North Miami may be the place you buy a car, do your Costco shopping, or hit up Yogurtland, but it's probably not the area you initially think of for dining outside cookie-cutter chain restaurants. You're missing out, though, because this suburban city to the north is packed with hidden gems.
What follows are the top ten restaurants you most likely missed while cruising Biscayne Boulevard or 123rd Street and surrounding areas.
10. Steve's Pizza
Steve's has some sweet sauce. Depending upon your preference, that's either a positive or a negative. However, this neighborhood joint has been tossing and slicing since the '70s, and it's a standout in the area. The graffiti-covered walls and classic arcade games are reminiscent of teenage years when all you cared about was pizza and stressing out if the grease would give you pimples. Pizza face or not, this pizza is worth it.
9. Cane a Sucre
When the lunch hour rolls around and you don't know what you want, most likely visions of sandwiches, soups, and salads circle your mind. Cane a Sucre carries them all, and they are expertly prepared and well priced. Le Fig, with Gorgonzola cheese, fig confit, fresh oregano, walnuts, and a drizzle of honey on warm baguette is a sandwich standout. You get creamy, fruity, and savory stuffed into a fresh baguette, and it it is spectacular.
8. Petit Rouge
For a fantastic French meal in a cozy 24-seat restaurant, Petit Rouge is your neighborhood bistro. The classic escargots, steak frites, and French onion soup topped with melted Gruyère are all stellar. If you want to wash down the richness, the wine list offers varieties and varietals to match a restaurant three times its size.
The burger bar formerly known as Flip's still gives patrons something to flip over. All neighborhoods need a place for beer, burgers, chili, and mac 'n' cheese. For North Miami, Vega's is that special place. The beer list is insane and handwritten. The burgers are great, but the macaroni 'n' cheese and the chili are some of the best bowls anywhere. Pro tip: You can order a bowl of each and mix together for a killer chili-mac that begs to be washed down with a Belgian brew.
Visiting Little Havana doesn't always require a trip to Calle Ocho. This large family-run restaurant in North Miami has all the goods in a banquet restaurant setting. One of the best deals is the lunch specials Monday through Friday that start at $5.99. Don't believe us? The sign outside reiterates it. The little Havana steak is a favorite, with a steak so large it hangs off the plate, served with rice and beans, plantains, and the most addictive chimichurri.
5. Fish Fish
For a place so nice you have to say it twice, head to Fish Fish. Despite the fish market in front, dine in anyway -- this place is so quirky and homey. They serve plenty of old-school items you thought were long forgotten, like a deconstructed caesar salad and baked Alaska. But here you're glad to see them resurrected. Another item you might be initially unsure of is the crispy hogfish with Parmesan and key lime butter, but it'll win you over.
Miami may be lacking tasty Mexican food, but Cheen-Huaye nails southern Mexican cuisine. Food from the Yucatán has that tropical kick Miamians love. The maya burrito -- filled with cochinita pibil (slow-roasted pork wrapped in banana leaves), beans, rice, and pickled onions -- is a favorite.
Top Chef alum Howie "Bulldog" Kleinberg has a meatastic joint with dogs (duh), burgers, brisket, ribs, and so much more. If you are feeling extra-devilish, try the Luther, with a Krispy Kreme-inspired glazed doughnut bun. Not hot enough? The Heat is a burger with bacon, jalapeño marmalade, fried pickled jalapeños, pepper jack cheese, and house sauce.
Every color of curry shines at this neighborhood Thai restaurant. The shrimp are plump, the noodles are handmade and drunken, and you can swig some Phuket Thai beer while speaking to the Ricky, the preteen son of the owners. His dad is from Italy, and his mom -- the chef -- is from Thailand. Together they create magic in North Miami. Bonus fact: They grow herbs in the back that give their dishes an extra boost of flavor and freshness.
If you are under the impression that seafood needs white linen and stainless steel crackers, think again. Captain Jim's offers seafood that is fresh off the boat with plastic cutlery and paper plates. In fact, their raw bar is designated with a sign made from butcher paper and colored markers. Who needs fancy when you have fresh claws, oysters, grouper sandwiches and conch fritters? The seafood is the star here and the prices are pretty unbeatable.
Follow Carina on Twitter @CarinaOst
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