Standing in the queue to board the flight, we are chatting to a native New Yorker. “You know”, he says to us, “Miami used to be the place where old people went to die, then BOOM, now it’s the hip place to be”. Got it. We get to South Beach and I can see what he means, bars, clubs, restaurants, trendy hotels, art deco bought to life, and of course that long long stretch of beach. Lots of young couples, families, girls on a weekend getaway, bucks groups.
We stay at The Setai, an Asian inspired hotel on Collins, where the surrounds are serene and the service excellent. Collins Street is the main strip, right on the beach where you’ll find most of the larger hotels. In June, we are in what is considered the start of “low season” as it’s the time of year where the heat really starts to crank up and the humidity can as well, but it was nothing over the top. Avoid August and September, when it is apparently unbearable, and lots of places shut down.
We have a lovely view from our room. First thing in the morning it is deserted and quiet. Quite different to somewhere like our own Gold Coast where early morning you’ll see hundreds of people power walking, casually strolling or running.
On the advice of a friend who’d just been, we use Uber a lot to get around – it is super efficient and quite a bit cheaper. Jose, Luis, Leopold, Roberto, we meet some colourful locals. One is a violinist; most don’t speak a lot of English, with Spanish being the primary language here.
Off Collins you’ll find Lincoln Road Mall, which is a sort of out door mall. It starts off with lots of touristy junky shops and (slightly dodgy) electrical shops, and then becomes progressively nicer, with plenty of bars, cafes and restaurants to stop at along the way.
One night we head to Macchialina on Alton Street for dinner. You won’t stumble across this place, it’s a bit away from the main drag, but it is worth knowing about. Chef Michael Pirolo is producing some seriously good Italian food. Our server Paul is – of course – from Noosa of all places; he’s been living in Miami for 5 years. He tells us we’ve happened on a food gem and he isn’t wrong. This would have been one of my favourite meals in three weeks of travel in the US, and I thought the prices were reasonable for the quality.
The pasta dishes hit it out of the park. The short rib and taleggio lasagne and the mushroom tagliolini are rich and fragrant and my favourites; though the cavatelli Macchialina and the spaghetti vongole aren’t far behind.
Afterwards, the boys feel like some gelato and Paul suggests we head towards South Pointe for a stroll and stop in at 4D gelato along the way. We wonder what 4D might stand for, and find out it was started by 4 brothers whose surname starts with D. They don’t do any “out there” flavours here, it is the Italian classics, executed very very well.
The following night we try Joe’s Stone Crab, a bit of a Miami institution, open for over 100 years. It is a much larger restaurant than I expected, but that doesn’t stop it from filling up, and in the peak months the wait can be long.
We also give Quality Meats a whirl. At first, it reminds me of Rockpool Bar & Grill in Sydney. An old art deco building restored, excellent and knowledgeable staff, and a comprehensive choice of cuts of meat.
The sauce for steak is prepared at the table, which is a nice touch. But our Neil trumps them on the meat; the filet mignon, ordered medium, is still alive when we cut into it, and my bavette is overcooked, and the cured orange salad too sweet.
If you can peel yourself away from the beach and pool and head downtown, do go to Wynwood Walls and the surrounding streets – some fabulous artwork and graffiti awaits.