The Chic New Hotspot of Miami: the Miami River, the Williamsburg of South Florida

Paula Froelich
Editor at Large
June 9, 2014

Photo: The Boston Public Library.

Anyone who knows Miami knows that the Miami River area, while minutes away from the trendier South Beach, can be a little dodgy. As in gunshots on a Saturday night dodgy. Or, at least it was until recently. Historically, the Miami River, which is the fourth largest port in the state, has been a highway for large ships ferrying product from the airport to the ocean. Lined with warehouses, it was never anything to look at or visit … until the restaurants came. 

Early this year, the chic outdoor eatery, Seasalt and Pepper opened, bringing with it the fabulous people. Founded by Stephane Dupoux, the creator of Nikki Beach, Pearl, and Buddha Bar, and the home base of chef Alfredo Alvarez, the restaurant is packed to the gills every night. With 250 feet of docking, diners can pull up in a boat to feast on the Mediterranean surf-and-turf menu (you can also drive a car here). The outdoor bar is prized among those who want to see and be seen; order the freshly made bread, octopus, and lobster risotto to nibble on while people watching. 

Photo: Ines Hegedus Garcia.

Several doors down is Garcia’s Seafood Grille and Market — a neighborhood staple that has been in the area for years. Locals know that if you want delicious stone crabs, forget the more famous Joe’s Stone Crab. Garcia’s is better — and half the price. The fish is so fresh, the restaurant only serves what it has caught that day (they have a stable of 20 fishing boats), and the conch fritters were the best I’ve had in over two decades. Sit outside on the second floor balcony and watch the ships chug up and down the river while you chow down on grilled whole fish, conch fritters, and stone crabs. 

Photo: Phillip Pessar.

The area is not only delicious, it is historically important. If you venture out in the daytime, you can check out the buildings across the street from Garcia’s. What looks like abandoned buildings are actually the old slave barracks of Ft. Dallas — where the slaves from Africa were housed until they were sold at auction. Why these buildings are not restored and made into a museum is anyone’s guess. 

“Every year, Miami council tries to do something about them, but it is always blocked,” my friend Armando told me. “They are embarrassed about the history and try to brush it under the rug." 

A shame. As we all know, those who forget history are condemned to repeat it. And those barracks would be a powerful memorial to all those who were forced to spend time there.