South Florida has always been known for quality restaurants and drinks. Areas it was unfortunately lacking were for vegetarian food (save for many juice bars) and craft beer spots (partially due to state laws). Since I moved away in early 2014, it has had a sea change, if you will, in veg food and craft beer options. In my recent return to South Florida, I was determined to explore as many of these new options as I could.
I left in January 2014, and both scenes are very different today than that 80 degree day I moved north to the polar vortex Twin Cities. Back then, Darbster and Sublime were the heavy hitters of plant-based food, and Due South and a very recently expanded Funky Buddha were the beer staples. I had some spots I hoped to make it to in my 78 hours I would spend, stretching as far north as Palm Beach Gardens and as far south as Coconut Grove (nearly 90-mile difference, for the uninitiated). Needless to say, I made great use of the time and distance I would be spending in South Florida.
This was my first trip back and it made me realize I need to come back more often. I got to meet up (way too briefly) with a lot of special people, and I brought Aaron to experience the sites and people that were a large part of my adult life, having spent 7.5 years in my late 20s and early 30s there. I left Florida with mixed emotions, knowing it was the right thing to do at the right time, but part of me will always be in that crazy place. As the plane started to land I cried, not knowing what lay ahead that weekend regarding feelings. We grabbed our convertible Mustang and hopped on the toll road into the dark, salty, sticky July air.
Day 1: Friends, Art and Laughs
When we arrived in Miami we stayed with my friends Matt and Kim. They showed us around Wynwood, a neighborhood that’s really come up since I left, and their favorite spots in Coconut Grove. I knew Wynwood is an art and brewery destination, but it really must be experienced. It’s full of beautiful murals everywhere you look, art galleries, fun shops with unique items, and good and drink around every corner.
Our first stop was tacos at Coyo Taco, which was a great quick way to fuel up for a long day. They have a few veggie options (I had hongos, so predictable!) and are fast and fresh.
It was fun to explore the Wynwood Walls, a well known area of the neighborhood for art, but there are murals everywhere. On the hot day we would duck into breweries and shops to cool off, including the well-known Panther Coffee where an iced coffee hit the spot.
There are three breweries, and you know I checked them all out, so I can tell you briefly about them (if you want to know more, hit me up on email, social media or the comments below).
J. Wakefield: Consistently a top brewery in the nation, this small space has big flavor beers. Aaron loved the Star Wars theme design, and we all loved the beers.
Concrete Beach: This brewery is all about atmosphere. Decent beers in a great, hopping, hip space, lots of games and cool feel.
Wynwood Brewing: Original, no frills brewery with a large selection of solid beers.
As the afternoon went on, we moved South to Coconut Grove, a cute shopping and restaurant area on the water. Matt and Kim took us to one of our favorite spots, The Lokal. It was busy, so we waited next door at Vicky’s House. The is a bar and dessert shop connected to and owned by The Lokal that is meant to look like the owner’s childhood home. This is a flashback to the 80s, so I remember a lot of the things featured there. I grabbed a beer out of the fridge and headed to the den for some classic NES. See this Eater Miami video of Vicky’s Place.
Once our table is ready, I notice there is a vegetarian section, something that surprised me to see in a restaurant in the Grove. There were house-made veggie burgers and some from local plant-based eatery Atlas Meat-Free Deli. After dinner we walked to the bay, my first view of the water. I love nothing more than feeling and tasting the salty, humid summer night air and hearing the waves. I was in my happy place and knew I couldn’t wait so long to return.
Day 2: Vegan Meals and Quick Visits
From the start, my plans for this day were ambitious, and I left little time to breathe. We headed north and stopped in Hollywood, one of my favorite towns, for lunch. I’m a sucker for it’s old-school beach town vibes. If you are in an area, a walk on the Hollywood Beach Broadwalk and grabbing a gyro or falafel, slice of pizza or ice cream is a must. Today I wanted to try Atlas Meat-Free Deli, a plant-based maker of meats, based in Miami. Previously on the weekends they had a stand at Hollywood’s Yellow Green Farmer’s Market, a large, impressive market with crafts, goods, fresh and prepared foods, and much more. Since the weekend I went, they have moved to North Miami at the southwest corner of NE 1st Ave and 79th St 98 NE 79th St, 33138.
It was so difficult to decide what to get at Atlas, so we took the lead of the person working behind the counter, who o believe is also the owner. Aaron got burnt tips sandwich and I got a burger built to his recommendations, both on a pretzel bun. We had a side of mac and cheese while we waited. I love trying vegan cheese as I cut most dairy out of my diet, and this was creamy and flavorful.
Once we got our food we headed to the beach to get a little sun, sand and saltwater time and ate our sandwiches. Mine was good, but Aaron’s was phenomenal. It was so moist and chewy and the sauce was full of great flavor. I’m so happy Atlas was open when we could go visit. If you can’t visit, many area restaurants, including Lokal, serve it’s products. Point is, if you cut out or reduce the meat in your diet, try this out!
From there we headed an hour north west to visit a friend and her three-week-old son, back east to grab coffee and visit my former co-workers and workplace (both woefully short stops) and a little further north to have dinner with my good friend, Sandy, who jokingly asked if we are eating seven meals that day. Close. Don’t judge. When I mentioned to this friend two places I wanted to eat at, one we have gone to together a handful of times, one new to me, she picked the one new to me, Christopher’s Kitchen, in Palm Beach Gardens.
This is an organic, plant based restaurant that minimally prepares food so the ingredients shine. When I look at the menu at places like this, I don’t know what to eat. It all looks so unique and good, and I can have any of it. What a concept! I decided on an avocado ginger roll (the tipping point being that it had avocado and mango in it, two things I miss getting fresh out of people’s yards in Florida), but what everyone had looked great. My food was filling without leaving me full. Another spot I highly recommend when you are in or around Palm Beach Gardens.
Later that night Aaron and I hit up Clematis Street, West Palm Beach’s place to go out. We stopped at Rocco’s Tacos, a hip eatery that’s quickly expanding through South Florida, for some guac (what they are known for) and margs. We celebrated our marathon day of driving and visiting.
Day 3: Beach and Breweries
Today was our day: We were going to play tourists, making sure we hit up some favorites and new spots. We got in the Mustang, top down obviously, and drove around Palm Beach, making our way to Lake Worth Beach, just on the south end of Palm Beach. We soaked up some late morning sun until our meter ran out and headed to the place I lived most of my time in Florida, Boca Raton.
We grabbed the requisite Publix subs and headed to the beach. Publix is a grocery store that’s known for its delicious subs (read why here), and taking them to the beach is “a thing” people do in Florida. So much so, that Kim asked if we would be doing it on our trip. If you go, grab a sub, there are Publix locations all over. We headed to the pavilion at the beach and had lunch, enjoying what we knew might be about our last look at the ocean. Again, I can’t stress enough how much I love the salty breeze in my face.
We hopped Vanilla Ice-style (he lives west of West Palm, dontcha know?) down A1A into the ‘Stang and drove to Oakland Park to Funky Buddha, a beloved brewery that moved from a small stop mall location in Boca to it’s nice, large current location right before I moved from Florida. I wanted to revisit it and show Aaron why this brewery is known for its sometimes-wild and cult beloved beers. We grabbed samplers and played bags (a.k.a. cornhole in Florida). While there weren’t any beers too crazy on tap, they had a late selection beyond the old standbys they always feature, so it was fun to try new beers. I could have stayed there all day, but we had to drive and make our way back to Miami.
First we made a stop at LauderAle, aka the weirdest place perhaps that’s I’ve seen a brewery, and even more difficult to get to. I can’t give you any advice on how to get there other than it’s the thing northeast of 495 and 1 that isn’t the port! Confusing, right? Anyway, we found it and it was worth it. Nice beer selection, friendly people, cool space and chill vibe. But no air conditioning, FYI. Worth the hassle of thinking you are going to end up at a port security gate.
Again, couldn’t drink too much because we were driving, so we tried to beat traffic and head closer to our hotel for dinner. We ended up at the newly opened GLAM (Green Living Animals Matter) Vegan at Midtown Miami, a small fast-casual restaurant that uses real plates and has a more upscale vibe that has to be fitting in well with the area. For being July 3, it was a busy place with couples, groups of friends and even a large group with children. The decor was upscale enough to help you forget you are at a fast-casual restaurant in a shopping center and apartment community, and the food was above average for fast casual. Highly recommend.
South Florida and Trip Takeaway
The big takeaway is that, like the coast itself, South Florida is always evolving and shifting. I need to get back there more, as a handful of friends have already moved away, so who knows when more might leave, and that it’s a place near to my heart that I love, despite its craziness.