Here is a follow up to my post on Asian food in Miami (The best Chinese and Thai restaurants in town). Today, I’d like to share a list of spots for authentic Indian, Vietnamese and Indonesian food in the greater Miami areas. These are not popular cuisines in the sunshine state, therefore, to savor some of the exotic flavors, be prepared to drive a bit.
Best Indian Restaurant in Miami
Bombay Darbar (2901 Florida Avenue, Coconut Grove) – The secret is out. This is the best Indian restaurant in Miami. I think most Coconut Grove locals would argue that this is also one of the best restaurants in their neighborhood. In their new bigger location, Darbar is bustling any night of the week. Flavors are spot on; be sure to ask for tandoori lamb chops, Chicken Korma, Paneer Makhani and an assortment of naans and samosas which will parade in your table and will be an explosion of flavor. Make a reservation or get there early. This is a great option for large groups as it can be surprisingly reasonable when sharing dishes. Anyone from the local or international Indian community living or visiting Miami will know about this place.
Best Vietnamese Restaurants in Miami
There are a few known names out there promising to replicate the freshness and color of the Vietnamese cuisine, yet in my opinion, most are mediocre. You will have to venture out to sample some of the better ones.
Basilic Vietnamese Grill (14734 Biscayne Blvd, North Miami Beach, FL 33181 - Smart eatery offering a pretty extensive list of authentic Vietnamese dishes. They actually own two other locations in Broward (Boca and Lauderdale). One of the few places that also serves the famous Vietnamese baguette sandwiches (Bahn Mi). Portions are generous, ingredients are fresh and colorful. Everything I tried was delicious and authentic (I’ve survived a trip to Hanoi and Saigon which perhaps make me credible). Worth the drive and good for a date (if you don’t mind that’s smacked in the middle of a strip mall). The ambiance is refined and the menu is extensive. Tip: the famous Oishi Thai is across the street, which also commands respect for its Thai and sushi offerings.
Green Papaya (16893 NW 67th Ave, Miami Lakes, FL 33015) – I must mention Green Papaya because I love mom & pop operations. These ladies cook, serve and smile when you walk in. It’s not in the most interesting or convenient location, unless you are shopping nearby at the giant Brandsmart (it's listed in Miami Lakes but others say this area is considered Hialeah). I enjoyed it. This is a pretty authentic Vietnamese spot. I had a hearty Chicken Pho and the most delicious gooiest sweet doughy treat as dessert. They must have figured out that I have a soft spot for jelly-mushy unappealing Asian treats, as the taro-pudding-sticky-rice with red bean concoction they brought me (without having it ordered myself) was divine. Good spot for lunch and a totally no-frills locale.
Best Indonesian Restaurant
Bali Cafe (109 NE 2nd Ave, Downton Miami, FL 33132) - This place has been in Miami for years. It’s a Downtown institution. Not sure what brought the owners to Miami, but I will sure find out next time I’m there. Indonesian food is indeed delicious, complex in flavors and requiring detailed preparation. Must order: laksa, Nasi Goreng, Rendang Sapi (it’s worth sticking to the Indonesian recipes). Best for pickup or delivery (check out UBER eats / Grub Hub), as the dining area is small and parking scarce in the streets of Downtown. Note that it’s cash only.
Asian Treat Alert: Foot Massage
Having lived and traveled in Asia extensively, one develops a passion and TOTAL addiction for Foot Massages. I’m not talking about the dodgy experience, I am referring to the legitimate art of giving your feet the much needed care and attention. Your feet are often the most neglected part of your body. Upon returning to Miami, I noticed a few places with the suspect neon sign promoting an “Oriental Massage” and in no time I was hunting for the right one.
NOTE: The key elements of the real authentic foot massage are as follow:
Pain or pressure (aimed at key parts in your body)
Shared Space / Seating Area (you seat in a comfortable chair and relax as a group with other guests)
I recommend a MASSAGE shop found in a strip mall near the airport (at 5773 NW 7th Street, right next to the Office Depot; telephone 305-456-1835). This is as legitimate as it can get: $45 gives you 60 minutes of bliss, where you will be cocooned in a velvety chair while listening to Chinese tunes, all in a big communal semi-dark room. The (likely) legitimate Chinese masseuse will wash your feet and devote over 40 minutes to your beloved feet. The massage will end with a quick body stretching massage of about 10-15 minutes, unless you specify otherwise. Be adventurous and stop by. They accept credit cards. The price is right, the place is clean and the experience is worth it. However, be humble and open minded, and remember that this is not the Mandarin Oriental, it's a no frills almost therapeutic activity. Tip: they open late, which makes it a nice post dinner or evening outing.