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Where to Eat in Florida, According to a Chef

Michael Serpa, the chef behind Boston’s new Select Oyster Bar, began his culinary career working summers at his dad’s restaurant in Miami. Serpa still makes regular trips south, especially during the cold Boston winters. Here, he shares his top picks for where to eat and play in the sunshine state from Jupiter down to Miami.

Where to Eat

Isabela Seafood, West Palm Beach

“This is an awesome, no-frills Cuban seafood restaurant/fish shop in a pretty beat-up looking strip mall in West Palm Beach. They get their fish daily from the Keys and always have red snapper, yellowtail snapper, and lane snapper, along with fresh shrimp and some other goodies. You can buy whole fish to take home (they will scale and gut it for you) or eat there. I usually get the lane snapper grilled or fried and it comes with rice, black beans, plantains, and some lime, about $13.”

Michael’s Genuine Food & Drink, Miami Design District

Michael Schwartz is ‘The Dude’ in Miami. His place in the Design District was one of the first restaurants in the area and helped sparked a little renaissance down there. Now the Design District is lined with high-end stores, more restaurants, and a well-heeled crowd. The patio is the place to be. The menu is defined by super local produce, clean flavors, lots of big salads, wood-roasted fish, and oysters—making it a good place to hang with a few bottles of rosé.”

Exquisito Restaurant, Miami Little Havana

This is my go-to Cuban spot in Miami. This joint is right on Calle Ocho and gets me my Cuban food fix when I am in town. They have a little pass-through window to the street if you just want a Cuban Sandwich and a cafecito, but I prefer to post up at their diner-style counter. I always get a Cuban sandwich as an appetizer and go for lechón asado, vaca frita, or bistec empanizado for an entree. Add a few Presidente beers, a double café cubano, and a flan and I am a happy guy. Bonus, it’s a short walk up the street to my favorite cigar shop in town.”

The Whales Rib, Deerfield Beach

I grew up coming to the Whales Rib when I was a little kid. They used to have one of those claw game machines, but instead of cheap toys, it was filled with Florida lobsters (which they would cook for you for $10 or something along those lines). Pretty amazing, but alas it was taken away, probably to appease lobster sympathizers. The Whales Rib is the quintessential beach bar, Florida restaurant. It is located a half block from the Deerfield pier and has all kinds of crazy ocean and fishing stuff all over the place. I always get the Whale fries (kind of a hybrid of thick cut potato chips and French fries, amazing) and their sandwiches, which come on a super tasty whole wheat bun. The mahi (aka dolphin) sandwich blackened is clutch and the Key West, a pastrami Rachel sandwich, is really good stuff. Stone crab claws when in season also make the table, and sometimes I’ll order I’ll order fried shrimp for nostalgia.”


Le Sandwicherie, Miami South Beach

This is a counter-style sandwich shop hidden in an alley in South Beach. It’s a perfect stop before or after the beach and is always filled with locals and beach bum types. I like their smoothies and the pâté sandwich on a good crusty baguette. Le Sandwicherie is a good way to stick to a budget on South Beach and eat well.”

Shorty’s BBQ, Miami Dadeland/Coral Gables

I haven’t been to this place for years and years but still have fond memories of it. Shorty’s has been around forever and is a Florida version of a BBQ joint. I remember lining up here and the sassy waitresses would pop out of the screen door and move people to their seats at communal picnic tables. The BBQ is tasty and the atmosphere is a huge plus. Ribs are served all day.”

Captain Charlie’s Reef Grill, Juno Beach

Captain Charlie’s is literally all the way in the back of a boring strip mall in Juno Beach. They have a strong following, and they fill up right at 5 for early bird special action. The decor is early 80s chic. None the less, the wine list has some amazing deals and the fresh fish is on point. Grilled pompano, sautéed hog snapper, red snapper, mahi, corvina, tuna, and more make the list.”

The Square Grouper Tiki Bar, Jupiter

The Grouper is a tucked away tiki bar on the waterfront in Jupiter. It is a place for steel drum music, live bands, Red Stripes, Coronas, and umbrella drinks.”

Things to Do

Venetian Pool, Miami Coral Gables
“This is one of the coolest swimming pools you can find. First off, it’s huge. Secondly, it was put in a former limestone quarry and has waterfalls and caves you can swim in.”

Crandon Park, Miami Key Biscayne
This is the park/beach in Key Biscayne, right off of mainland Miami. We used to swing by my dad’s restaurant on Brickell on Saturdays when we were closed, make sandwiches and head to the beach. It’s an insanely long, sandy beach that has big sandbars. You can walk for about 300 yards and the water is only waist high. It’s a really popular family beach, much more chill than South Beach.”

Lion Country Safari, West Palm Beach
This is a drive through safari and theme park. You drive through the park right next to ostriches, gazelle, rhinos, lions, water buffalo, giraffes and zebras—pretty impressive. In the theme park part you can feed the giraffes, which is always fun.”

Want more?
Check out our ultimate guide to Miami!

Photo courtesy Bayfront Park/James Rose