Three Stars for Macaluso’s

Michael D'Andrea who is the chef-owner of Macaluso's restaurant at 1747 Alton Road on Miami Beach, posing in his kitchen.

In transient Miami Beach, where reputations are made more on flash than tradition, it’s refreshing to see a quirky place like Macaluso’s make it. It’s in a tough spot — literally. The storefront on a hard-to-reach corner of Alton Road should have doomed the place. Yet, 11 years after opening his upscale Italian-American joint, Michael D’Andrea still draws celebrities and socialites happy to shell out a hundred bucks for homey cooking.  The secret: good, old-fashioned garlic, onions and peppers and plenty of attitude.

The slim, handsome D’Andrea stubbornly keeps on doing what he knows best. The canned baby peas in his grandma’s ravioli once troubled me, but I now find them comforting. Upgrading to fresh ones would seem inauthentic. It’s no accident the bar is lined up with brown paper packages ready for leftovers; portions are on a par with The Cheesecake Factory.

A meal at Macaluso’s is not just satisfying, it is stupefying. Prices are high for what my parent would call “cucina povera” (food of the poor), but for an overall experience of lusty, full-flavored New York Italian, you cannot do better than this.

Ambience: The only things missing are the red-checkered tablecloths and raffia-wrapped chianti bottles. For the many who don’t know how to make pasta e piselli (pasta and peas) and other simple foods at home, this is the place to chow down in a dark and bustling dining room to a soundtrack of Sinatra and ’80s R&B.

What Worked

  • The meatballs — oh, those meatballs – juicy, flavorful, salty, cheesy, as light and fluffy as just-spun laundry and served with a mound of cooling ricotta cheese and lots of basil
  • D’Andrea’s red sauce – sweet, tangy, rich and dark from long — but not too long — cooking and a dose of red wine
  • Cavatelli – a long, dense, partially opened tube pasta tossed with a simple sauce of cubed chicken, button mushrooms, baby artichokes and tons of oil and herbs
Linguine with clam sauce (just don’t tell my mamma I spent $25 for a bowl of boxed pasta with just a few littlenecks)
  • A starting hunk of pecorino romano cheese slathered in oil and pepper to eat with warm, crusty bread
  • Sinatra hot shrimp  – three cigar-sized shrimp doused in fresh-cut herbs, red chile flakes and garlic and dotted with scorching red and green pickled peppers, all served over triangles of super garlicky cheese toast
  • Salads of rough-cut iceberg and romaine with hunks of red bell pepper and tomato swim in an oily, grated-cheese dressing
  • Thick, creamy, espresso-doused tiramisu served with a crisp, custard-filled cannoli

What Didn’t Work

  • Sure, some customers complained — me included: Too much garlic. Too much salt. Too much oil
  • No half portions. No substitutions. No exceptions. No written menu.
  • Customers have been shown the door for asking for salad dressing on the side.



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