By Danny Brody
Yeah, Miami has high-end restaurants with celebrity chefs and a glam clientele that believes plastic – the silicone or the platinum card kind – always makes perfect. This guide isn’t about those places.
This guide is about the humble, small-scale joints that have little else but good food to keep them going. This guide is about places so far below the radar that they don’t even HAVE an address, they have four wheels instead. These mobile munch-wagons are the cure for over-priced and over-wrought meals. Whether serving from a truck, cart or van, these locals make Miami’s finest moveable feasts.
Keep in mind that hours and locations here are approximate. Many food trucks drive home once the eats are all gone, so be sure to arrive in good time.
In Mexican slang, Orale translates loosely as "hell yeah!", as in "Orale! These guys from Oaxaca make the best tacos in Miami, brah." The fillings are tasty and home-cooked, spooned onto grilled corn tortillas as you order them, then topped with crunchy, homemade pico de gallo, pepper-spiked salsa verde, radish slices and lime. Try any one of the three homemade hot sauces for a final flourish. The best fillings here are the most unusual: cachete, beef cheek, is aromatic and robust; barbacoa de borrego, lamb, tastes moist and wild, like lamb used to taste; and the suadero, compact beef riblet chunks, really pack a rib punch. I also love the slow-cooked beef tongue.
Usually, two other food carts set up shop near Orale, so you could make a three-course meal of your adventure. A Peruvian couple runs one cart, serving homey ‘Cuban’ tamales, rich with corn, rice, and chicken, along with Peruvian empanadas made with hearty dough wrapped around spicy chicken or beef that’s been simmered with olives and onions. At the other cart, two nice Nicaraguan ladies serve big portions of yuca con chicharron and a nice and smooth yellow corn tamale.
SW 28th St., just east of 37th Avenue, Coral Gables. Open Saturdays 8:30 a.m.- 7 p.m.; Sundays, 11:30 a.m. -7 p.m.
The Shrimp Truck
This truck (that’s Al’s Cafeteria to you) is parked in the Pick-It grocery store, better known as Buster’s. Buster has a sign on the door: "Please respect yourself and everyone else by wearing your pants up around your waist. If not, don’t come in. Thank you. Buster."
It’s all about respect here, and if there’s one thing I respect, it’s a man who can fry shrimp right. So very simple, yet so hard to find. Al’s shrimp are moist and crunchy, nestled in a delicate, crispy coating. Al also fries crab-king crab legs in their shells – that’s right, in their shells – so you can eat a little crunch, eat a little crab. Your plan: Eat the shrimp and crabs while they’re hot. Then order another round to go and rush home.
11795 NW 27th Ave., Miami. (Look for the Pick-It sign.) Open after 6 p.m.
You can work up a mighty big appetite carousing at the strip club, and that’s why you’ll find Roscoe’s, a big blue food truck parked outside the Take One Lounge on Northeast 79th Street. The man at the grill here (not named Roscoe) understands the urges of the flesh: I’m talking, of course, about a fried pork chop sandwich. A thin chop is breaded, fried and served with fries. Add hot sauce, grab a fistful of napkins and get set to tame your inner man or woman. You know, the one who’s always hungry. Now you’re ready to head back in for some more friction dancing.
Near intersection of Northeast 79th Street and Northeast 3rd Court, Miami. (Adjacent to parking lot of Take One Lounge, 333 NE 79th St.) Open late night.
Haitian Roasted Nuts
Normally, about twenty guys hang around this Little Haiti lot, which is filled with tropical fruits and sugarcane. The person you want here is a sweet Haitian lady who cuts the cane, sells the fruit and roasts the nuts. Her roasted Georgia peanuts have the fresh, concentrated flavor and astonishing crunchiness of truly fresh-roasted nuts. A small but potent bag of these babies will set you back a buck. If you’re carrying more cash, try the corn, fresh-roasted in its hust, or the fresh cranberry beans. They’ll look pretty on your kitchen counter while you’re scarfing down roasted nuts with a cold beer.
West side of Northeast 2nd Avenue at 58th Street, Little Haiti. Open during daylight hours.
Rib Guy #1
Morning rush hour on Northeast 79th Street smells pretty damn good on Thursdays and Fridays. That’s because someone has taken the time to start smoking ribs at 7 a.m. so they’ll be ready for pre-lunch consumption starting at 10:30. You’ll do well to stop at this truck for the rib sandwich, a mess of ribs smothered in homemade BBQ sauce and topped with two slices of white bread (which can be eaten or used as napkins). It’s smoky, juicy chaos for $5. Also recommended is the BBQ chicken leg sandwich, two legs for $5. Take home a slab or a half slab, load up on the sauce, and start counting the hours ’til Rib Guy’s return.
Outside Better Way House of Bargains, 100 NE 79th St., Miami; Open Thursdays and Fridays from 10:30 a.m. til they run out.
Rib Guy #2
This stretch of North Miami Avenue on the desolate northern edge of the Design District is eerily quiet. But for the pastor-turned-pit-master who mans the smoker here, all is right with the world. His ribs are succulent and he knows it – and so will you once you sample his smoky stuff. What’s that brick-red stew floating in the slow-cooker, you ask? That is souse. It’s for the experienced eater only. Don’t ask what’s in it, you probably don’t want to know. With ribs these good, why would you want to eat anything else?
Northeast Corner of North Miami Avenue and 45th Street. Open Weekends.
Paella takes a while to prepare and to cook. This truck shows up, and Alex the paella maker gets to work. He has a huge outdoor paella pan, bubbling and cracking with yellow rice, chicken and seafood. The $7 small portion (large is $11) is a big bowl teeming with juicy mussels, squid rings, shrimp, a drumstick, some peas, red peppers and a ton of moist, flavorful rice cooked in the loving embrace of all those tasty critters. Even the drumstick is cooked perfectly. Alex also sells gigantic hamburgers, chicken wings, and some Cuban dishes, but the paella is what you want.
Look for the truck near Crandon Park’s North Beach, Key Biscayne. Open weekend and holiday afternoons; often closed for rain.
Jetro Parking Lot Food Truck
Jetro is a wholesale restaurant supply warehouse (don’t try to shop here if you’re not in the business – trust us, we tried.) and this truck serves the people who work here and restauranteurs looking for a quick bite. The hard-working couple who work the stove here serves some of the best lechon in Miami. It is moist and crispy, porky and profound, accompanied by down-home black beans and white rice. This lechon easily bests much of the pig served in actual, far more pricey restaurants around town. At $4.50 a portion, their palomilla and chicken a la plancha are pretty good, too. Wash it all down with a Malta, magic potion for hangovers.
Jetro Parking Lot Entrance on NW 12th Ave, just north of 20th St, on the east side. Open early for breakfast, closes after lunch.