“The best Miami food tour“
Far and away, the highlight of my recent weekend in Miami Beach was the food tour I took with Miami Culinary Tours. As I intimated in my sneak peek post from earlier this week, eating my heart out was the dominant activity of my 72 hours in the Magic City and this was most notably due to the 2.5 hours I spent sampling and noshing.
While I had always planned my weekend in Miami to be basically a rest and relaxation trip, as in no touring, no visiting museums and historical attractions, I figured a food tour was a pretty harmless AND relaxing venture. I mean, when one travels, she still has to eat, and what better way to do that than get to sample food from a myriad of unique places, many generally off a tourist’s radar?
After going to the ever useful Google, I stumbled across Miami Culinary Tours and my mind was rather easily made up. The company offers three tours-one in the popular and tourist strong neighborhood of South Beach, which is given daily two times a day, a second in the neighborhood of Wynwood (an up and coming spot that is home to Miami’s first craft production brewery) that is offered on Fridays and Saturdays, and a third in Little Havana which is available Thursdays through Saturdays. As someone who loves Cuban food and who dreams about visiting Cuba one day, I would have loved to have done the Little Havana one. But since we weren’t renting a car and were already blitzing out on taxis (to and from the airport as well as to and from the Mandarin Oriental where we had dinner on our last night), the prospect of being able to walk 10 minutes from our hotel to the South Beach tour location starting point won out in the end. But I needn’t have worried about missing out on the Little Havana tour, as I got to sample plenty of Cuban fare on the South Beach one.
The South Beach tour is offered at noon and 5 PM. Since it was late November and it gets dark rather early, I opted to do the one at noon as I wanted to have optimal lighting for photographs. Marie was our tour guide and she was an absolute delight. She clearly loved telling visitors about her adopted city and more importantly, about the foods we would be trying and the places we would be visiting. (She’s originally from Denmark but has been in the United States for some time living in Colorado and Rhode Island before coming down to Miami. She also spoke fluent English as do all the individuals from Scandinavia.) She was a font of information on the non-food facets of the tour as well, providing a great “beginners” background to the Art Deco style, telling us about many of the famous buildings we passed, and even giving us some good ol’ Hollywood style gossip about the late fashion designer Gianni Versace (his palatial mansion is located right on the famous Ocean Drive). And Marie was great about giving me a moment here and there to take photos and notes.
Our tour consisted only of us and one other woman. Marie explained that the mediocre weather most likely kept down the crowd. I’m sure I would have loved it regardless of the number of people attending, but having such an intimate group made me love it that much more.
But enough of that…on to the food!
We visited a total of six places, some being sit-down stops, while others more eat on the go style. The website states that “plenty of food is served,” and this is definitely the case. Obviously, everyone’s food consumption levels will vary but even going from one extreme to another, I think everyone would finish the tour 100% sated.
And here are all of the amazing places we dined at:
1st stop: Bolivar restaurant (serves South American fare)
This is where the tour started and oh my, what a great start it got off to. We had a refajo, which is a Colombian mixed drink featuring Colombiana (a flavored soda), and Aguila, a Colombian lager. You tasted the soda more but that was fine with me. This was accompanied by Colombian ceviche and a Colombian potato and beef empanada with aji sauce. Both of these items are common throughout Latin America but Colombian ceviche features less marinade than Peru’s and the empanada is made with corn meal as opposed to flour. This was my first time trying ceviche and while I was extremely apprehensive about eating it, I liked it more than I thought I would. It featured swai, a freshwater fish from Florida, and was marinated in lemon juice and passion fruit. I would have loved to have eaten a full meal here.
2nd stop: Manolo’s (Latin style diner/bakery)
This was an eat on the go stop, featuring perhaps the most decadent of all our samplings-dulce de leche churros. While I ingested loads of dulce de leche (a caramel sauce popular throughout Latin America) during my time in Argentina, having it serve as the filling for a churro, fried dough coated in cinnamon, ay que rico.
3rd stop: Habanos Cuban Cafe
It was here that I got to try mariquitas (Cuban style plantain chips) for the second time in a day, yet these were even better than the first ones as they were topped with a delectable and unique mojo sauce (it featured mustard in addition to the usual ingredients found in mojo). We were also served vaca frita (fried cow) sliders which consisted of braised beef topped with onions, peppers, and a chimichurri sauce. Our time at Habanos was finished with trying colada, which is 4-6 shots of Cuban style espresso served in a Styrofoam cup along with small, plastic demitasses. It’s in takeaway form as it’s meant to be shared with friends.
4th stop: Charlotte Bakery (Latin baked goods)
After learning about Charlotte Bakery, considered to be one of the best in Miami, I made a note to visit. Luckily for me, it was one of the stops on the tour. Here we had an Argentine style chicken empanada. What made it different from the Colombian one we’d tried earlier was that it was made with flour (not corn meal) and was baked not fried. It was one of those foods where after the first bite, the dough literally crumbles in your mouth. It came with guasacaca sauce. Both empanadas on the tour were delicious and I couldn’t choose a favorite. Marie mentioned that the original owners were from Santiago, Chile but lived in other Latin American countries before heading north to Miami and as such, their bakery’s offerings reflect their diverse living experiences. She also said that everything is made in house and by hand. My only regret is that I didn’t have time to sample more goodies at the bakery (both of the sweet and savory variety).
5th stop: Block’s Pizza Kitchen (Italian)
Of all the stops we made, the food that we tried here was probably my least favorite. Not that I didn’t like it, I just didn’t LOVE it like I did the other things. Block’s served a “different” kind of pizza. It consisted of sourdough (also known as friendship dough/mother dough) in a pita pocket style and was filled with sun dried tomatoes, greens, cheese, and olives (its name is the Sundried Hippie Pocket). As I can’t stand the taste of olives, that somewhat dampened my opinion of it. But the dough tasted delicious and Marie explained that the owners of Block’s (two Italian immigrants) brought the dough over as it has been in their family for over a century (we all wondered how they got it through customs). This was supposed to be a sit down stop but another Miami Culinary Tour that was running almost simultaneously with ours arrived at Block’s and being such a large group (more than 15 people) in a small space, we thought it best to walk and eat, which was fine as the pocket was definitely designed for such.
6th stop: Milani Gelateria
Our final stop was naturally a sweet one. Milani Gelateria, in addition to its eclectic gelati options was just a lovely spot to be in. It’s located on Hispanola Way, a street whose beautiful colored buildings and look is evocative of times past. The owner gave us a quick rundown on what makes gelati different from ice cream (it’s never frozen), and she also explained that the gelati is made fresh every day, which was pretty incredible if you think about it. We got to sample two flavors. I went with chocolate chip (one of their most popular ones, the owner said), and passion fruit (odd but the best of both worlds).
It was definitely a lot of food, but Marie said multiple times that if there was something we didn’t like, we needn’t feel obligated to try it and obviously if we were full, well, no need to over eat. At the end of the tour, she asked us what we thought of the food amounts. I honestly said it was a lot and that if I had to choose something to do without, I probably could have forgone the vaca frita sliders or the pizza pocket, but, that’s just me; everyone’s metabolism levels are different.
So there you have it, my absolutely incredible foodie adventure with Miami Culinary Tours. If you find yourself in Miami, do yourself and your stomach a favor by taking one. The beach will be there, as will the Art Deco buildings. So if your time is limited, don’t miss out on this awesome culinary adventure.
Note: I was a guest of Miami Culinary Tours but all thoughts and opinions expressed here are entirely my own.