to 11 p.m.
4. Pascal’s on Ponce. For good authentic French fare, Miamians seek out Pascal’s, which was named among the best new restaurants in America by Esquire the year it opened (2000). Seventeen years later, Pascal Oudin still runs one of Miami’s better restaurants and one of the few that offer a tasting menu. 2611 Ponce de Leon Blvd., Coral Gables, 305-444-2024; pascalmiami.com. Monday through Friday 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. and 6 to 10 p.m., Friday and Saturday 6 to 11 p.m. Closed Sunday.
5. Christy’s. At Christy's, the clientele is dressed for a white-tablecloth affair, adding to the Mad Men vibe. Start your evening with a dirty martini at the bar. Then feel free to trust your server to choose your dinner for you — most of the waitstaff has been here since the restaurant’s inception in 1986. Of course you can’t go wrong with shrimp cocktail, oysters Rockefeller, and prime rib roasted for two hours and served with horseradish sauce and Christy’s signature caesar salad. Just when you thought it couldn’t get any more old-school, baked Alaska arrives for dessert. 3101 Ponce de Leon Blvd., Coral Gables; 305-446-1400; christysrestaurant.com. Monday through Thursday 5 to 10 p.m., Friday 11:30 a.m. to 10:30 p.m., Saturday 5 to 10:30 p.m. Closed Sunday.
6. Palme d’Or. It doesn’t get more vieille école than Miami’s oldest fine French restaurant, nestled inside the legendary Biltmore. Besides stunning interiors looking out onto the hotel's picturesque pool, Palme d'Or boasts Michelin-starred and James Beard Rising Star Chef of the Year nominee Gregory Pugin in the kitchen. The options here include a chef’s full ($155) or six-course ($115) tasting menu, and the dining room is often filled with couples celebrating special occasions. 1200 Anastasia Ave., Coral Gables, 305-913-3200; biltmorehotel.com. Tuesday through Saturday 6 to 10:30 p.m. Closed Sunday and Monday.
7. Anthony’s Runway 84. This family-owned red-sauce Italian joint makes you feel like you’re flying high thanks to its retro airplane theme and proximity to Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport. The cocktail lounge, complete with airplane windows and mock views of city lights, is outfitted with black leather booths resembling first-class airline seating. The bar, decorated with old TWA plane tickets, beckons you to sip an apple martini or something equally "uncool" but delicious. And when your server asks, “What can I get you, babe?” the correct answer is the legendary meatballs in a piquant tomato sauce. 330 FL-84, Fort Lauderdale, 954-467-8484; runway-84.com. Tuesday through Thursday 11:30 a.m. to 10 p.m., Friday 11:30 a.m. to 11 p.m., Saturday 4:30 to 11 p.m., Sunday 4 to 10 p.m. Closed Monday.
8. Tropical Acres Steakhouse. Tropical Acres has all the trappings of an old-school steakhouse: banana-leaf-shaped ceiling fan blades, aquariums, floral-print booths, and charbroiled steaks you can smell from the parking lot. There are a couple of reasons why this family-owned establishment has been in business since 1949. One is the prime cuts of U.S. Certified Angus beef. Another is the servers, who know the names and favorites of regulars but also welcome newcomers with open arms and loads of suggestions. 2500 Griffin Rd., Fort Lauderdale, 954-989-2500; tropicalacres.com. Monday through Saturday 4:30 to 10 p.m. Closed Sunday.
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9. 94th Aero Squadron. The restaurant, overlooking the main runway of Miami International Airport, gives you headphones to listen to air traffic controllers as you watch planes take off and land. A prime spot for graduation celebrations, the aviation-themed 94th Aero Squadron has been in operation for four decades and is part of Specialty Restaurants, founded by World War II veteran and bomber pilot David Tallichet. The crab-stuffed mushrooms, tuna tartare stack, and salmon with crunchy pecans and honey Dijon mustard are top picks among regulars. 1395 NW 57th St., Miami; 305-261-4220; 94thmiami.com. Monday through Thursday 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. and 4 p.m. to midnight, Friday and Sunday 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. and 5 to 11 p.m., Saturday 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. and 5 p.m. to midnight.
10. Mutineer. Even if you’ve never been inside the Mutineer, you've seen it on your way to the Keys and have always wanted to know what lies beyond the faux wooden ship in the pond out front. Pass the old salty pirate statue and step through the doors to feast upon sautéed alligator doused in garlic and sherry ($8.75). The vibe is strictly Florida City with a maritime theme, so dress casually while you nosh on plenty of surf 'n' turf. The bar offers live music to accompany your blackened mahi-mahi wrap. 11 SE First Ave., Florida City; 305-245-3377. Sunday through Tuesday 11:30 a.m. to 10 p.m., Wednesday 4:30 to 10 p.m., Friday and Saturday 11:30 a.m. to midnight. Closed Monday.