I’m so behind on Ask Afrobellas, and just catching up with life after my road trip. So forgive me — I’m about to smush two Ask Afrobella answers into one. But they’re both very similar and give me the opportunity to show love to the city I’ve called home for the past OMG-I-can’t-believe-it 11 years. Miami. The 305. The Magic City.
My name is Vivianne, and I have been reading your blog for about a year and a half now and enjoying every moment of it! Well I am graduating from college in Southern California this semester and I just got into UMiami Law School, so I will be moving to your former place of residence. I was wondering if you had any advice on living (in and around Coral Gables), and having fun in Miami. Just the basic top 10 things to do for a 21 yr old newbie to the city, and any suggestions of things to avoid. Thanks so much and keep up the good work!
Your blog is won.der.ful and I appreciate the wide gamut of beauty and hair topics you cover. A couple of weeks back you featured a Q&A of someone looking for waxing spas here in Miami. In your answer you welcomed more inquiries about spots here in Miami. Here is mine! I am the maid of honor for my older sister’s wedding that’s coming up in August. In addition to the bachelorette’s party I would also like to host a bridal shower. I was thinking of a girls day out getting mani and pedis or maybe facials at a spa or maybe just a day at my home with comfort foods, girl talk and great fun. However, I am kind of shying away from the latter idea because I wanted to do something unconventional–but still personal and memorable. Would you have any recommendations for nail salons or spas that would be ideal for this sort of thing, preferably in the Coral Gables area (the wedding is at Deering Estate). If you have any suggestions aside from my own ideas do share- please!
Vivianne, Faren – thanks so much for asking about Miami. In over a decade of living here, I know most of the city quite well, and for the past four and a half years, all I did was eat, breathe, and sleep Miami’s places-to-go and things-to-see. You’ve come to the right bella! In order to simultaneously answer your questions, I’m going to write a big roundup of the best restaurants, bars, and spas in the city. Let’s go!
Most people who visit the city beeline for South Beach. And it’s true, you’ll always find some kind of action poppin’ off on the beach, and every TV show and movie set in Miami shows these neon-streaked images that look like the most fun ever… but it’s not my kind of place. It’s the kind of place where you might find a chick in a thong at Starbucks, you’ll probably get insanely stuck in traffic or have a stupid-hard time finding a parking spot, and whatever club or party you wind up going to will most likely feel very sceney, pretentious, and ultimately overrated. That’s just my opinion about SoBe in general – I do have quite a few friends who live there, but even they have a love/hate relationship with South Beach. I think many Miami residents do. But all tourists want to visit the beach, so don’t let my jaded words dissuade you — if you’re visiting Miami or new to the city, you should check out the scene on SoBe at least once, just so you can say you did it.
Stroll down Lincoln Road on a Sunday afternoon — the weekly farmer’s market is always lively and fun. Stop by SushiSamba Dromo for dinner and yummy cocktails, you won’t be disappointed. For cheap beer and priceless peoplewatching on Lincoln, pull up a chair at Zeke’s Roadhouse. It’s right next to a Pizza Rustica, which is a great place to grab a gourmet-style slice, possibly the cheapest dinner option on the beach.
No visit to Miami Beach is complete without visiting Mac’s Club Deuce, Miami Beach’s oldest bar. I’ve written loving homages before, so I won’t gush much. If you enjoy a good drink, unique local color, and you-just-had-to-be-there experiences, go go go. If you’re there on a Friday night, ask for Melissa and tell her Afrobella sent ya. She’s the best bartender in the whole city.
If you want to have a balls-to-the-wall hey-big-spender incredible vacation eating experience, get yourself a table at the Restaurant at the Setai, or even better — the Grill at the Setai. My husband and I had the pleasure of eating there once, and OMG I cannot put into coherent words how incredible it was. I’ve done my award tour of fancy eating, and this was by far the most noteworthy culinary experience I’ve ever had, anywhere, hands down. Everything they serve is the most scrumptious thing you’ve ever tasted. It’s so expensive it may hurt your heart a little, but if you can afford it, you should enjoy the indulgence to the max.
For a more affordable, super fun, vibrant Haitian dining experience, go to Tap Tap! The food is delicious, the vibe is infectious, and the art on the walls is inspiring (and some of it was painted by my friend, Haitian artist Jude Papaloko The Genius. He’s amazing!) Click here for a great review and definitely make yourself a reservation when you’re in town. It’s always a party at Tap Tap.
If you’re looking to spa on South Beach, I highly, highly recommend Uhma Spa. Miami’s first and only organic spa is an intimate place, owned by a beautiful and warm Brazilian couple. Click here to read my review. Their massages are to die for, and they’ve got a Vichy shower that needs to be experienced to be believed.
OK! Now that we’ve got South Beach out of the way, let me tell you about my usual haunts, and where you’ll probably want to spend time if you’re a student at the University of Miami, or attending a wedding in the neighborhood.
Coral Gables, the City Beautiful. Make your first stop Books & Books. I say this out of love and convenience — B&B is like family to me. I worked there for three wonderful months, and I absolutely love everything about the store. There’s always an incredible author event taking place in the evening, and there’s an enormous parking structure across the street, making a stroll around the Gables super convenient. Park across the street, and explore the bookstore. The cafe is a beautiful, warm place and the food is delicious. Can’t recommend this place enough, and mark my words – someday I’ll have a book reading of my own at Books & Books! Then I’ll feel like I made it in life.
Let’s say you make an afternoon of the Gables — after enjoying the ambiance at Books & Books, stroll along Miracle Mile and check out the boutiques and bridal stores. For cocktails, Houston and Tarpon Bend are both insanely popular, but for a light bite and some delicious organic pineapple-infused sake, I recommend you stop by the Red Koi Thai and Sushi Lounge. The food there is amazing — the joint is owned by a gregarious Cuban dude, but the kitchen is run by Asian cooks who truly know their cuisine and make dishes that are authentic, but not intimidating to the Westernized palate. It’s a chic, new little lounge on the come up.
For more Gables fun, hit up restaurant row, AKA Giralda Avenue — there are a ton of decent restaurants, my favorite port-of-call being The Bar (gotta love a bar that’s bold enough to just call itself The Bar, and ladies drink free on Friday nights!).
Vivianne, the University of Miami’s in a great spot for low-key nightlife — you’ve got the Gables, the Grove, and South Miami for the choosing. South Miami is on the come-up, and it can be pretty fun, barhopping and eating out. First things first, there’s Sunset Place. But you won’t find me there. I heart Deli Lane. Which is a restaurant, but many locals call the whole brick street (SW 59th Ave.) Deli Lane.
If you go to Deli Lane, you can of course go to Deli Lane, or its directly adjoining neighbor, Sunset Tavern. Same menu, different crowds. Deli Lane’s great for brunch, Sunset Tavern’s all about after work drinks and late night debauchery. Across the street there’s the delicious Pizzeria Blu, which also has amazing salads, and there’s Soli Organic ice cream, which is just…. beyond. Try the pistachio, you won’t be disappointed! And if you’re in the mood for more drinking, stop by Bougainvillea’s (AKA Bougie’s). It’s a very informal, fun, laid back Key West style bar with live music. A great place to pull up a seat out front and drink in the local vibe. And if you wind up with a pretty bartender named Mindy, tell her I sent ya! She’s a very good friend of mine.
Coconut Grove is home to some of my favorite haunts, and if you’re looking for something to do, check out Coconut Grove Grapevine for ideas about what’s new and what’s happening over there. Early in the year, there are outdoor festivals and free concerts on weekends in the Grove, and an outdoor farmer’s market on Saturday mornings that I’ve always meant to visit but never have. When I head to the Grove, I typically go straight to one place.
If I had to choose one restaurant in Miami as my absolute favorite, it would be Jaguar Ceviche Spoon Bar and Latam Grill. It’s the only place I absolutely crave. Oh, even writing this post is hard — I want the vuelve a la vida ceviche so much! Even if you don’t love seafood, cocktails are awesome, food is to die for, the vibe is fun, and the waiters are always charming and helpful. I love this place, and yes, would call myself a semi-regular. When we’ve got friends in town, this is where we take them. And it’s where I’d love my bellas and fellas to visit. Get the dulce de leche cheesecake for dessert!
I love a divey, authentic, neighborhood bar and Barracuda fits the bill — so much so that they don’t even appear to have up a website of their own. Oh, Barracuda! Click here for the Yelp reviews. Decent bar food, serves only beer, and there’s guaranteed to be wasted people playing beer pong. It’s loud and gets packed and it’s a dive, but I have a soft spot for the Cuda. Wouldn’t want you to miss it.
There are some good spas and salons in the Grove — for waxing, fly jewelry, and mimosas on Sundays, I heart Wax On, Wax Off. I gave them a glowing review for good reason. It’s a small space, so Faren, it might not be a great locale for your bridal party.
Seven years ago, I had my bridal shower at the Mayfair Hotel, and that’s where the Jurlique Spa is. I’ve been and I’ll admit, I had a bit of a beef — their robes are not for the full figured bella, and there was nothing they could do to accomodate my needs. Still, it’s a beautiful spa and a stunning location — fun for strolling around after the bridal festivities. Two thumbs way up for the Grove.
Whew! I’m not done yet – there’s even more to explore!
Downtown Miami (beyond the tourist haven known as Bayside) has become hipster heaven, and the epicenter for all things cool is Sweat Records. The owner, Lauren “Lolo” Reskin, might be the coolest chick in the city. Sweat is all aqua and chic, cool rock records and vegan cupcakes, and the place adjoining it, Churchill’s, is the oldest, grimiest live rock music venue and bar in Little Haiti. They’re local landmarks you shouldn’t skip out on.
While you’re downtown, you might want to stop by the 55th Street Station — it’s a cute little block with a bunch of really good restaurants. I’ve never been disappointed by a meal at Soyka, Sushi Siam, or Andiamo’s Pizza, and there’s a super cool drink spot, The News Lounge, that’s a great place to mingle, imbibe, and make some new Miami friends.
IMO, some of the best downtown eating’s at Uva 69. Chic alfresco dining in a Moroccan style lounge, elegant cocktails, and
incredible food. Almost every time I go, I want everything on the menu but I always go back to the Uva green salad with tempura shrimp. Always.
The best vegetarian restaurant in all of Miami has to be The Honey Tree. Even if you’re NOT a vegetarian (I’m not), the food is just delicious. Home cooked and delivered daily by the owner’s mom, there’s a variety of all sorts of cooked veggie dishes and raw salads to choose from, and the menu is never the same. If you go, try the seitan pie and PLEASE tell the owner Michelle that Patrice sent you!
I’ll end my review of the sweetest spots in Miami with a one-two knockout punch of spas. I’ve had the pleasure of becoming a spa connoisseur while living here in Miami, so Faren, allow me to gush about two pretty pricey spas. But if you’re looking to have a celebration to remember, this is where you should go.
A trip to the Spa at the Mandarin Oriental is like a trip to another world. I had the most transcendent experience there, it really deserves a blog post of its own. A category of its own. All I can say is, go. Save your pennies, go, and experience the Kundalini Journey. Never before has a massage connected with my spirit and taken me to a magical place before. This did. It might not actually change your life, but it will feel like it did for at least a few days afterwards. And that’s worth $340, right?
OK, Faren — here’s my number one pick for a place for you to host a bridal celebration to remember. It ain’t cheap, but it’s oh so pretty. The Ritz Carlton Key Biscayne is one of the most majestic hotels in the city. It’s sprawling. It’s stunning. And the spa — oh, honey. And I’m confident, if you contacted the spa director, you could arrange an outdoor spa afternoon to cherish. The Ritz has three options for alfresco dining — there’s Cioppino, a chichi Italian spot that has an outdoor deck. There’s Dune, a really expensive burgers-on-the-beach place, where you can chow down on a burger with gorgonzola foam on it while you enjoy sand between your toes and lapping waves within earshot. And there’s Cantina Beach, a Mexican place with its own tequilier (tequila sommelier). Cantina Beach is at the Ritz, so don’t get me wrong, you’re still buying $12 cocktails, but for the avergae cost of a nice night out in Miami, it isn’t bad at all. And the ambiance makes it worth it. Sit outside, breathe in that Atlantic Ocean air, and enjoy the best Miami has to offer. It’ll be a day you won’t regret.
I know I crammed a ton of information into one megatroid post, but wow – writing this made me realize how much I’ll miss the 305. There’s so much I wanted to include in this post, but I edited myself. A lot. There was so, so much more to say.
If you want to know even more about Miami, feel free to ask! And if you’re a local and you think I left something out, please leave a comment and let me know. I’ll be here for another month or so, and I’ve got a lot of living to cram in before we trade the Magic City for the Windy City!