The Best Food and Drink in Florida for 2019
December 20, 2018
The Sunshine State is outshining the rest with its incredible food offerings
The Best Food and Drink in Florida
Believe it or not, there’s more to Florida than the beach and Disney World — though, Disney has some outrageous food items of its own. Between the resorts, the Keys, and Florida’s other hot tourist spots, there are dozens of attractive cuisine options available. In addition to the places frequented by tourists, Floridians are hiding a few gems of their own as well. We’ve hunted down the best of the best from the infamously wild state as part of our second-annual guide to the best food and drink in every state.
Florida has birthed culinary innovations such as legendary Key West shrimp and hurricane shutter grilled cheese. Despite it not being thought of as a destination for food, the state’s restaurant scene gives the beaches some competition for tourists’ attention. Many of America's best chefs have opened restaurants in Miami Beach in the past couple years, and cities including Tampa and Orlando have booming restaurant scenes as well.
Florida is also home to one of the best grocery stores in America — Publix. Of course, you’d only know if you were from Florida, but those stores have the best chocolate chip cookies we’ve ever tasted.
Over the course of the past year we’ve honored everything from its best hot dogs and brunch spot to its best bar and craft beer in our comprehensive and wide-ranging lists and rankings, compiled through extensive research and with input from a wide network of site contributors, bloggers, journalists, and chefs.We’ve compiled these into individual slideshows celebrating the best food and drink in every state. Read on for Florida’s must-try foods and drinks.
Best Airport Restaurant: Columbia Café (Tampa International Airport)
Columbia Restaurant Airport Café/Yelp
Florida’s oldest restaurant has a location in Tampa International Airport, where you can order delicious Cuban food for breakfast, lunch, or dinner. In addition to their café con leche and Cuban toast, menu must-trys include their signature 1905 Salad, made tableside with iceberg lettuce, tomato, baked ham, grated Swiss cheese, pimiento-stuffed green Spanish olives, and house-made dressing; their Original Tampa Cuban sandwich made with ham, salami, roast pork, Swiss cheese, pickle, and mustard (Tampa-style Cubans contain salami); devil crab croquettes; and soups such as Spanish bean and black bean. The café also has a full bar with wines, mojitos, and sangria.
Best Bar: Sweet Liberty (Miami)
Sweet Liberty Drinks & Supply Company/Yelp
This innovative watering hole specializes in sophisticated cocktails featuring rare spirits, all of which line the wall of the back bar. Sweet Liberty was declared one of the 50 best bars in the world for 2018. Critics are raving about its near-perfect hospitality, wonderful live music and creative American fare. Visitors rave about the “chill vibe,” beet deviled eggs, cauliflower nachos and 95-cent happy hour oysters. Others are enthusiastic about the house piña colada — Sweet Liberty’s twist on this classic features a house-made rum blend, pineapple, coconut cream, Jamaican coffee beans and a Pedro Jimenez float.
Best Beach Bar: Flora-Bama Lounge (Pensacola)
Named such because it straddles the Florida-Alabama state line, this honky-tonk roadhouse is a Gulf Coast landmark, famous for its epic parties. Stop in for a concert, a mullet toss (a bizarre annual tradition that’s just one of those strange facts about Florida), or bull-riding on the beach while you chug a Bushwackerfor the best time you’ll never remember. For those who like a little religion with their rum, experience “Church in a Bar” by attending one of the weekly services. You can even take home the T-shirt: “My church is at the Flora-Bama.”
Best Beach Restaurant: Latitudes at Sunset Key Cottages (Key West)
A true seaside fine dining experience, Latitudes is the signature restaurant of Sunset Key Cottages, one of the many beautiful accommodations in Key West. Dine by the light of the tiki torches set up on the beach or inside the Ernest Hemingway Room, a classy spot decorated with photos of famous former residents of Key West. The menu here is ever-changing according to the season and what’s available, but always makes sure to include tropical fruit and locally-sourced fresh seafood. A reservation is required, as well as “country club casual” attire if you’re stopping by for dinner.
Best Beer: Double Barrel Hunahpu’s Imperial Stout (Cigar City)
It should be no surprise that Tampa’s Cigar City has the best beer in Florida; beer geeks around the country seek out this Tampa brewery’s goods. And while they have many wonderful offerings, their Double Barrel Hunahpu’s Imperial Stout is the best of the best. Aged 50 percent in rum barrels, 50 percent in apple brandy barrels, this sought-after imperial stout is spicy yet rich. But good luck getting it. It’s only sold one day a year at a special event called Hunahpu’s Day, and passes are pricey (and almost always sell out).
Best Brunch: The Circle, The Breakers (Palm Beach)
The Italian Renaissance-style Breakers Palm Beach has been one of the country’s premier high-end destinations since tycoon Henry Flagler had it built back in 1896 (the current incarnation was completed in 1926). There’s no shortage of spectacular dining options at this luxurious retreat, but for brunch one option rises head and shoulders above the rest (and above every brunch option in the state): Sunday Brunch in The Circle’s splendid and opulent dining room (think ocean views, 30-foot frescoed ceilings, and oval murals depicting Renaissance-era landscapes) — a tradition for more than 25 years. Alaskan king crab legs, sushi, caviar, smoked fish, lamb chops, carved-to-order ham and beef tenderloin, Belgian waffles, eggs Benedict, fresh-baked pastries and muffins, omelettes, cheeses, pâté, and more than 30 desserts are all for the taking, with a harpist strolling from table to table to boot. The Champagne, mimosas, and Bloody Marys are free-flowing. Come hungry, and it’ll be well worth the expense.
Best Burger: Michael's Genuine Food & Drink (Miami)
This popular Miami restaurant used to serve its first-rate burger only at lunchtime, but it's finally made it onto the dinner menu as well. The beef is house-ground Black Angus from California's Harris Ranch and the bun is brioche. House-smoked bacon and blue or Vermont white Cheddar are optional during lunch; bacon and Cheddar come standard during dinner.
Best Burrito: La Camaronera (Miami)
La Camaronera might have exploded in popularity since it was featured on Food Network in 2009, but it really is all it’s cracked up to be: the place in Miami for fresh seafood, cooked and served with no frills by people who really know what they’re doing. Their snapper sandwich, fried whole fish, and conch fritters are highly recommended, but don’t leave without ordering a Camaronera burrito: lightly fried shrimp and corvina wrapped in a tortilla, topped with some melted cheese and a drizzle of sauce. Think seafood can't pair well with cheese? Try this burrito.
Best Chinese Restaurant: Hakkasan (Miami)
This upscale London-based chain has American locations in Miami, Las Vegas, New York, and San Francisco. Though it’s flashy, opulent, and expensive, the food coming out of the kitchen is of an incredibly high quality, full of flavor and always interesting. Dim sum items are especially notable, including chicken and abalone shumai, morel crystal dumplings, and roast duck pumpkin puffs. If you’re looking for a Chinese meal fit for a king, Hakkasan’s your place.
Best Chocolate Shop: Norman Love Confections (Fort Myers)
Norman Love Confections-Fort Myers/Yelp
There are a lot of reasons to visit Florida, but Norman Love Confections in Fort Myers is right up there with Disney World and the beach. The chocolates here are pure art, with expert marbling and brilliant colors in each and every bonbon, and the taste is similarly world-class.
Best Coffee Shop: Panther Coffee (Miami)
With five locations throughout the city, Panther Coffee serves up Miami charm alongside its coffee. Have a delicious cortado or latte along with a yummy cookie or croissant. Their iced coffees are particularly popular, and the local chain has enough of a following that they even sell merchandise.
Best Craft Brewery: Cigar City Brewing (Tampa)
Cigar City Brewing, a Florida favorite, has fans from far outside the Sunshine State thanks to their unique lineup of beers. John Holl, author of The American Craft Beer Cookbook, says it best: “Capitalizing on the Latin culture and tobacco-manufacturing history of Tampa Bay, Cigar City highlights those strengths on its labels and in its beer names and recipes. Many of the beers it produces — Jai Alai IPA, Improv Oatmeal Rye India-Style Brown Ale, Cubano-Style Espresso Brown Ale — reflect the sensibilities and ingredients of Florida.”
Best Cupcake: Misha’s Cupcakes (Coral Gables)
Photo by Rebecca R. via Yelp
From its inception, Misha’s Cupcakes was designed for family. The owner began this delicious cupcakery as a way to spend time with her newborn daughter (and also to make a few extra bucks). A successful business blossomed a few years later, and now it’s one of the finest cupcake joints in Florida. Be sure to check the site for the current flavors, as they change with the seasons. Some of their flavors for fall include ginger snap, chocolate obsession, and pumpkin dulce de leche.
Best Dive Bar: Mac's Club Deuce (Miami Beach)
Mac’s Club Deuce/Yelp
Mac's Club Deuce is the antidote you need to counteract the trendiness of Miami Beach. With a happy hour that actually runs from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m., this bar is grimy and old school. But don’t let the clientele scare you off; folks here are actually as friendly as they come. Bring plenty of cash; this bar doesn’t run tabs and you may be there for a while. While they likely don’t sell craft cocktails, they’ll definitely have your favorite best-selling beer. Sit back, relax, and enjoy the dive bar vibe.
Best Doughnut: Mojo Donuts (Hollywood)
Best Food Truck: House of Mac (Miami)
With nearly 40 thousand dedicated Instagram followers, the House of Mac has quite a fanbase. But these followers are well earned. The truck’s owner/chef Derrick Turton is pumping out innovative dishes like jerk-salmon pasta and a long list of unique macaroni and cheese combinations. Chef Turton can, and will, transform any basket of ingredients into a delicious, gooey macaroni and cheese, whether it’s beef and broccoli, lump crab meat, Buffalo chicken, or pizza. Talk about cheese pulls; eating one of these mac and cheese renditions is like digging into of an edible work of art. House of Mac is not only the best food truck in Florida, but we consider it the best food truck in America!
Best Fried Chicken: Yardbird Southern Table & Bar (Miami)
Yardbird Southern Table & Bar brings a Southern charm and influence to Miami, Florida, a place better known for its Cuban and Spanish food. Its main claim to fame is its fried chicken, made using a recipe passed down by owner John Kunkel's grandmother; chicken is brined for 27 hours before being dredged in cayenne-spiced flour, fried, and served alongside watermelon and waffles. Yardbird’s fried chicken has received numerous accolades in recent years, and for good reason. You just have to taste it yourself to see what the fuss is all about.
Best Fudge Shop: The Fudge Factory (Tarpon Springs)
Located on the historic Sponge Docks in Tarpon Springs, Florida, The Fudge Factory has been turning out handmade fudge since 1988. Made using an old family recipe, copper kettles, a marble slab, and a paddle, it doesn’t get more traditional than this. 14 flavors are available there, including chocolate peanut butter, chocolate mint, rocky road, maple walnut, and penuche walnut.
Best Hole in the Wall Diner: Danny’s All-American Diner and Dairy Bar (Tampa)
This teeny tiny restaurant is literally a shack on the side of the road, and it’s so small that guests sit on picnic tables outside. It has a surprisingly large menu, with a wide variety of sandwich options (including a killer Cuban), but the thing to order is Guy Fieri’s Triple D Triple Play (which Fieri created while there filming an episode): a 6.5-ounce fresh-ground patty topped with slow-roasted pork, pastrami, Swiss, American, tomatoes, jalapeños, onion rings, and mustard on sourdough.
Best Hot Dog: Hot Dog Heaven (Orlando)
Authentic Chicago-style hot dogs in Orlando? Since 1987, that’s exactly what they’ve been turning out at Hot Dog Heaven: natural-casing Vienna beef hot dogs in a steamed poppy seed bun, topped with mustard, relish, onion, tomato, pickle, and sport peppers. It’s every bit as good as what you’ll find in Chicago, and you can even complement it with another classic Chicago food: a pizza puff from Chicago-based Iltaco Foods.
Best Ice Cream Stand: Jaxson’s Ice Cream Parlour and Restaurant (Dania Beach)
Zagat-rated Jaxson’s Ice Cream Parlour and Restaurant coincidentally also houses one of the largest collections of rural American memorabilia. Customers come by this Florida ice cream parlor to order off the extensive menu and stare at all the kitschy goodness.
Best Indian Restaurant: Bombay Darbar (Miami)
Find deliciously authentic Indian cuisine in Miami’s Coconut Grove neighborhood at a reasonable price when you dine at Bombay Darbar. Try the delicious biryani or favorites such as the flavorful mango chicken curry and lamb rogan josh (boneless lamb cooked in a tomato curry with yogurt and spices). The colorful bar has a nice selection of wines, cocktails, and beers including a couple from India, and the TVs playing Bollywood music videos along with a nice seating area makes this a great place to catch up with friends or family.
Best Irish Pub: Raglan Road Irish Pub and Restaurant (Lake Buena Vista)
Raglan Road is the ideal spot to kick off a fun bar crawl. Its high-energy atmosphere will get anyone feeling the luck of the Irish. The menu was devised by consulting Irish chef Kevin Dundon, whose classic creations have a modern touch. With all the necessary brews on-hand, like Magner's Irish Cider, Smithwick’s Irish Ale, and of course Guinness, you'll be set here for a perfect night out.
Best Italian Restaurant: Macchialina (Miami Beach)
Queens-born, Italy-raised chef Michael Pirolo spent time at some of Italy’s finest restaurants and enjoyed a stint as chef de cuisine at Scott Conant’s Scarpetta before branching out on his own with Macchialina in 2012. The menu is primarily composed of antipasti and housemade pasta, and we strongly suggest you try as many of the pastas as possible (especially on Thursdays, when they’re just $10). Other standouts include gnoccho fritto, veal cheek and pork meatballs, and a 21-day dry-aged New York strip.
Best Jewish Deli: Roasters ‘N Toasters (Miami)
With three Miami locations and one in Aventura, Roasters ‘N Toasters has made a name for itself as Florida’s premier Jewish deli. In business since 1984, this deli hits all the right notes: corned beef, pastrami, brisket, roast beef, tongue, Reubens, a wide variety of gutbusting combo sandwiches, smoked fish, matzo ball soup, and homemade baked goods. If you’re near Miami and have a hankering for some good old-fashioned deli fare, Roasters ‘N Toasters is the place to go.
Best Macaroni and Cheese: Yardbird (Miami)
Five cheeses go into this Miami hotspot’s super-popular macaroni and cheese: Grayson, Swiss, Cheddar, red Leicester, and Parmigiano-Reggiano. Combined into a creamy sauce and tossed with a spiral-shaped pasta called torchio, it’s topped with bread crumbs and chives before being served in a heaping baking dish. Unique, creative, and delicious, this mac and cheese hits all the right marks.
Best Mexican Restaurant: Talavera (Coral Gables)
Chef Oscar del Rivero oversees one of Florida’s best Mexican restaurants, with a menu inspired by seasonal ingredients and the chef’s personal travels to Mexico. This place serves Mexican food you’d actually find in Mexico. Beyond standouts on the everyday menu like queso frito, puntas chipotle, pambazo sliders, there’s a huarache grill prepared a la talla (with mild guajillo chile rub), a different pozole every Thursday, and a “traditional” Caesar salad said to follow the original recipe from Tijuana.
Most Expensive Restaurant: Naoe (Miami)
Every day, chef Kevin Cory gets the highest-quality seafood available and puts them on a menu that changes daily according to what he was able to procure. Only 16 diners have the privilege of sampling his creations each night at Naoe, and each will pay $220, plus 20 percent service charge and sales tax, for the opportunity.
Most Iconic Dish: Stone Crab Claws, Joe’s Stone Crab (Miami Beach)
In 1918, Miami Beach didn’t even really exist as a town; Collins Avenue was a dirt path, and the only place to eat was a little bungalow run by a Hungarian immigrant called Joe’s. But in 1921, owner Joe Weiss added a local crustacean called stone crab to the menu, and it caught on like wildfire. The bay was full of these crabs, which nobody had even realized were edible, and a simple plate of boiled and cracked crab claws with hash browns, coleslaw, and mayonnaise quickly became a quintessential Miami dish. Nearly 100 years later, Joe’s Stone Crab is in slightly fancier digs but still serving those legendary crab claws (fishermen release the crabs after taking just their claws, which grow back, making the fishery completely sustainable); an order of them, served with a mayo-based mustard sauce, is one of America’s most iconic dishes.
Most Outrageous Restaurant Dish: McGuire’s Terrible Garbage Burger, McGuire’s Irish Pub (Pensacola)
One of the most authentic Irish pubs in America, McGuire’s Irish Pub sells a wide variety of delicious Angus steak burgers, custom ground and handmade with their own seasonings to be served alongside Irish potato fries or homemade baked beans. If you’re not sure what to pick from the 25 options, however, you don’t even have to. Go with the Garbage Burger, and you get to have literally everything — the recipe calls for throwing a bit of every ingredient into the mix, including a hot fudge sundae on top!
Best Over-the-Top Grilled Cheese Sandwich: Ms. Cheezious (Miami)
One of Miami’s best food trucks now also has two locations in the city. You can build your own grilled cheese, or choose one of their “Must Haves.” The most popular gutbombs include Frito Pie Melt (chili, American cheese, jalapenos, onions, and Fritos); Mackin Melt (creamy gouda mac and cheese with house cured bacon); Southern Fried Chicken & Waffle Melt (fried chicken and Cheddar housemade waffles, country gravy, syrup); and S’Mores Melt (roasted marshmallows, salted chocolate hazelnut spread, Graham cracker crumble on sourdough).
Best Pancakes: The Breakfast House (Sarasota)
This charming and low-key Sarasota breakfast spot serves a wide variety of omelettes, Benedicts, French toast, and specialties like Key West shrimp and grits. The pancakes are really something special, though; they’re available in styles including banana pecan, cranberry walnut, and white chocolate macadamia, and the house specialty is the Island Cakes, filled with coconut, macadamia nuts, and a grilled fresh pineapple ring.
Best Pizza: Scuola Vecchia Pizza E Vino (Delray Beach)
Photo by Will G. via Yelp
Scuola Vecchia brings a host of traditional Italian pizzas to Delray Beach with a ton of different options for every pizza-lover. Guests can choose from 25 different pizzas from the traditional Margherita to more complex pies like the capricciosa with fresh mozzarella, tomato sauce, Italian ham, artichokes, mushrooms, and extra-virgin olive oil. But if you can’t find exactly what you’re looking for, there’s the option to build your own pie, starting with the foundation of either a marinara or Margherita.
Best Restaurant For Breakfast: Keke’s Breakfast Café (Various Locations)
There are more than 30 locations of Keke’s across Florida, with 13 more in the works, and the company prides itself on making nearly all of its dishes from scratch, using the highest-quality ingredients available. All locations open at 7 a.m. daily, and the menu is nothing short of massive. There are 11 waffle varieties and 8 pancakes (filled and topped with everything from fresh berries to bananas and pecans); 10 varieties of French toast (including one stuffed with pineapple, coconut, and cream cheese); and more egg preparations than we can list. You can always create your own combo as well.
Best Restaurant: Norman's (Orlando)
Known as the founding father of New World cuisine, chef Norman Van Aken — a member of The Daily Meal Council — is acclaimed for his fusion of Latin, Caribbean, and Asian flavors using traditional European techniques. At Norman’s in the Ritz-Carlton Orlando, guests can eat in the opulent dining room or on the restaurant’s outdoor terrace overlooking the hotel’s lake, 18-hole Greg Norman-designed golf course, and lush gardens. The menu changes according to availability of seasonal ingredients; expect to see menu items like Key West shrimp ceviche; adobo-marinated grilled rack of lamb with mole verde and pattypan squash; and pan-cooked fillet of Florida snapper with asparagus, citrus butter sauce, and mashed potatoes.
Best Sandwich: Cuban, Versailles Restaurant (Miami)
Photo by Amy D. via Yelp
The Cuban sandwich actually originated in Florida, not Cuba, and in many ways it’s the unofficial sandwich of Miami. Just about all Miami Cuban sandwiches contain the same ingredients — ham, roast pork, Swiss, pickles, and mustard on Cuban bread, pressed until melty (salami also works its way into it in Tampa) — but quality can vary from place to place. The definitive version can be found at Versailles, located in Miami’s Little Havana. Fresh Cuban-style white bread loaves are baked in house; ham is glazed with brown sugar, pineapple juice, and cloves before being baked; whole pork legs are marinated and slow-roasted for three hours daily; and imported Swiss is sliced thick. A good Cuban sandwich depends on the quality of its ingredients, and the ingredients at Versailles are just about perfect.
Best Seafood Shack: City Seafood (Everglades City)
The folks at City Seafood, located in a tiny fishing village, pride themselves on catching all of their seafood and stone crabs from their own fishing and crabbing boats. Enjoy your meals outdoors on the deck while manatees swim by. Most diners come for the stone crabs, but baskets of smoked mullet, grouper, shrimp, oysters, blue crab, gator, or frogs' legs are top-notch as well. City Seafood, conveniently, is also a market, so you can take some of those local delicacies home with you.
Best Soup: Conch Chowder, Conch Republic (Key West)
Yelp/ Randy S.
Key West may also be known as the Conch Republic, but there’s only one restaurant on the island that’s earned the right to carry the name. Conch Republic Seafood Company is located on the historic Key West Bight Marina, and they do their conch right. You can order it flash-fried or in fritters, but you’ll also want to try it in their homemade conch chowder, a Bahamian-style red chowder made with ground conch, herbs, and potatoes. It’s something no visitor to Key West should leave without trying; make sure you try the homemade Key lime pie, too, while you’re at it.
Best Sports Bar: Ferg's Sports Bar (St. Petersburg)
With more than 90 TVs, Ferg’s is the game day headquarters for Tampa Bay Rays fans: They normally see over 17,000 patrons for MLB’s opening day and over 30,000 for the World Series. Ferg’s party bus is a fully-equipped RV for parties on the go, and the bar has 11 different areas to host events (their backyard has a capacity of up to 3,000!). Whether patrons are celebrating the Rays, the Tampa Bay Lightning hockey team, or a local softball team, Ferg’s has a spot for everyone: The entire space encompasses almost two city blocks.
Best Steakhouse: Bern’s (Tampa)
Don’t come to Bern’s if you're on a diet; Bern's is about wonderful excess. There are 20 kinds of caviar on the menu of this big, old-style, legendary establishment. The menu also includes two preparations of foie gras, two kinds of steak tartare (one with truffles), oysters three ways, endless varieties of fish and shellfish, 16 different cheeses both domestic and imported, nearly 50 desserts (including gluten- and sugar-free varieties) — served upstairs in a special dessert room — and a list of about 7,000 wines (5,500 of them red). Oh, and did we mention steaks? There are seven different cuts in a total of 51 different sizes (from 6 ounces of filet mignon to 60 ounces of strip sirloin), broiled to eight different temperatures, from very rare ("no crust, cold and raw") to, gulp, well-done ("sturdy little crust, no color, no juice, dried out"). Come hungry.
Best Taco: Raw Tuna, My Ceviche (Miami)
Victor Z. via Yelp
My Ceviche is a fast-casual seafood spot that’s become a Miami standby with a handful of locations throughout the city. Ceviche (made with your choice of three types of seafood and in six styles), burritos, bowls, and salads are all solid options, but don’t miss the tacos, which are available with fish, shrimp, octopus, chicken, or raw tuna. It may be unexpected, but raw tuna is the way to go: It’s chopped into tiny pieces and piled into a corn or flour tortilla with a bright combo of pickled red onions, julienned matchsticks, shredded queso fresco, and cilantro; we suggest you ask for some sliced avocado on top as well. For more states, check out our ultimate guide to the best food and drink in every state for 2019.