To quote one of my favorite sayings “Life happens at intersections”, is no more apparent than at one of the most recently revitalized neighborhoods in Miami- the glamorous Design District. Here, fashion, art, and architecture all wonderfully collide into a gorgeous mass of textures and colors, evoking wide range of emotions. This jam packed area is stuffed with sparkling ateliers, breezy galleries, mesmerizing public sculptures and creative dining sprawled out just over several short blocks.
The area was once a pineapple farm in a neighborhood referred to as Buena Vista. It was a thriving district in the early part of the 20th century, but lapsed into disrepair by the early 1990’s. By the early 2000’s, its star began to shine bright again due to the commitment and vision of Craig Robins who bought up many of the dilapidated buildings and persuaded top designers to set up shop.
Even though the Design District is one of Miami’s smallest, it nonetheless can keep you engaged and entertained from dawn to dusk and here are the best ways to draw from the best of its generous offerings.
Things to do in the morning in the Design District
Michael’s Genuine Food ( 130 N.E. 40th Street)
We suggest you choose Saturday or Sunday as your day to explore the Design District so that you can partake in one of the most creative brunches in town.
Master maestro Chef Michael Schwartz is a legend in Miami and his flagship restaurant Michael’s Genuine Food is a must-do dining experience. You’ll start your day right smack in the center of all the Design District action by cozying up to one of their outdoor tables set amidst some cooling foliage.
Forget the ubiquitous offerings most brunches deliver and go for a Kimchi Benedict; yes, there’s an English muffin and poached egg, but that’s just the beginning of your adventure. Add in some crispy pork belly and a fine drizzle of kimchi hollandaise and you’ve gone Miami urban chic. Or sample our beloved Florida rock shrimp as it balances upon a Crispy Rice Cake dotted with spicy chorizo, a creamy chili aioli and a shimmering, golden colored, perfectly poached egg. Wash it all down with an En Fuego- a delightful puckering blend of Patron blanco tequila, watermelon, serrano chili, lime and basil-lime salt. Sit awhile and enjoy the fresh Miami morning air as you plan your art-viewing excursion which is next on the sunup itinerary.
Institute of Contemporary Art Miami (61 NE 41st)
Who’s up for a little energy expressed so deeply by local, emerging and under-recognized artists of the day? The Institute of Contemporary Art Miami or better know as ICA Miami, is a haven for promoting experimentation in contemporary art and to exchange ideas throughout the Miami region. Since the space is so very deeply committed to providing public access to artistic excellence, the admission price couldn’t be more fair- nada! No cost is charged to any visitor, as the Institute truly believes that no barrier should be placed between the art and the guest.
De La Cruz Collection ( 23 NE 41st)
It’s a bit too early for another bite to eat, so in the meantime until your tummy begins to make noisy merriment, take a stroll through the fascinating collection of dedicated art lovers, Rosa and Carlos de la Cruz. This 30,000 square foot museum serves as an extension of this couple’s home which is redolent with gorgeous art pieces too numerous to take an inventory. The focus here at their museum is on contemporary art all displayed beautifully through numerous exhibitions and special events. And like ICA Miami, this extremely generous couple believes that art should be for all and thus not a penny is charged for admission.
Things to do in the afternoon in the Design District
Itame (140NE 39th St)
Ok, the rumblings from your stomach have begun so let’s quiet the hunger with a visit to the critically acclaimed Peruvian-Japanese flavors of Itame.
Capturing multiple James Beard nominations and being featured in highly respected publications such as the New York Times and Forbes, let this family-owned Nikkei-inspired restaurant lure you with some of THE best sushi in all of Miami.
Yes, we all love California rolls, but for the love of sushi, please resist the urge to go with your stubborn habits and try instead something very Peruvian, definitely Japanese and absolutely Miami-El Tigre! This stunning roll is stuffed with sweet plantains, avocado, cucumber, sweet shiitake mushrooms, topped with piquillo papers, crispy shallots and sweet soy. Kinda puts your simple California roll to shame, eh?
Or skip the sushi rolls in favor of a tiradito or ceviche. Personal favorite tiraditos include the Sureno- a melange of head-on shrimp, red onion, choclo, cancha, cilantro, huacatay, and chaparral leche de tigre. I’d ruin the fun if I explained all those intriguing ingredients, for that I’ll leave it to your knowledgeable server to sort out all the juicy details of your repast. And not everything served is on the raw side; fresh cooked daily catches and belly-satisfying bowls filled with roasted and grilled fruits of the sea await you as well.
Literally, “roll” yourself from Itame for some public art and retail therapy as they are next on your fun-filled day in the Design District.
Buckminster Fuller Fly’s Eye Dome
You’d have to be completely oblivious to your surroundings if you didn’t notice the giant sculpture planted right in the center of Palm Court as you leave your afternoon lunch spot. It’s better known as Buckminster Fuller Fly’s Eye Dome.
In 1965, Mr Fuller designed and patented the Fly’s Eye Dome; the stupefying huge fiberglass spheres that hold the center stage of the Design District. He built three of the fiberglass pieces you see today in 1983. But Fuller died before he could realize his original structure and years later in 2011, the design was acquired by collector and creator of present day Design District, Craig Robins, to complete Buckminster Fuller’s vision. The gargantuan piece utilizes state-of-the-art materials and techniques furthering the idea of the Design District as a forward-thinking Miami enclave.
Daniel Toole: Jade Alley (176 NE 41st)
You’d be a little suspicious if someone tried to coax you down an alleyway, wouldn’t you? Well, if that someone knew that the corridor was something to embrace not fear, I’d follow them, if just to satisfy my curiosity. Designed by Daniel Toole, cool concrete walls and facades integrate Design District buildings complete with a hidden court full of flowering trees at the center. Planted between glossy shops, the alley offers a hip juxtaposition; almost a raw crudeness to otherwise regal surroundings. The contrast alone will have you think of all of life as a series of perplexing contrasts.
Leong Leong Facade ( 3800 NE 1st Ave)
In Miami, practically EVERYTHING can be interpreted as art and this facade gracing a parking garage is definitely no exception.
Taking something as utilitarian as a car park and turning it into a entrancing piece of artwork was exactly the goal of this New York and Los Angeles based firm. The visionaries at this business may be from cities outside of Miami, but they nailed the Miami vibe. The western portion of the garage’s facade is adorned with titanium-coated stainless steel panels that mimic the shimmering patterns of light on the surface of Miami waters. Even though the area is far from sea and sand, the artists knew how to capture the Miami spirit even without one of our beautiful beaches necessarily nearby.
Continue to make art discovery after art discovery as the entire area is swathed in creative murals, sculptures and galleries that are chock-a-block with goods that make you think and feel.
But perhaps it’s time to buy that other “art”-some fashion! True, many of the Design District’s stores are of international caliber, but that shouldn’t stop you from taking a look, even if your wallet tells you it’s only going to be a window shopping kind of day.
Take your time strolling through the streets admiring many stores offering everything to outfit you from head to toe, but also take note some of the design elements of the buildings that house all these fancy duds. Dior for example, won an architectural award in 2016 and the outside of the Christian Louboutin atelier, shoe maker to the stars, is made of petrified wood.
But not all of the shops are recognized names and that’s a good thing. A favorite of mine is Lower East Coast( 84 NE 39th St), an unassuming spot compared to its flashy neighbors. This is a boutique with hard to find streetwear brands. Local founders were inspired by the history of Dade County and have a passion for specialized merchandise with a Miami twist. Check out their exclusive and premium products, unique to Miami and that makes for a special souvenir for you or someone back home.
After marching through all the art, sculpture and architecture of the area and with pretty packages in hand, it’s time to plop yourself down for a little evening drinking and eating.
Things to do in the evening in the Design District
As the sun sets, the glow of the day may fade, but the shine of the night begins. A glass of rose anyone?
Abaco Wines and Wine Bar ( 140 NE 39th St)
Highly trained sommeliers are waiting for you to finish up your last purchase at the fashion houses so they can be part of your apres-shopping experience. Enjoy a cool glass of pink tinted rose wine or actually schedule a full on wine tasting with some of the world’s greatest wines. This blond-wooded store beckons you to sit and relax with a jammy Pinot Noir and a selection of pre-dinner charcuterie. The staff are just lovely as they are knowledgeable about the grape. Located on the second floor of Palm Court, enjoy this oasis as you peer down with vintage in hand from this upper tier to the action on the first floor surrounding the court as day turns into dusk. Enjoy a few premium glasses as you unwind in preparation for your feast to come.
Mandolin Aegean Bistro (4312 NE 2nd Ave)
We all know that well-meaning friend who urges you to try Latin-inspired food in Miami. True, Miami is the ambassador of all things Latino and does absolute justice to Cuban, Peruvian, Colombian, Ecuadorian, Spanish, Venezuelan, Nicaraguan, and Haitian cuisines. But remember that Miami is truly a global city, and that means Mandolin Aegean Bistro is one to consider outside of Hispanic cuisine.
Awash in calming blue and white colors, Mandolin Aegean Bistro is inspired by the tavernas of Aegean coastal towns. After stumbling upon an old 1940’s bungalow, husband and wife team Ahmet Erkaya and Anastasia Koutsioukis transformed the rustic space into a dream restaurant. As you enter the blue gates, you can’t help but be transported to warm Mediterranean hospitality.
End your evening here, as the atmosphere is created for you to linger long. Start with an assortment of mezze, incredible Greek appetizers for the table. Don’t miss their baked feta with smoked Greek chili flakes and spicy Turkish pickled peppers or succulent grilled octopus as only those who hail from Mediterranean countries can prepare.
Then it’s on to the main course. Mandolin not only specializes in Greek food but also Turkish, and one of the signature dishes of the restaurant are Manti Dumplings. Some akin to pasta, but with more heart and heft, these little pillows of joy are stuffed with minced beef and smothered in garlic yogurt touched with Aleppo pepper and burnt butter. Or how about a whole grilled Mediterranean Sea bass- the Greeks and the Turks just have a knack for turning the simple foods of the sea into spectacular presentations that only need a good drizzle of golden olive oil, spritzes of tangy lemon and a dusting of deeply rich oregano. Continue the evening enjoyment with a few shots of ouzo or raki, make a few new friends at the table nearby and say a hearty Opa! as you toast to a day well spent in the Design District.
But wait…..why try to uncover all the gems of the Design District all by yourself when Miami Culinary Tours has planned a day for you! Join one of our master storytellers as you embark on a journey through the Design District on a carefully crafted tour of dining, art, architecture and more. We will fill your belly as well as your mind. So get ready to explore this district with our in-the-know guides who will leave you with long-lasting Miami memories. To read about our tour, please visit Design District Food & Art Tour
By Robyn Webb