I’ve done food tours in different corners of the globe and have grown to love them the more I do them. When we recently ventured to Miami, it seemed like an ideal spot to try out a food tour given that Miami is such a vibrant place with so many different types of cuisine to offer. So we went with MiamiFoodtours.com, and spent an evening exploring South Beach, learning about Miami Beach’s history, and of course, trying out different eateries and restaurants.
Why I’m a fan of food tours
Food tours are one of my favorite things to do for several reasons.
Great pre-arranged culinary experiences
First, you get to experience a rich and diverse culinary experience without having to do all the work yourself. You often get to eat at hole-in-the-wall restaurants and try foods you’ve probably never even heard of. In other words, it’s an oppurtunity to eat and drink like a local (or at least like someone who’s done a lot research).
Insight into the history and culture
These tours are also great because you get to learn about the culture and history of a new place. You discover all sorts of interesting facts about the neighborhoods you stroll through and about the architecture that you marvel at between meals, often finding out little tidbits here and there that you would have otherwise missed.
Passionate and helpful tour guides
And on top of that, food tour companies often hire passionate and knowledgable guides that help bring out the most of your experience. They can help answer all kinds of different questions about not only the cuisine, but the area in general. Our Guide, Gabriel, was exceptional in this regard and left us with so much info on Miami Beach that we could barely even digest it.
Tip: Consider planning your food tour at the beginning of any trip, so you can learn the layout of the area and get some inside info on places to check out.
Our Miami food tour
We did the SoBe Tour des Forks route (but with the Swoop Ride Card discussed below). It’s a three hour tour that starts at either 11:00 am or 4:30 pm and makes the following stops (note: destinations may be subject to change).
- The Café at Books & Books — New American cuisine
- Bella Cuba — Traditional Cuban restaurant
- Chalan on the Beach — Family owned traditional Peruvian cuisine
- The Frieze Ice Cream Factory — All natural, super-premium Kosher ice cream & sorbet made fresh daily in the shop.
Book and Books
The tour kicks off under the blue umbrellas at the Café at Books & Books, where your guide will likely be sitting at one of the outdoor tables waiting for you. The Cafe is a neighborhood place meant to bring food and book lovers to gather in creative fashion, and it prides itself on its carefully curated mix of literature and local fresh ingredients. Not a combination you run into everyday.
At Book and Books we started with a platter of different foods, including avocado salsa, hummus with tahini, Florida sweet corn salsa, and yuca fries, which is a crispier, creamier cousin to french fries often found in Latin America. Each of these items were equally fresh and delicious.
Their “avocado salsa” also known as guacamole is made with Florida avocados, which are much larger than the Hass avocados and differ in that they have a much lower fat content. Although the texture is a little different, I still thoroughly enjoyed it. The house made hummus, topped with olives, also hit the spot. Overall, the appetizers were a great warm up for our next stop.
After Books and Books, we ventured down the famous Lincoln Road to explore more of this pedestrian only, mile-long mall. This bustling street is lined with restaurants, designer shops, and local vendors selling all sorts of creations but tucked away behind those stores is a lot of fascinating history that you’ll learn about as you stroll past the many fountains, gardens, and sculptures that enliven the area.
If you’ve never been to Miami, Lincoln Road is a great place to relax and walk around, partaking in a little bit of shopping and people watching (although there’s no time for shopping on this food tour). Around 5pm, we caught a nice breeze as we strolled through the streets and nearby Soundscape Park, where we chatted for a bit under the shade of dozens of palm trees. Considering, this was mid-January, and temperatures were around 72ºF, I couldn’t have asked for better weather.
After a quick stroll, we arrived to my favorite destination: the Cuban restaurant, Bella Cuba.
It’s a cozy yet lively restaurant that recently underwent renovations, featuring a new ceiling and wood panels. It’s decorated with a bit of nostalgia inspired street scenes and various art pieces featuring Cuban musicians and other works. You’d never guess it, but the owners of the restaurant (who are husband and wife) originally opened up a Bella Cuba in Ireland (the first Cuban restaurant in the country) before coming to Miami to open up this location. Bella Cuba gained a lot of notoriety overseas, and it’s easy to see why when you try their menu.
Our first item on the menu was a famed Cuban drink: the Mojito. We learned a secret for intensifying the fresh minty flavor of the mojito, and it’s a simple trick (I won’t spoil it for you). We first drank virgin mojitos since we were filming and thankfully I eventually got that memo because I could’ve sworn I felt a placebo-induced buzz coming on for a second. Anyway, these minty mojitos tasted about as fresh and delicious as I could hope for them to be and a are a must-try!
Right after that, our server brought out a beautiful platter of Cuban delicacies.
On this plate we had Havana meat pies, Cuban egg rolls, Cuban tamales, and plantains. It’s a mix of home-style cooking and fusion with a Cuban twist. All of these were delicious, but I think the Cuban meat pies (empanadas) were perhaps the best (though the egg rolls come in a close second).
After finishing up our meal, it was time to take a ride in our Swoop Ride cart. These “swoop” rides are a lot of fun and you can see what kind of options Miami Food Tours offers here. You cruise around the breezy streets of Miami Beach, checking out the many iconic sights while you’re driver play some tunes and your guide points out all sorts of different interesting information. It’s a unique and exciting way to cover ground and it’s always nice to give your feet a little rest, too.
Before we sped off to our next dining destination, we took the scenic route and took in some of the views of the Art Deco District and of course had to make a stop on the beach. We learned a lot about Art Deco architecture and the history behind the efforts that individuals like Barbara Capitman took to preserve all of the beautiful buildings that make up the Art Deco District.
On the beach we just walked around for a few minutes before running into 64 year old Robert “Raven” Kraft. He’s a famed local who runs 8 miles everyday up and down the beach and now attracts other joggers to run alongside hime. In fact, he’s kept up that running routine since 1975! I can’t even process how he’s been able to do that but I truly admire the dedication.
Finally, it was time to make it tour our next eating stop.
Chalan on the Beach
The final restaurant is Chalan on the Beach. This is a Peruvian restaurant that is obviously a hot spot since they were packed when we arrived.
We enjoyed two main platters here. The first was a ceviche mixto with corvina (sea bass) and shrimp that came marinated with lime juice, ginger, red onion, cilantro. Interestingly, it was paired with two types of corn. The first was a large steamed corn kernel called “choclo” and the smaller edition was a crunchy roasted corn called “cancha.” The smaller cancha variety tasted similar to corn nuts, while the larger choclo — with kernels the size of legos — had more of a starchy taste, in true Peruvian fashion. Together the corn complimented the tangy ceviche in a way that worked unexpectedly well.
The next dish was another highlight of the tour. It’s called “Lomo Saltado.” and consists of marinated angus sirloin sautéed with red wine, soy sauce, onion, peppers, and tomatoes. It was served along with long grain white rice and papas fritas.
The angus sirloin was one of the most tender pieces of meat that I’d ever tasted in my life. They take their time at Chalan on the Beach to tenderize their meat to the point of perfection, and I mean absolute perfection. Accompanying the meat were french fries, which actually have a long history dating back to Peru — the home of the potato (who knew?).
The Frieze Ice Cream Factory
After filling up at multiple restaurants, we had just enough room left over to make one more stop at the Frieze Ice Cream Factory.
This is a place that has produced its own ice cream and sorbet without any artificial additives or preservatives for over two decades. They’ve got a lot of the standard varieties you’d find at any ice cream parlor, but then they’ve got their own unique blends that will blow you away and come with names like Sassy Strawberry, Perfect Pistachio, and Get Down Boogie-Oogie Cookie.
After taking a hand full of free samples, I finally narrowed down my selection to Vanilla Decadence. It’s a creamy vanilla loaded with chocolate cake, fudge, and chocolate chips and we took it in a cake cone, which I believe was a cone packed with cake. It’s a delicious duo and the end product is scary good.
This was one of the best food tours I’ve ever done. It came with a little bit of everything: great food and drinks, fascinating insight into the history, culture, and architecture of Miami Beach, a terrific guide, and an overall great vibe that made for one of my more memorable travel experiences. I’d recommend this tour to any food-lover heading to Miami, especially if they’re interested in learning more about the amazing place of South Beach, Miami.
Daniel Gillaspia is the Founder of UponArriving.com and the credit card app, WalletFlo. He is a former attorney turned travel expert covering destinations along with TSA, airline, and hotel policies. Since 2014, his content has been featured in publications such as National Geographic, Smithsonian Magazine, and CNBC.