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Locals Know Best: A Guide to Miami’s Old-School Restaurants and Bars

by Lauren Mack

posted on January 17, 2019

Miami’s nighttime hotspots change faster than the weather, but native Floridians know just where to go: the same beloved restaurants and bars that their parents and grandparents (and, in some cases, their great grandparents) frequented. Locals know no current trend could ever outdo these classics, from freshly-cracked stone crabs to steaming-hot Cuban coffee. No visit is complete unless you check these old-school places off your list.

Photo Courtesy: @saragielchinsky

It doesn’t get much more iconic than Joe’s Stone Crab. Family-owned, this celebrity- and local-favorite has been serving its namesake stone crab claws on Miami Beach since 1913. Order a platter of stone crabs (their season runs October-May) with a generous side of fried potatoes and coleslaw, and be sure to save room for the best key lime pie ever. It’s a messy, festive experience, best enjoyed with a group.

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Secret sauce, fried sweet potatoes, garlic creamed spinach, cold seafood platter, Maine style lobster roll

Photo Courtesy: macsclubdeuce

Stay in Miami long enough and you’re bound to stop in at this Miami Beach dive bar. Established in 1926, Miami’s oldest bar was purchased in 1964 by Mac Klein, who ran his namesake Mac’s Club Deuce until his death in 2016 at the age of 101. Replete with neon, a jukebox, and lots of liquor, the cash-only bar has a legendary two-for-one happy hour daily from 8am (yes, you read that correctly!) to 7pm and is frequented by a clientele that’s remained loyal even as the Miami Beach scene has changed over the decades.

Photo Courtesy: own_andi

The storied history of Little Havana’s Ball & Chain reads like a fascinating novel: First opened in 1935, it was bought in the ‘50s by a group of individuals who were, let’s say, less than upstanding. The first 25 years of the bar brought multiple name changes, gambling, and performances by notable acts like Billie Holiday, Count Basie, and Chet Baker. The party ended with the bar’s closure in 1957, or so locals thought. At the turn of this century, the bar was renovated and reimagined with dark green walls, neon lights, and a pineapple-shaped stage. There are plenty of cocktails, live music, and an extensive tapas menu that features modern interpretations of Cuban classics like congri fritters (rice, beans, cheese, and mustard aioli), dark chocolate tres leches with 12-year rum and chocolate soil, and pastelitos de guayaba (flaky pastry filled with guava).

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Cuban spring rolls, piña coladas, Cuban sandwiches, rum chocolate tres leches, conch ceviche

Photo Courtesy: theherdspeaks

Where Coconut Grove meets Biscayne Bay, you’ll find Monty’s Raw Bar. In 1969, Monty Trainer, a Key West native, opened Monty’s Conch, a gas station and breakfast spot, which later became Monty’s Raw Bar. This tiki bar brings the Conch Republic vibes, serving raw oysters, conch salad, ceviche, and an assortment of tropical cocktails (our favorite is the classic Pain Remover: Virgin Island rum, coconut, pineapple, and orange juice), all set to live Caribbean music.

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Cajun Gator Bites, ceviche, Gulf oysters

Photo Courtesy: versaillesmiami

Versailles describes itself as “the world’s most famous Cuban restaurant,” and who are we to disagree? The Little Havana establishment has been the gathering place for the Cuban exile community since opening in 1971. When we have time, we like to sit in the dining room and order appetizers like mariquitas (green plantain chips) with mojo and mains like the Versailles Especial (slices of sweet ham, roast pork, Swiss cheese, and Spanish sausage piled between perfectly-toasted Cuban bread and topped with mustard and pickles). After this feast, we’re usually stuffed, but there’s always room for a treat from the pastry case, like tres leches or caramel flan. If we’re in a rush, we order a Cuban coffee and toasted-to-order Cuban bread slathered in butter from La Ventanita, the takeout window.

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Cuban sandwiches, croquetas, plantain pie, cream of malanga, Malta soda, Cuban mojito

Photo Courtesy: @doesitcomewithbacon

Long before the food truck craze, Allan Cohen had his white A.C. Icees truck parked at Coconut Grove’s Kennedy Park. The Detroit native began serving his legendary frozen lemonades in 1978. It’s a simple operation: cash only, a handful of flavors (traditional, cherry, or piña colada), Sabrett hotdogs if you’re in the mood for something savory, and no social media. It’s a thirst-quenching throwback to simpler times, and quite possibly the best frosted lemonade you’ve ever had.

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Lemonade icee, pina colada icee, cherry and strawberry icee

Photo Courtesy: brjcreations

Opened in 1988 as a news kiosk, the iconic News Café was already famous before the world learned it was the last place designer Gianni Versace frequented before being shot on the front steps of his Ocean Drive mansion. Over the years, it’s expanded to encompass a sidewalk café, restaurant, bar, newsstand, and bookstore. Take it all in: sit outside and watch the world go by while noshing on classic diner fare, then peruse the newsstand. Our favorites menu items are the hearty classic breakfasts like the Breakfast Special, and desserts like the bread pudding, flan de queso, and chocolate fondue.

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Scrambled eggs and home fries, berries with whipped cream

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