From Izakaya to Barbecue: The Best Restaurants in Downtown Miami

Southern-style barbecue ribs
Southern-style barbecue ribs | © Boaz Rottem / Alamy Stock Photo
Jessica Vincent

Miami’s fastest-growing neighborhood, Downtown, is quickly becoming the city’s hottest dining destination. Whether you’re looking for award-winning sushi or messy backyard barbecue, there’s a restaurant in Downtown Miami for every kind of foodie. Here are some of our favorites.

1. Zuma

Hotel Restaurant, Japanese, Sushi, Asian

Zuma Miami specializes in Japanese cuisine
Courtesy of Zuma Miami
Located on the ground floor of the luxurious Kimpton EPIC Hotel, Zuma is one of Downtown’s most star-studded restaurants. Celebrities – including Kim Kardashian, Will Smith and Gwyneth Paltrow – flock to this waterfront sushi bar for award-winning Japanese dishes like miso-marinated black cod, spicy yellowfin roll and seared beef with pickled daikon. Zuma is inspired by the informal dining style of izakaya, which means everything from the small, uncluttered plates to the low, circular tables are created with sharing in mind. The drinks menu is just as bold as the sushi rolls: think rhubarb-infused sake, wasabi-spiked vodka and an Aperol spritz blended with fresh strawberry and basil.

2. NIU Kitchen

Restaurant, Wine Bar, Tapas, Mediterranean, Spanish, Vegetarian

The motto at NIU, Downtown’s first Catalan-inspired wine and tapas bar, instructs you to order your food without thinking. The food is so good at this tiny 2nd Avenue restaurant that you can simply “close your eyes, point to an item on the menu” and a delicious, farm-fresh meal will result. And that’s pretty much the attitude here: pick a few dishes that pique your curiosity – maybe the rabbit confit with escargots rice, or the octopus carpaccio with apple aioli – and see what happens. Ask the wine director to talk you through a starter, main and dessert menu of over 50 wines from Catalunya and beyond. Pro tip: no Catalan meal is complete without a pa amb tomàquet – a simple but delicious side of freshly baked bread topped with tomatoes, olive oil and salt.

3. The Egg Spot

Cafe, North American

Sometimes you just need an egg and brisket sandwich at 4pm. But, in a neighborhood where breakfast is usually included with your $300-a-night suite, finding a hangover-busting brunch can be tougher than you think. As of the summer of 2019, that void is finally filled. The latest venture from the father and son duo behind Wynwood’s Butcher Shop, The Egg Spot is Downtown’s first all-day breakfast, brunch and lunch spot. From 7am till 7pm, you can take your pick of almost any Miami brunch classic, from a hefty serving of chicken and waffles with Tater Tots to the slightly lighter smoked salmon bagels and quinoa bowls. There are also freshly squeezed juices and illy coffees on offer, or, if you’re really in the Miami brunching mood, opt for a mimosa, sangria or craft beer instead.

5. Garcia's

Market, Restaurant, Seafood

Downtown is a neighborhood that celebrates innovation, so it’s not all that easy to find a restaurant with almost five decades of history. Opened in 1968 by a Cuban family fleeing Castro’s Communist regime, Garcia’s started its life as a modest seafood market selling whatever the family had caught fresh that morning. Some 48 years later, the Garcia market has expanded into one of the most popular seafood restaurants along the Miami River. Despite its growth, much remains the same: the restaurant is still family-run, and the fish is caught fresh every morning by the Garcia fleet moored right outside. The menu varies depending on the catch, but you can usually expect dishes like butterfly snapper with crabmeat au gratin, lobster ravioli with pink vodka shrimps and seared scallops in a garlic and lemon sauce.

6. Soya e Pomodoro

Restaurant, Italian, Vegetarian, Vegan

Soya e Pomodoro may be located in the heart of Downtown, but dining inside this Southern Italy-inspired restaurant transports you to another continent and era entirely. Housed inside the historic Shoreland Arcade building, Soya e Pomodoro strikes you first with its grand decor. Impossibly high ceilings, thick stone walls and grand Romanesque pillars allude to the ancient Roman city of Pompeii. Meanwhile, the mix-and-matched furniture (a rickety wooden chair here, a plush vintage sofa there), bookshelves stacked with vintage photographs and a washing line strung with dirty socks pay homage to life in urban Italy. The gamberotti al forno (jumbo shrimp baked in fresh thyme) and stinco d’agnello (braised lamb shank in a red-wine sauce) are delicious, but the thing to try here is the fresh pasta. You can’t go wrong with the classic bigolo alla bolognese (spaghetti in a ground Sirloin beef ragu) or the ravioli ai funghi porcini (ravioli stuffed with porcini mushrooms and walnut sauce).

7. Sparky's Roadside BBQ

Restaurant, Bar, North American

There are fine-dining options aplenty in Downtown Miami, but finger-licking, napkin-wearing backyard barbecue experiences are harder to come by. That’s why Sparky’s Roadside BBQ is so special: here, you trade bite-size food atop a hotel rooftop for carnivorous platters of beef brisket, grilled pork chops and Southern fried chicken. It’s Sparky’s secret rubs and sauces that make the meat taste so good, all hand-crafted by co-owners and New York-trained chefs Kevin Kehoe and Hans Seitz. The smoked chicken thighs, Angus beef brisket and pulled pork plate are all worth a try, but the guava habanero wet baby back ribs take first prize for juiciness and flavor. Staying true to the American barbecue tradition, every grill combo comes with a minimum of two sides. Choose from soft and gooey mac and cheese, crispy sweet potato fries, blackened peas or Sparky’s home-made baked beans.

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