Welcome To Our Annual Best Of The Gables Issue
For our 2021 foray into the finest our city offers, we decided to search for the best in 120 categories of Food & Drink, Shopping & Retail, Arts & Entertainment, Sports & Recreation, and Architecture & Public Places. Naturally, since Coral Gables is nothing if not a moveable feast, almost half of our BEST OF choices are for Food & Drink.
To produce this monumental probe into what makes living in Coral Gables so spectacular, we enlisted the help of 38 local luminaries, in addition to what our staff could discern through diligently traversing the city at all hours of the day and night. You may agree or disagree with our determinations, but we think this is a worthy look at some of the best things Coral Gables has to offer. If you would like to offer your own take on THE BEST, please reach out to email@example.com.
OUR “BEST OF” BOARD OF ADVISORS:
Patrick Alexander, author & lecturer; John Allen, Coral Gables Museum; Veronica Villegas Baldwin, Kreps PR; Greg Barnes, Bill Ussery Motors; Bradley Barreto, Barreto Group; Rodney Barreto, Barreto Group; Terre Bernace, Shelton & Steward; Bill Bonn, philanthropist; Karelia Carbonell, historic preservationist; CL Conroy, Conroy Martinez; Ray Corral, The Mosaicist; Meg Daley, The Underline; Sissy DeMaria, Cultivate PR; Swanee DiMare, philanthropist; Wayne Eldred, Outlier Institute; Danny Guiteras, The Globe; Sara Hernandez, First Citizens Bank; Jill Hornick, Jae’s Jewelers; Rishi Kapoor, Location Ventures; Ben Mollere, Baptist Health; Patrick O’Connell, BHHS/EWM; John O’Rourke, First American Bank; Jose Ortega, Maven Realty; Silvia Ortiz, Americas Collection; Judy Mangasarian, Coral Gables Garden Club; Virginia Miller, Art Space; Tony Newell, Resorcity; Julian Perez, Coral Gables Economic Development Department; Kim Rodriguez, personal shopper; Patricia San Pedro, Frost School of Music; Marc Schwarzberg, Maven Realty; Don Slesnick, Slesnick & Casey, LLP; Mary Snow, Coral Gables Community Foundation; Christopher Spuches, Agentis; Venny Torre, Torre Companies; Mark Trowbridge, Coral Gables Chamber of Commerce; Francesca Valdes, Retail Strategist, City of Coral Gables; Jose Valdes-Fauli, retired banker; Jeffrey Wolfe, Wolfe’s Wines.
Best Spanish Restaurant
Bellmont Spanish Restaurant
339 Miracle Mile
Owner Sergio Bellmónt personally carves the Jamón de Jabugo, truly the world’s best cured Spanish ham, more valuable than gold. But it’s the 14,700-pound iron oven from Spain, which they use to roast baby pigs, and the paella selections that will make you feel like you’re in a neighborhood café in Madrid.
Best Argentine Restaurant
394 Giralda Ave.
The beef roasting on an open spit in the entranceway tells you that Graziano’s is all about the meat. They also have literally walls of wine from Argentina. Great cuts of high-quality carne make this the Argentine answer to Fogo de Chão, along with excellent sides and top service.
Best Peruvian Restaurant
160 Giralda Ave.
The ceviche is divine here. But for those who think marinated fish is the only dish worth trying from Peru, it’s time to explore Divino’s menu, from ají de gallina, Peru’s answer to yellow Asian curry, to tacu tacus, with rice, beans, garlic, beef, quail eggs, and creole sauce.
Best Thai Restaurant
1118 S Dixie Highway
This longtime favorite on US 1 continuesto amaze with the quality of its food, which delivers solid classics like Pad Thai, Satei and Mee Krab, then goes beyond with roasted and crispy duck dishes, tiger prawns and lamb with honey sambal sauce.
Best New Asian Restaurant
157 Giralda Ave.
This is the reinvention of Bangkok Bangkok, but with a new menu of real Thai street food. It’s the only place you can get a whole fish fried and bathed in red chili sauce, let alone crispy pork belly with basil and garlic, or e-sarn sausage with ginger, lime and peanuts.
Best American Restaurant
201 Miracle Mile
Arguably the most popular restaurant in Coral Gables, there is rarely an empty table at Hillstone. While it has a large sushi selection, our judges thought that it delivered a quality spread of Americana, from BBQ ribs to grilled chicken salad. Plus a plethora of booths and snappy service.
Best Power Breakfast
Riviera Country Club
1155 BLUE RD.
On any given day, you will find the city’s movers and shakers in the Founder’s Lounge enjoying breakfast while overlooking the Riviera golf course and congratulating themselves on being masters of the universe. And you know it’s a power breakfast because many people are dressed in golf attire…. on a Tuesday morning! – Rodney Barreto
Best Power Lunch
318 Aragon Ave.
Maybe it’s the service, or the walls with their acoustic dampers, or the solicitous service from the staff, or the warm greetings from owner Nino Pernetti. However it works, this bastion of elegant dining makes you feel like family and remains the go-to lunch choice for the city’s power elite.
Best French Bistro
2618 Galliano St.
This casual spot doesn’t pretend to look French, but it’s got that Paris café thing, where a truck driver can feel comfortable sitting next to a professor from the Sorbonne, ordering good French food from the chalkboard menu until it runs out. Everything prepared fresh each day.
Best Haute French
Pascal’s On Ponce
2611 Ponce de Leon Blvd.
Exquisite, understatedly elegant, intimate without feeling crowded. Chef Pascal Oudin has been practicing the art of classic French cuisine on Ponce de Leon Boulevard for 20 years now. Perfection does not come cheap, but splurge here if you want a meal you will never forget.
Best Vietnamese Restaurant
Miss Saigon Bistro
148 Giralda Ave.
At one time voted the best restaurant in Coral Gables, Miss Saigon is still a perfect place for what it delivers – great Vietnamese food with excellent service and prices. We wish they still dressed in authentic costume, but the light dishes of pho and lemon grass make up for it.
Best Middle Easter Restaurant
Sawa Restaurant & Lounge
360 San Lorenzo Ave (Merrick Park) SAN
Maybe it’s because the owner hails from Lebanon, but you won’t find any fresher hummus or baba ganoush made from scratch daily, or any better mousakaa or lamb kebabs. Forgive them for carrying a parallel Japanese menu. Most of the seating is outside, where belly dancers cavort on weekend nights.
Best Indian Restaurant
Taste Buds of India
2624 Ponce de Leon Blvd.
This is the place to learn about Indian food. Just come at lunch and try their buffet, which changes daily. Okay, so you don’t want goat curry on Tuesday. But Wednesday, the tiki masala will make you a convert. Very fresh, the central kitchen for the growing chain.
Poc American Fusion Buffet & Sushi
2121 Ponce de Leon Blvd.
This is the upscale version of an all-you-can-eat buffet, the only place that Gableites will stand in line for lunch besides Hillstone. How upscale? How about Waldorf salad, lobster bisque, and lots of sushi. They claim to have 100 different dishes every day; we stopped at about a dozen.
Best Ice Cream / Fruit Bar
76 Miracle Mile
With global warming on its way, this is vital information: Morelia’s Gourmet Paletas is the perfect antidote for the torrid summer to come. Need a pick me up? Get the coffee filled-with-cream paleta. Feeling fruity? Get the strawberry filled with condensed milk. Want something richer? Dip it in dark chocolate.
Best Ice Cream B
256 Giralda Ave.
La Glace prides itself on purity – all natural, no artificial colors, etc. They also have non-dairy for vegans. With 24 regular flavors (like cheesecake, cactus pear, guava, and coconut) and a half dozen vegan (like peanut butter fudge and sea salt caramel), it’s a tough choice.
Best Steak House
3101 Ponce De Leon Blvd.
With places like Fleming’s, Morton’s and Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse nearby, this is a tough category. What puts Christy’s over the top besides superb steaks and elegant service, is a deep history and rich ambiance, with continuity and stability. As long as Christy’s survives, the Old Gables will never die.
Best Bar to Watch Sports
Fritz and Franz Bierhaus
60 Merrick Way
It’s cavernous, their big screens (inside and out) are humongous, and the wall of beer tells you all you need to know about their selection of brewskies. Live loud or go home!
Best Hardcore Bar
172 Giralda Ave
If you are a bar purist, The Bar is for you. It’s just a bar. Nothing else. Established in 1946, with a large following of regulars. Reasonably priced, with a wooden bar and wooden walls that haven’t been replaced in forever. Plus, a solid bar-food menu with sliders, wings, cheese fries, etc.
Best Secret Place to Eat
Tinta Y Café
1315 Ponce de Leon Blvd.
Don’t drive too fast on Ponce or you’ll miss this cozy neighborhood spot tucked in one block east on Salamanca. This is Cuban comfort food at its best, and the mismatched furniture makes you feel like you’re in someone’s home. Great fluffy eggs, all the sandwiches on baguettes, perfect coffee.
Best Rice Bowl
This is an industrial casual, perennially millennial hangout, and while it is actually a Ramen restaurant it has the best rice bowls anywhere. Their $16.50 Gyudon bowl with beef brisket, and two poached eggs will feed you for a week.
Best Bento Box
Su Shin Izikaya
159 Aragon Ave.
Part of the fun here is how owner Chika Abe yells across the place to seat you and say goodbye, like an air traffic controller at Tokyo International. Lots of interesting daily specials, but nothing beats the $11.50 bento box with soup, sushi, tempura, teriyaki and salad with killer ginger dressing.
Best Caesar Salad
3101 Ponce de Leon Blvd.
What goes with great steaks more than the best Caesar salad anywhere in Miami-Dade, let alone Coral Gables? This is the real deal, old school, with full-on anchovies. The recipe is of course a secret, which keeps locals coming back for more – including buying it by the quart, to go.
Best Early-Evening Happy Hour
2500 Ponce de Leon Blvd.
After 5 p.m., you know where to find us. Bulla has such an eclectic happy hour menu that there’s something for everyone. As a Spanish restaurant, it’s only fitting that they have killer sangria — but they have three different types! We’re obsessed with the beer sangria.
Best Late-Night Happy Hour
320 San Lorenzo Ave. (The Shops)
Sometimes you can’t leave work in time for happy hour. Which is why you go to Yard House. Sunday through Wednesday they offer a late-night happy hour from 10 p.m. till closing, offering the same food and drink deals as the daytime happy hour. Sometimes just thinking about tomorrow requires a drink.
Best Chocolate Shop
248 Andalusia Ave.
Other chocolate shops have come and gone, but not this 17-year-old shrine to the sacred cocoa bean. It’s also a nice little café and one of the busiest breakfast spots in town. Their chocolate comes from Switzerland and France.
Fontana Restaurant at the Biltmore
1200 Anastasia Ave.
At $90 per person, it used to be the most extensive spread in the city. Now they’ve gone from buffet to “boards” for $30 to $40, with seven choices, including caviar trio and Scottish salmon. The “breakfast” board includes two eggs, waffles, chicken apple sausage links and roasted potatoes. Add $5 for bottomless mimosas.
Best Chicken Wings
1559 Sunset Drive
The secret is in the name of the place. These wings are never exposed to the indignity of the fry basket. These babies are all grilled, and you’d be amazed at what that does for the flavor. The Miami Heat style wings – they have eight varieties – are a slam dunk.
Best Family-Style Italian
264 Miracle Mile
It’s narrow and dimly lit, with lots of old photos on the wall, like at your Italian grandmother’s house. And the food is so homemade – like the fettuccine alla papalina, or the risotto ai funghi porcini. Family-run, with a fanatical following, so reserve early.
Best Pasta Night
117 Miracle Mile
While it’s known for its Italian meats – those prosciuttos, salamis and mortadellas we love – Salumeria 104 also serves superb pasta dishes. And on Monday evenings you can choose any of them for $10 each. Our recommendation: Farro Alla Nerano, an organic Farro spaghetti with zucchini, pecorino romano cheese and basil.
1430 S. DIXIE HWY
Come to Madruga and you’ll understand why Oprah Winfrey will never give up bread. Proprietor and master baker Naomi Harris calls it a rustic bakery; their bread and pastries include everything from sourdough to babkas, but they pride themselves on craft bread baked from fresh milled heirloom wheat on a stone hearth.
Best Dog Menu
Sawa Restaurant & Lounge
360 San Lorenzo Ave. (The Shops)
One advantage of having tables in the courtyard of The Shops at Merrick Park is that you can accommodate canine diners. They are not allowed on the furniture, but that won’t dampen your dog’s enthusiasm for a skewer of chicken breast or filet mignon kebab. Jerky strips and doggie desserts, too.
Best Oyster Deal
Gringo’s Oyster Bar
1549 Sunset Dr.
Gringo’s is the place to go for oyster fanatics. From 3 to 6 p.m. on Tuesday through Friday, Gringo’s offers an oyster happy hour, with a half dozen oysters for just $9 or a dozen for $18. Normally, oysters are $3 each, so this is a steal.
Best Seafood Restaurant
264 Giralda Ave.
Their lobster tacos and popcorn shrimp make everything in the universe right. And where else do they show you the fish before cooking it, except maybe in Hong Kong? Owner and executive chef Lilia “Fifi” Molina, who has a reputation for sending back less-than-fresh fish to suppliers, fuses Latin and Asian flavors.
278 Miracle Mile
Who knew that Caribbean food could reach such heights? Chef Niven Patel’s new restaurant in the THēsis Hotel is a showcase of culinary wizardry, with its mix of Caribbean, Polynesian and Thai gastronomy. Tropical décor inside, lots of seating outside, including an upstairs balcony, to taste this new, light cuisine.
126 Giralda Ave.
Coyo Taco was among the first restaurants to open in Wynwood, back when it was actually edgy and raw. Its incarnation on Giralda Plaza became an instant hit: A wide variety of tacos, late night hours, a speakeasy in the back, and a cool, high-ceiling space that was a post office.
Best Coffee House
300 Alhambra Circle
On the inside of this historic, landmark building is a standup piano that actually gets played once in a while. Behind the display cases of pastries are beautiful, ancient coffee machines, Italian style. But it’s the coffee that is the star here, along with the shady outside courtyard.
Best Local Vibe
Café at Books & Books
265 Aragone Ave.
This Gables institution feels like a community center, enhanced by live book readings that should soon resume. There’s cozy seating amidst the books and a café that serves inside or in the outdoor courtyard where you can read and nosh. We also love a bookstore that has a wine bar.
141 Giralda Ave.
Don’t show up for dinner here. Like myriad places in proprietor Nick Sharpe’s hometown of Melbourne, Australia, this is an all-day breakfast place. And home to the first smashed avocado toast in the Gables, not to mention their legendary salmon scramble. Loyal clients also come for a darn good cup of coffee.
Best Fried Chicken
9610 Old Cutler Road
How ironic it is that the best fried chicken in Coral Gables should be served on Biscayne Bay at a seafood restaurant? But that is the case with the amazing fried chicken at Red Fish by Chef Adrianne, which is brined and then fried in a buttermilk batter that is laced with honey.
Terre Del Sapore
246 Giralda Ave.
Fantastic flavor, wood fired oven; owner Angelo Angiollieri will tell you that it’s all about the ingredients that go into his Neapolitan-style pizzas, which melt in your mouth. Everything comes from Italy – including the tomatoes, buffalo mozzarella, and flour that is far less processed, and hence slower to digest.
Most Romantic Restaurant
Fontana at the Biltmore Hotel
1200 Anastasia Ave.
Maybe it’s the sound of the massive Renaissance Italian fountain bubbling away. Maybe it’s the pillars and arches of the historic Biltmore Hotel. But when you are sitting in the courtyard of the Fontana Restaurant, with the twilight gently descending and music softly playing, it’s hard not to be enchanted.
Best New Restaurant
116 Giralda Ave.
Giorgio Rapicavoli’s delightful new café on Giralda Plaza is an instant success. Think sophisticated eatery on a side street in Milan or Rome, with a simple, rotating menu based on whatever is freshly in season, customers sipping Campari on the rocks. Don’t miss the Pasta al limione; good luck getting a reservation.
2020 Salzedo St.
This restaurant was created as a showcase for the creations of Antonio Bachour, voted a few years back by his colleagues as the best pastry chef in the world. The desserts are displayed in glass cases that rival Tiffany and they are works of art. Too bad you can’t help eating them.
2500 Ponce de Leon Blvd.
With the pandemic over, what could be better for social interaction than sharing the “small plates” of Spain? Great energy at this open layout, with two dozen tapas, from classic patatas bravas to the more edgy cumin marinated pork chunks. Plus, we are obsessed with their beer sangria.
Best Expensive Restaurant
1500 San Ignacio Ave.
Founding Chef Fabio Trabocchi, of D.C. fame, made sure every detail of Fiola reflected elegance, from the artwork to the place settings to the food presentations. Among their must-try dishes is the porcini mushroom soup and Trabocchi’s signature lobster ravioli. Either one is worth the visit.
Best New Restaurant
116 Giralda Ave.
Rapicavoli’s delightful new café on Giralda Plaza is an instant success. Think sophisticated eatery on a side street in Milan or Rome, with a simple, rotating menu based on whatever is freshly in season, customers sipping Campari on the rocks. Don’t miss the Pasta al Limone; good luck getting a reservation.
Best Outdoor Dining During the Pandemic
162 Alcazar Ave.
Located in the old St. Michel Hotel, Zucca has earned its star in the galaxy of Gables Italian restaurants with its distinctly northern Italian cuisine. During the pandemic they expanded onto Alcazar with a charming outdoor space modeled on the best in New York, with vinery, roof and strings of light.
Best Outdoor Dining
Red Fish by Chef Adrianne
9610 Old Cutler Rd.
Can anything beat the view of the Matheson Hammock Park lagoon and Biscayne Bay beyond it at Red Fish? Answer: No. Originally built as a bathhouse in 1935 as part of President Roosevelt’s Federal Emergency Relief Act, the old stone building was restored last year into this high-priced but delightful place to eat.
The Gramercy Miami
220 Miracle Mile
Want a tart, yet delicious way to start the evening? Try their signature cocktail, The Gramercy made with tequila, blackberry-sage, lemon, cardamom bitters, and aquafaba (which makes it vegan-friendly). On the sweeter side is the Jazz Connection, which combines gin, orange curacao, honey-lavender syrup, lemon, cream, and orange blossom water.
Best Lunch Bargain
2001 Granada Blvd.
A cheeseburger for $5.25? A cup of chili for $3? A bagel with cream cheese for $2.50? Did we just climb into a time machine back to the 1950s? That’s what it feels like at Burger Bob’s, the timeless hold out on the edge of the first tee-off at the Granada Golf Course.
Best Pop Up
396 Alhambra Circle Suite
Part of the fun is walking through the lobby of the enormous 396 Alhambra building. But the real fun is sampling the dumplings of Chef Pablo Zitzmann, whose pop-up restaurant just off the lobby reinvents the dim sum experience with Mexican and Korean influences. Sound intriguing? It is.