"Party in the city where the heat is on, all night at the beach till the break of dawn, I'm going to Miami!" is what I kept singing days before this trip. Traveling to a new place excites me more than anything, and the thought of eating food native in that area thrills me even more.
South Beach, Miami - where the sand is white and the waters are emerald green. This is by far the cleanest beach I've ever seen. Unlike the west coast, the water is warm (and the weather is even warmer). There's something about the sound of waves rushing through the sand along with seagulls chirping in this man-made beach. It was so peaceful. We were lucky that our hotel was literally 2 blocks away from this paradise. Four days of R&R well spent.
Right by the beach is the infamous Ocean Drive, where you'll find people driving by in fancy sports cars, riding bikes or simply walking around in bikinis. Tip: don't get fooled by the hustling hosts and hostesses through the strip of restaurants and bars - we sure did ($70 for a giant frozen drink, whew). Do visit Mango's Tropical Cafe - you'll have the BEST Mojitos ever. Not to mention they have a unique atmosphere that will truly make your trip memorable. Other bars to visit would be Wet Willies (get an "Attitude Improvement" or "Call-a-cab") and the Rose Bar at the Delano (order a Melon Mule or a refreshing 24 hours of summer).
I've always been a fan of Pitbull, or Mr. 305 as he calls himself, and I've always been curious about the street called Calle Ocho that he always sings about. Here it was, right before me, and within minutes of walking through it, we immersed ourselves in this Latin community's culture. We saw how Cuban cigars were made, had a shot of cortadito, and had a Cuban sandwich of course.
I loved that Downtown Miami was filled with high rise buildings but just enough of them that you can still feel the breeze from the Atlantic ocean. It was still busy, but far off from the hustle and bustle streets of New York.
The hotels were mostly boutique, small enough for a quick relaxing getaway. The pool above is from SLS Miami, and I was so surprised on how different it is from the newly opened one here in Las Vegas. Both hotels are distinct in terms of their locations.
Restaurants to try:
1. Michael's Genuine Food and Drink: Order the crispy pig ears, deviled eggs, signature pork belly, roasted yellowtail, crispy rice cake and their own home brewed beer and sundae. The best meal we had during our trip. We loved it so much we were tempted to have dinner here again the next night.
2. Pubbelly: We were lucky to have been here while they had the Miami Spice menu, as we were able to try most of their signature dishes. Start off with the short rib tartare. The menu included dates, sweetbreads, hamachi crudo, signature pork belly, dumplings, brussel sprouts, and pork cheeks. Have the El Cubano for dessert!
3. Puerto Sagua: Authentic Cuban food here! Start off with some cafe con leches and ham croquettas. For entrees, order the pork shoulder and oxtail stew.
4. Garcia's Seafood Fish Market & Grille: Fresh as it can get. Get the fried conch, grilled shrimp, fresh oysters, seabass and the seafood stew. An old mom & pop's place that will leave you so full you'll want to take a nap.
5. El Rey De Las Fritas: The cheapest food run we had from the whole trip and one of the best. Order the original Fritas, a Cuban burger topped with shoestring potatoes. No ketchup necessary. Make sure you drink a Mamey with it!
6. Bolivar: we craved for a tapas-type restaurant and we ended up here. We ordered the 7-item-choose-your-own-tapas set, and all 7 tapas were served in this one huge wooden board. Loved the presentation. We had the pork belly, skirt steak, camarones al ajillo, blood sausage, colombian sausage, calamari and empanadas! Order the ceviche shots too if you're with a big group. The passion fruit creme brulee was so refreshing as well (and we decided it was better than the deconstructed creme brulee we had in Cafe Boulud in NYC).
7. Tongue and Cheek: Oysters with carbonated mignonette, beef cheek burger with poutine fries and crispy pig ears served on butter lettuce. Props to them for accommodating us, as we kindly demanded for the dinner menu (we were there during lunchtime) and we really wanted to try the food that everyone raved about. It was delicious, and it was our last meal in Miami.
Walking around Miami made me appreciate the dry heat in Las Vegas just a tad bit - the humidity is ridiculous. However, it did my skin good. I came back home with glowing sun-kissed skin that I will miss. Miami was great! Will definitely have to come back--we missed out on a hotdog place Bourdain recommended that served hotdogs with whipped cream and pineapples. So wrong yet apparently so good.