A day after my arrival in Miami late last November, I stepped out of my hotel on Collins Avenue, walking along Ocean Drive in South Beach, the city’s busy central neighbourhood. A vibrant blue reflected off the waters. Soapy white waves rolled out a carpet on the wet shore, chanting a rejuvenating hum on loop.
October to May is stone crab season in Miami. During these months, harvesters pluck one or two claws off the crustaceans and release them into the sea. The claws are a delicacy relished cold, preferably with mustard sauce.
Cold crab claws apart, Floridian cuisine is a wild fusion of divergent styles. Miami, especially its foods hotspots along Ocean Drive, offer modern-progressive choices that also acknowledge the city’s Latin-American influences.
Around three hours away in Orlando, the tastes are less international. Cuisine culture here is still rooted in classic American fare, with steaks and burgers dominating menus in most restaurants. A true foodie is spoilt for choice in Miami as well as Orlando but here’s a shortlist of must-try spots in case you are visiting either place:
Home to Cuban exiles and immigrants from Central and South America, Little Havana is Miami at its liveliest. Most visitors make a beeline for Ball & Chain, an all-day pub and live music venue on SW 8th Street. I was here on a sweltering afternoon as a veteran was swinging his hips to energetic salsa music.
After watching him sweat and swivel, I walked into Azucur, an artisanal ice cream parlour two buildings away. Azucar’s scoops are renowned for packing in the freshness of local produce. My top picks: the abuela maria, rich with guava, cream cheese and Maria crackers, or the café con leche, which blends Cuban coffee and oreo cookies. (www.azucaricecream.com; Mon-Wed 11 a.m.-9 p.m., Thur-Sat 11 a.m.-11 p.m., Sun 11 a.m.-10 p.m.; $4.50/`289 per scoop.)
A reservation at this Mexican restaurant is an occasion to dress up. Chef Santiago Gomez’s forte is South American food with an eclectic twist. From the mains, highlights are ceviche de camaron roca (19$/`1,226), which is a rock shrimp ceviche, and the short rib braseada, a beef dish, oven roasted and served with jus ($36/`2,305). Vegetarians can opt for quesadillitas stuffed with mushrooms ($12/`774). (www.cantinala20.com; Mon-Thur noon-midnight; Fri noon-1 a.m; Sat 1 p.m.-1 a.m.; Sun 12.30 p.m.-11 p.m.)
The best part about this café, which has a cosy al-fresco seating, is its tropical garden. Chef Javier Quintana uses microgreens from here to garnish dishes. My meal here included a delectable burrata ($16/`1,032), a salad of roasted baby veggies, sundried tomatoes and pear tomatoes in raspberry vinaigrette, and the zesty tuna tartare ($14/`903), topped with sesame and avocado. (www.peacockspot.jaguarhg.com; Mon–Thur 11 a.m.-10 p.m.; Fri 11:30 a.m.-11 p.m.; Sat 9 a.m.-11 p.m.; Sun 9 a.m.-10 p.m.)
Chef Alejandro Morales at this Uruguayan hotspot uses a special fire cooking method that employs a wood fire parilla (grill). The verduras asadas ($9/`580), an earthy preparation of smoked fall veggies, is a definite winner. Morales is also masterful with sushi, especially table nigiris ($18/ `1,161), which is wild salmon, and yellow fin tuna sushi, and pulpo a la plancha ($21/ `1,355), octopus tentacles on a bed of potatoes confit and paprika. (www.east-miami.com/quintolahuella; Sun-Wed 7 a.m.-midnight.; Thurs-Sat 7 a.m.-1 a.m.)
Inside Orlando’s biggest tourist attraction, Universal Resort, is a Charlie and the Chocolate Factory-inspired dessert fantasia. The restaurant has a savoury menu but its showstoppers are the sweet treats. My recommendation: the brownie milkshake ($13/`838), a gooey chocolate brownie cake in a jar and the peanut indulgence ($12/`774), an avalanche of Snickers, Reese’s peanut butter cups, peanuts and cream. (www.universalorlando.com; Sun-Thurs 11 a.m.-11 p.m.; Fri-Sat 11 a.m.-midnight.)