The Phuc Yea co-founder details his favorite Miami restaurants, bars, nightlife, and more.
Since moving to Miami over 20 years ago, Cesar Zapata has become a fixture of the city’s dining scene. The restaurant he co-founded, Viet-Cajun hotspot Phuc Yea, is now in its 10th year of business, and he also has gone on to open two newer concepts at the TimeOut Miami Market—Pho Mo and Arepitas Bar.
But the culinary landscape wasn’t Zapata’s initial draw to the city. “There were some good restaurants here, but mostly Miami was known for its entertainment and nightlife,” Zapata says.
That all began to change after Zapata and his business partner opened up Phuc Yea as the city’s first-ever pop up restaurant in Miami. They’ve since gone brick-and-mortar, and the Miami dining scene has cracked wide open. “It’s super diverse here now,” says Zapata. “Miami is a real melting pot, not just of Latin cultures, but Asian, European, all of it.”
Below, Zapata shares where he likes to eat out, go for drinks, and have some fun in the hot Florida sun. But he has just one piece of advice for future visitors:
“They don’t call Miami ‘The Magic City’ for nothing,” says Zapata. “Make sure you come with lots of energy—because you’ll need it!”
Where To Dine
Located in the Miami Design District, Itamae is a Nikkei-style restaurant, incorporating both Peruvian and Japanese ingredients and cooking techniques. Family owned and operated, everything on the menu is delicious. My favorite dish is the Octopus Bañadito—tender pieces of thinly-sliced octopus dressed with a Peruvian olive cream sauce, topped with avocado and salsa criolla sauce. Make sure to try any of the maki rolls, a true representation of Nikkei cuisine. The restaurant is in a courtyard surrounded by high-end designer shops, so if you need to do a little shopping, have a delicious lunch/dinner here to kill two birds with one stone.
Another must is Casa Isola—it’s an Osteria-style Italian restaurant located in Sunset Harbour, a small waterfront neighborhood in Miami Beach. All of their pastas are freshly made in house. Try the Rigatoni a la Vodka and Veal Chop Parmigiana. It’s a casual vibe and unpretentious, like you’re at grandma’s house in Sicily.
When hitting the road on my bike, I always make a pit stop at Flour and Weirdoughs. Best croissants in Miami! Nothing better than replenishing those lost calories with a buttery flaky chocolate croissant and a warm cup of coffee. New to the city, chef Renata is an artisan at breadmaking. Her sourdough is also amazing.
The best Key Lime pie in the city? Fireman Derek’s, hands down. Fortunately, he has a couple locations around the city—one in Wynwood and Coconut Grove.
Where To Drink
Located in Downtown Miami, Jaguar Sun slings thoughtful craft cocktails and great contemporary Italian food—definitely a new hidden gem in our city. Expect dope, retro 80s vibes, perfect lighting, and a nice, intimate atmosphere. The cocktails are what makes this bar so special—they are true masters of their craft. The menu is constantly changing, but you can’t go wrong with a negroni.
Café La Trova represents what Miami is all about. This bar will transport you back to Cuban pre-revolution days. They normally have live music and they’re great at creating a vibe. Resident bartender Julio is one of the best bartenders in this city (and country). I love their sazerac. Make sure to make reservations; this place gets packed.
Where to Stay
W South Beach—here you get the best of Miami—beachfront luxury with close proximity to all the city has to offer. South Beach is amazing and it’s a perfect central location to discover all of Miami’s amazing neighborhoods, from Wynwood, to Grove, Design District, and Brickell.
Where To Shop
For quintessential, Miami-inspired products, you have to go to La Tiendita by Martha of Miami. You’ll find cool t-shirts with Cuban/Miamian slogans. They have something for everyone. There’s also The Baazar Project, a cool little shop in the heart of Coconut Grove. Your lady/mom/sister would love this store. You’ll find unique pieces of art, sculptures, books, vintage magazines, jewelry, and apparel. They also have a cafe so you can sit outside and enjoy people watching.
If you want to catch the newest and dopest kicks in the game, Shoe Gallery is the store. Located in Downtown, you’ll find rare sneakers and dope streetwear.
Where To Get Outside
One of my favorite ways to decompress and recharge is to head out on a long bike ride. Take a ride over the Rickenbacker Causeway to Key Biscayne’s Bill Baggs National Park, one of my favorite places to ride. Unparalleled water views on both sides of the road and luscious greenery throughout the entire ride. Make sure to visit the Cape Florida Lighthouse and check out all the hiking trails around the park.
Then there’s kayaking or paddle boarding at Sunset Harbour. Kayak around all the beautiful mansions and visit a few of the little islands around the bay. Take a cooler with beer, snacks, and have a picnic by the water. Make sure to hydrate properly and wear sunscreen.