Top 10 Outdoor Dining Experiences in the Gables

Al Fresco Café Society

When Miami-Dade County ordered indoor dining closed in July, restaurants across the Gables rose to the occasion with inventive outdoor options. The number of restaurants with outside seating rose from less than 40 to more than 90.

We are now back to 50 percent capacity inside, so the flood tide is receding. Hillstone, arguably the city’s busiest dining spot, has pulled its tables back inside. But the vast majority of establishments are keeping their outdoor seating in place, at least for now. For those wary of the coronavirus, it still feels like the safest way to share a meal. Dining out has literally come to mean dining out, and with cooler weather on the way, it’s becoming an even more pleasant experience. With that in mind, we set out to pick the best outdoor dining experiences in the Gables. We based our choices on different criterion: The feeling of open space, the comfort of the seating, the visual setting, the protection from sun and rain, the presence of fans or breezes, and, of course, the quality of the food.

Exploring (as we did for the sake of our readers) scores of places with outside seating, we came across many excellent out-of-doors options. In the end, we leaned toward places with permanent al fresco spaces – a courtyard, for example, rather than a converted parking lot – to come up with our top 10 picks for outdoor dining in the city. If you are still hesitant to venture out during the coronavirus, these places all felt pretty safe. And, because there were so many other, worthy outdoor experiences beyond the top 10, we must mention some of our other favorite places: Morton’s, under the arches of the Colonnade; Fontana, under the huge umbrellas at the Biltmore; Salumeria 104, a great lunch in the alcove or on the sidewalk; Tur Kitchen, in the arcade of Gables Place, for unique south Mediterrean dishes; at the elegant outdoor tables of Doc B’s on Miracle Mile.

Best Brunch: Bachour

The outdoor grand breezeway where Bachour patrons can sit illustrates a principle of science that Florida pioneer builders used: Convection. You create a large inner space – in this case the huge courtyard of the 2020 Salzedo Building – where heat causes the air to rise. Then you create a smaller space – in this case the Bachour breezeway – where the air has to rush through to fill the vacuum left behind by the rising hot air. The result is a constant flow of air through the breezeway – and, p.s., calling the outdoor Bachour eating area a breezeway does not do justice to its 20-foot arched ceilings. And then there is the food. Chef Antonio Bachour is known worldwide as a brilliant pastry chef, and his miniature desserts are all available (under glass cases inside). But he is also a master of the breakfast dish, including his breakfast pastries on steroids, like his red velvet croissants with cream cheese or his sticky caramel monkey bread with a vein of Nutella inside. Add to that a superb brunch menu that includes his delicious guava pancakes and his amazing salmon eggs benedict. This is what a perfect poached egg is all about.

202 Salzedo St.

Most Comfortable: Buenos Aires Bistro

This relatively new addition to the Gables dining scene has won us over with its cushioned chairs and couches. Don’t shy away from the low-lying seating; once you get settled in, it’s way comfortable. It’s the kind of place you want to come when you have time to kill and can just lean back with a drink in hand. Located under the arches of the Colonnade building, the seating is shaded, protected from sun and rain, and a great place for people watching on Ponce de Leon Boulevard. Speaking of drinks, cocktails, beer and wine are half-off from 4 to 7 p.m. on weekdays, when there is a lively happy hour. You can never go wrong with a refreshing cucumber martini or a chilled Sauvignon Blanc on a hot evening. Foodwise, the Buenos Aires Bistro naturally leans toward the Argentine, with lots of beef choices – including their massive parrillada mixed grill (yes, blood sausage included) for two. But they balance this out with healthy salads, including a red quinoa and a bosc pear. For lunch, the glazed salmon and quinoa bowl is a must – unless you want that steak and brie sandwich with caramelized onions.

180 Aragaon Ave.

Best Selection: Giralda Plaza

Welcome to the United Nations of food. Step onto this pedestrian plaza and the world is at your fingertips (at least gastronomically speaking). You have Italian at Lorenzo’s Pizza; American at Threefold Café, The Bar, The Local and 77 Sport Bar; and Middle Eastern at Rice Mediterranean Kitchen. For Mexican food there is Talavera Cocina Mexicana and the less formal Coyo Taco. Espresso Cubano has Cuban food and Divino Ceviche brings an authentic taste of Peru to Giralda. Representing the continent of Asia, Kae Sushi is Japanese, Bangkok Bangkok II is Thai and Miss Saigon serves the best Vietnamese food in all of Greater Miami. Finally, La Sandwicherie has French-style sandwiches served on a baguette or croissant (extra vinaigrette, please); and Tapeo has tapas from across Iberia. Half the fun here is the ambiance. With no cars to worry about, diners are free to roam until they find the cuisine they’re craving. Most restaurants have umbrellas to provide shade during the day, and there is some tree shade; we prefer Giralda at night when the lights strung throughout the palm trees are all aglitter.

Giralda Plaza (between Ponce de Leon Boulevard and Galiano Street)

Best Happy Hour: Gringo’s Oyster Bar

The first ingredient here is the long, open alley that Gringo’s shares with the Sports Grill on Sunset Drive. It has a high rooftop with a gap that lets in plenty of light while it shades and protects. And then there are the fans, which blow down the alley with misters. Even the lighting fixtures are elegant, and there is a sense of openness for the entire restaurant, which has an abundance of sliding glass-door openings. During the pandemic’s worst shutdown, Gringo’s provided a welcome neighborhood hangout for the South Gables. But why the happy hour accolade? It’s the oysters, man, the oysters, which are delicious at any price but especially so from 3 to 6 p.m. on Tuesdays and 3 to 6 p.m. on Fridays. During our last visit we sampled Wellfleets from New York, and Blue Points from Washington. They always have three or four choices, from different oyster beds on the East Coast, West Coast and Canada. Some are pillow soft and sweet, others brisk and briny; it’s always a treat to find out. They also serve a good selection of beer, without which, as any Cape Codder will tell you, the oyster experience is incomplete. Some nice pub and fish food, too, like crab cakes, conch ceviche and lobster sliders.

1549 Sunset Dr.

Best Open Space: Shops at Merrick Park

The ground floor of the Shops at Merrick Park was practically designed with outdoor dining in mind. With its enormous public courtyard, festooned with royal palms and fountains, every restaurant has a spacious patio, so that even with the distancing requirements there are still plenty of tables. And whether it’s an awning or an umbrella, every table has some sort of covering to protect diners from the relentless Florida sun. With only one street running through the center, you’re also protected from the noise of traffic; dining under the overpass is also the ultimate protection against rain. You can’t go wrong with any of the choices in the Shops at Merrick Park, in terms of both food quality and dining options. Yard House has a vast American menu and reasonable pricing; Sawa has a uniquely mixed Japanese and Lebanese menu, with a belly dancer (outside) on weekends; popular Villagio serves traditional Italian cuisine; Sea Grill has fresh seafood flown in from the Aegean daily; the bottomless brunch at the French café Brasserie Central is not to be missed; and Perry’s Steakhouse Friday pork chop special has become legendary.

358 San Lorenzo Ave.

Best Late Afternoon: Titanic Brewery & Restaurant

The University of Miami has allowed Titanic Brewing Company to take over a large, open area behind the brewery. They have filled the area with socially distanced picnic tables and green and orange umbrellas (Go Canes), making it a relaxed, shady spot to grab a beer. Sitting here takes you out of the urban setting and brings you to a park with a New England vibe – like you’re at a potluck dinner in Vermont – except for, you know, the heat and humidity. Their beers are brewed in-house and Titanic offers a wide variety from ales to stouts. And though there will be no Oktoberfest-ing this year (thanks, coronavirus), you can still get in the fall spirit with any of their seasonal brews. The menu is full of comfort pub food, like wings, sliders and a creamy, non-fishy smoked fish dip. This is a temporary arrangement until at least January, but we hope it becomes permanent. If you stay until it gets dark, the staff comes around and attaches light fixtures to the umbrella so that you can keep drinking craft brews well into the evening. The perfect way to round out the day with family and friends.

5813 Ponce de Leon Blvd.

Best Kept Secret: Cascade Pool Cafe

When you think of dining at the Biltmore, you usually think of Fontana in their courtyard, or the award-winning Palme D’Or, or even the 19th Hole restaurant on the edge of the golf course. Rarely do you think of Cascade, the iron-table, iron-seat lunch spot that rests under a colonnade along the largest swimming pool in the state of Florida. The view is pure eyeball candy, a huge sea of sparkling blue, with the Tuscan-yellow walls of the hotel as backdrop. And the colonnade seating, with the aid of a water fall and fans, is a natural breezeway. The menu is an abbreviated version of the larger Fontana menu next door, carrying some of their classic dishes – like their grilled salmon and Brussels sprouts, or their linguine with clams – along with a few special “cool” dishes, like the chilled gazpacho and the chilled lobster roll. The service is crisp, as is their perfect Caesar salad, which we prefer with shrimp. They also serve one of our favorites from Fontana Chef Beppe Galazzi’s menu of dishes – Frito Misto, which combines fried calamari with fried shrimp and fried zucchini.

Biltmore Hotel 1200 Anastasia Ave.

Best Off the Beaten Path: Fritz & Franz Bierhaus

You can’t see it from Aragon Avenue, you can’t see it from Giralda Plaza. But it’s there at the intersection of Merrick Way and Aragon Avenue, perhaps the most urban space in the Gables: a large triangular courtyard, in front of the curved entrance to Fritz & Franz, with buildings rising on all three sides. It feels more like you are in Barcelona than Coral Gables – with the added advantage that air is channeled down the streets that meet at the courtyard, so there is always a guaranteed breeze. Further relief from the heat is provided by the umbrellas at each of a dozen picnic tables in the plaza, along with the shade from the buildings and the chilled liters of beer. Fritz & Franz, as the name indicates, is a German tavern, and something of a sports bar – especially via massive screens inside and out. We don’t come to watch soccer, but to sample from their huge selection of German beers, both on tap and in the bottle. And while German food does not typically make it to the top of our gourmet dining lists, you will thank us if you order the currywurst. The wiener schnitzel isn’t bad either.

60 Merrick Way

Best Sunset: Redfish by Chef Adrianne

Redfish scores on multiple fronts as an outdoor venue, not the least of which is because it’s the only waterfront restaurant in Coral Gables. Down past Matheson Hammock Marina, it lives in a historic coral rock building from the FDR public works days, with an unparalleled view of the lagoon and open bay, palm trees dotting the horizon. Recently restored, the patio area has been expanded, with an outdoor bar, modern design elements and plenty of room. Adding significantly to the breezy ambience is the food, masterfully conceived and executed by Chef Adrianne Calvo. This is a shrine to fresh seafood (they keep their own dedicated oyster beds on the shores of Maine and Washington, for bi-coastal variety, and buy local catch daily). Her inventiveness makes each dish a gustatory treat – like her brown sugar crusted salmon, or her cioppino seafood stew. The crew even changes all of the cooking oils every day to keep it clean. Surprisingly good vegetable preparations, like her roasted broccolini with shallots or garlic fingerling potatoes. On the pricey side of menus, but worth it if you are after a gourmet seafood experience in a sharply designed outdoor patio with stunning views and plenty of fresh air.

9610 Old Cutler Rd.

Best Breakfast: Crema Gourmet Espresso Bar

Between the freshly brewed coffee, the delicious, affordable menu and the comfortable seating area, Crema is a no-brainer for the best outdoor breakfast experience. We’re big coffee drinkers, so the quality of the java is of the utmost importance, and Crema always meets our expectations. The lengthy coffee menu includes espresso, cappuccino, latte, Americano, pour over and affogato, to name a few. Mocha, vanilla, hazelnut or caramel syrup can be added to any coffee for 75 cents. One of the best things about Crema is that they serve breakfast all day – though they also have a fine sandwich selection for lunch. As for a breakfast repast, you can’t go wrong with their chocolate chip pancakes, topped with banana and almond slices, or the open face breakfast sandwich, made with fried eggs, ham, bacon and Swiss cheese. They will also cook you an omelet to order, as we discovered when asking for one with just veggies. Of course, it wouldn’t be the same without the shaded arcade of the elegant Colonnade building, with fans providing a breeze. You can also sit at a table on the sidewalk if you’re not comfortable in a lounge chair or on a couch.

169 Miracle Mile