Being the sprawling swampland that we are, Miami and South Florida don’t really have “suburbs” in the traditional sense. Because most of the region was built in the last 100 years, the usual urban-center-surrounded-by-bedroom-communities model isn’t so much the case here. And when places like Hialeah and Pembroke Pines are among the most populous cities in the state, it makes the term a little hard to define.
Still, the municipalities across Dade and Broward counties that don’t have their names on our airports still offer some pretty cool stuff. And as people are commuting less, and staying close to home more, collectively we’re beginning to appreciate the great bars, restaurants, history, and nature in our suburbs. Here’s a look at a handful that might not be the sexiest names in South Florida, but offer just as much for people who live there as bigger locales.
Kendall isn’t a place, it’s a state of mind. It has no physical boundaries. It has no municipal designation. It’s more a term anyone who lives west of US-1 and south of Dadeland throws out to describe where they live. Or, more accurately, who they are. And what was once a sprawling wasteland of traffic, track homes, and chain restaurants has finally begun to forge an identity over the last decade. And for Kendallites, that means not having to drive hours to do something other than happy hour at Bennigan’s.
Distance from Miami: 30 minutes
Once upon a time, unless you worked at a cruise line, played golf, or had to bail someone out of TGK, there was really no reason to go to Doral. But as an increasingly affluent immigrant population began to pour into this city that is, literally, named after a couple named Doris and Al, amenities soon followed. Now the city that was once not much more than a good place for airport parking could stand on its own against a lot of American metros.
Trump really gave this place a bad name, but there’s plenty to do if you’re not into golf. Try CityPlace Doral with its fountain shows, comedy club, and top-tier restaurants like Heaven Mykonos and Kuba Cabana makes for a great night out. Downtown Doral is a walkable wonderland that most of Miami wishes it had, with the eclectic Doral Yard and outposts of Bachour and Bunnie Cakes giving it destination anchors. Plus, some of Miami’s best breweries call Doral home, where an afternoon in the sun at M.I.A. or Tripping Animals is just as buzzingly refreshing as beer hopping in Wynwood.
When people want to experience modern art and old Florida nature in the same afternoon, it typically involves a very long drive from museums in downtown and Wynwood all the way to the Everglades. Or, it can mean going a couple miles in North Miami, where you’ll find both swampy mangroves and provocative art a short distance apart. The Museum of Contemporary Art has begun running its Jazz on the Plaza series again after a COVID break, with free, Friday night concerts in its breezy outdoor space. Plus yearlong outdoor art installations in the plaza as well, making it the city’s best destination for outdoor art outside Wynwood.
A short walk from MOCA in Griffing Park you’ll find the Electric Tree, a Banyan Tree adorned in fluorescent tubes that gives the city an iconic art piece to visit while in town. If you’d rather see nature without electric accoutrements, Oleta River State Park sits just north in North Miami Beach. Here you can rent a kayak and paddle through old mangroves, ending at beaches only reachable by boat and islands in the middle of Biscayne Bay. You can also traverse its miles of mountain bike tracks, which while not exactly Asheville South, offer a spot to get out in the dirt without driving for an entire day.
Distance from Miami: 40 minutes
Once a place you only went for cheap Spirit flights and Jai-Alai, Dania Beach has turned itself into a lot more than the home of Ft. Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport. The future home of Spirit’s $250 million corporate headquarters is also a major player in maritime, with boaters cruising the canals every weekend and stopping at breezy bars like Paradise Tiki. Or docking and enjoying the quirky collection of dive bars that sit just off Federal Highway.
The titanic new Dania Pointe development probably has Broward’s best concentration of restaurants outside Ft. Lauderdale, with Cooper’s Hawk Winery, Rodizio Grill,and Ocean One all opening up in the past couple of years. The old fronton also got a major makeover, and the once-decrepit Dania Jai-alai has been reborn as the Casino at Dania Beach. Now, in addition to poker, ponies, and Jai-Alai you can also enjoy live shows from ’80s tribute bands and other casino-friendly acts.
Distance from Miami: One hour
Do you enjoy indulging in buttermilk doughnuts at Salty Donut? Or waiting in line for an everything bagel sandwich at El Bagel? Or savouring a veggie-packed juice at Pura Vida? Well, friend, you have Weston to thank. Not because any of these concepts started there, necessarily. But because the people behind all three of those staples of the Miami food scene come from Cypress Bay High School. And so it reasons, without Weston, breakfast in Miami as we know it would be markedly different.
That by itself is pretty cool. But the city’s large immigrant population has made it the place to go for authentic South American food in South Florida. Panna is a quick service gem that started inside a gas station, filled with Venezuelan street food like cachitos, empanadas, and tequeños. There’s also La Pequena Colombian Bakery, which has been an outpost for Colombian food for nearly 20 years. There’s also Argentine steakhouse La Rural, which began as an old-school Argentine Meat Market and morphed into a full-fledged South American steak experience. Also a Broward County outpost of Graziano’s is in the bustling Weston Town Center.
Distance from Miami: 35 minutes
Aventura is having a moment. Yes, it’s still home to pretty much everyone in New York City’s grandparents. And getting off I-95 at Ives Dairy Road continues to be its own special circle of hell. But in the past few years the city of condos (seriously, the city seal is condos) has added everything from a food hall to a water park to a Michael Mina restaurant with its own fish sommelier. Which makes Aventura-we never thought we’d say this-cool.
Aventura Mall is still bustling and adding more upscale restaurants, alongside the Feast at Treats Food Hall, including Michael Mina’ new Ornos Esariatorio, with the aforementioned fish sommelier. Just down the road, Tidal Cove gave Aventura America’s swankiest water park, where if you can afford the triple-digit admission ticket you can enjoy no waterslide lines and a private cabana. Dwyane Wade and Udonis Haslem thought enough of Aventura to open 800 Degrees pizza there. The new Aloft gave Aventura a pretty respectable cocktail bar, which alongside Reunion Ktchn Bar’s new lounge brought the city a drinking scene like it had never had. And with the reopening of Bartaco and the new PERL, Aventura has restaurants that can easily claim to be among Miami’s best.
Distance from Miami: 20 minutes
We know, we know, Gables lifers, The City Beautiful is it’s own, magical metropolitan area with its own downtown, major university, and baseball stadium. But since that baseball stadium and the campus it sits on are called “University of Miami,” well, the suburban shoe fits. No shame in that, though, as America’s first fully-planned community is full of stunning Spanish architecture, limestone gates guarding the city, and some of South Florida’s most beautiful homes. The Banyan Tree canopy that runs over much of the city is the stuff of car commercial dreams, and the bustling downtown makes it easy to live here and never leave.
Sadly, Miracle Mile lost some standby favorites like Ortanique and John Martin’s last year. But the new pedestrian-friendly Giralda Avenue has stepped in as South Florida’s best walkable dining spot with Luca Osteria joining The Local and Graziano’s as legitimate destination restaurants. Eating House still brings people to line up for brunch every weekend, and Bachour makes Miami’s best pastries not far away. Add in an architectural education at the Coral Gables Museum and beers and wings at Titanic Brewing and you’ve got a suburb that rivals a lot of major cities in all that it offers.
Distance from Miami: 25 minutes
Don’t let the soon-to-be-abandoned Sunset Place fool you into thinking South Miami is somehow falling off. Yes, the mall ain’t what it was when your parents dropped you off here to see Phantom Menace, but the streets that surround it are teeming with new restaurants, classic bars, and college kids bringing the place a youthful energy. Though UM is technically in Coral Gables, a good number of students live across US-1 in South Miami, meaning spots like Ra Sushi, TacoCraft, and In Ramen are often filled with students buying dinner with their parents’ high limit credit cards.
But it’s not just college kids who’ve made South Miami a suburb on the rise. Celebrated culinary power couple Jeff McInnis and Janine Booth opened up a pair of Miami’s best restaurants here at Mi’talia and Root & Bone. Salty Donut thought South Miami the ideal spot for an outpost, as did Adrianne Calvo, whose Cracked gives students upscale late-night munchie food. Michelin-starred Fiola also set up shop in South Miami, just down Red Road from bustling, electric Public Square. Then there’s divey Bougainvillea’s, the locals’ landmark that was spared in 2020 and has given late-night stories to anyone who’s ever lived south.
Distance from Miami: 20 minutes
With 34 municipalities in Miami-Dade County, and 10 of them including the word “Miami,” many would be hard pressed to tell you where, exactly, Miami Springs is located. It’s also hard to tell because the city is hidden behind the northside of Miami International Airport, why it was a onetime home to Pan Am and Eastern pilots who wanted to live close to work. But venture a few blocks north of NW 36th Street (and through the mini-city of Virginia Gardens) and you’ll arrive in a strange slice of small town America sandwiched between the airport and Hialeah.
Here, you’ll find a charming little downtown with both Spanish and adobe architecture, where boutiques, small restaurants, and offices are filled with locals who live only blocks away. Spots like Siamo,Crackers, and Ceviches by Divino might not be names you know, but for Springs residents, they’re the best restaurants in town. Westward Drive is an inviting place to walk, despite being a broad, European-style boulevard. And though Hialeah is just across a canal and Okeechobee Road, Miami Springs really does feel like a world away.
David Grutman is back at it again, and this time the hospitality guru is bringing a new partner into the fold-award-winning recording artist, Bad Bunny. Located in Miami’s trendy Brickell neighbourhood, Gekkō, which translates to “moonlight” is a Japanese-inspired steakhouse that will serve fancy cuts of Wagyu alongside a bevy of sushi offerings. In true Groot Hospitality form, this isn’t your basic steakhouse, it’s also got a lounge that very well may play the sounds of Bad Bunny and the like into the wee hours of the night.
“Gekkō is the result of so many of my obsessions in food,” says David Grutman, Founder of Groot Hospitality. “It’s a steakhouse inspired by Japanese cuisine. There are delicious, innovative sushi rolls. There’s a lounge. I knew I wanted to do something that combined these worlds, and once I started speaking with Bunny, I knew he’d be a great partner. Gekkō is about having an incredible meal while having an equally incredible night.”
To celebrate the opening of Gekkō (not so coincidentally the same weekend Bad Bunny has two shows scheduled in South Florida), the crew hosted a massive grand opening party that attracted dozens of A-list celebrities and friends of both Grutman and Bad Bunny. Upon arrival, in his white Bugatti, mobs of fans who spent the entire evening swarming the restaurant began chanting “Benito! Benito!” as he exited his car in an all black suit paired with black sunglasses.
The night went something like this. A-list artists of every genre came out to celebrate. Future and Lil Wayne were seen on a couch in deep conversation and catching up with Mack Maine. Bad Bunny and Karol G were spotted running from table to table together, while DJ Khaled was seen embracing Bad Bunny and congratulating him on such a beautiful new restaurant. Timbaland and Andy Garcia were spotted hanging out for a long period, while Sophie Turner and her husband, Joe Jonas, hung with Victoria and David Beckham. Amidst that hundreds of average joes mixed and mingled while attempting to make their way to the bar so they could get a peek at some of the restaurant’s cocktails and sushi bites. It was quite a scene.
Okay, so back to the restaurant. Gekkō was designed by New York City-based architecture and design firm, Rockwell Group, and is made up of three different rooms with seats for up to 185 diners. It’s centred around sultry jewel-toned decor with plush and stylistic elements like a custom gold and red dip-dyed rope installation, graphic wall coverings, and velvet drapery.
Now you might be wondering about the food, because that’s really why we’re going to a restaurant, right? Gekkō’s menu begins with shared plates where diners will find things like a signature Japanese milk bread, “Lava and Ice” Kumamoto Oysters, lobster dumplings, and a wedge salad. When it comes to raw plates there’s sushi and sashimi classics as well as an opulent 24k Otoro, that’s exactly what it sounds like-deliciously tender fatty tuna covered in a layer of 24k gold leaf.
Then there’s the steaks which include a Tomahawk cut, an olive-fed filet mignon from Kagawa, Japan, and a snow beef strip from Hokkaido, Japan. Specialty preparations include Wagyu skirt steak and a bone-in ribeye. And because Grutman is always sure his restaurants cater to the tastes of everyone, there’s even some plant-based chicken options and more.
“Sitting down with friends to enjoy a good meal is one of the moments I value the most,” says Bad Bunny. “I am thrilled that now I will have a hand in creating this experience for others.”
Gekkō opens tonight at 8 SE 8th Street in Brickell. The dining room and lounge serve customers from 6 to 11 pm Sunday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and 6 pm to 12 am Friday and Saturday. Valet parking is available for $20 or you can attempt to find a street parking on Brickell. Visit gekko.com for reservations.