By Karen Burkett
It’s a common lament: Unlike other cities of its size, Miami has no real Chinatown. But seekers of chicken feet, yard-long beans, pork buns and bubble tea find their heart’s delight along 167th Street in North Miami Beach.
Yet hardy (and hungry) explorers will encounter all kinds of ethnic markets and eateries along this two-mile strip, which curves into Northeast 163rd Street and also runs through unincorporated Miami-Dade. From Israeli delis to Italian grocers to West Indian roti shops and Haitian cafes, the businesses along this stretch of road comprise a United Nations of snacking.
Here, some of our favorite discoveries from the strip:
Little Saigon is a small Vietnamese restaurant a block north of North Miami Avenue. No tablecloths, no artwork on the walls, no pretense. The dining room holds a dozen tables, mostly packed with families and older Vietnamese folks. If you’re new to the cuisine, it’s light food, known for fresh flavors, noodles, soups, and vegetables. The prices at Little Saigon are more than reasonable and portions are famously generous.
16752 N. Miami Avenue, North Miami Beach 33169; 305-653-3377
Further east is one of our favorites, Korean barbecue at Kyung Ju Restaurant. This is an active dining experience. Dishes are served family-style. In other words, this is not the place to bring bland or high maintenance friends. You can create your own sandwiches from lettuce, flavorful meats, and bean paste after cooking your marinated meats or seafood over a mini-grill. My hubby craves the spicy kim chi and the short ribs. Don’t be thrown by the fact that you’ll be served various side dishes, known as panchan. These are also meant to be shared. While Kyung Ju isn’t a fancy spot, Korean barbecue will still cost between $16-$22 per plate. Note to the budget minded: the larger your party, the better the deal.
400 N.E. 167 Street, North Miami 33162; 305-947-3838
Kebab Indian and Panya Thai are next-door neighbors in a mini-strip mall on the south side of the street. Both are high-end eating for this part of town, with tablecloths, authentic décor, soft lighting and background music from their respective homelands. If this is your first time eating Indian, we recommend the dal, the garlic nan, and the murgh curry. Dinner for two will run you anywhere between $45 and $60. If you can’t handle spicy dishes, say so. Most Indian restaurants, including Kebab, will adjust. Panya Thai is the rare Miami Thai joint that (gasp) does not serve sushi, instead focusing on authentic, delicious Thai cuisine. The $8 lunch special is offered seven days a week, while dinner entrees will run you anywhere from $10-$20 a plate.
Kebab Indian 514 N.E. 167 Street, North Miami Beach 33162; 305- 940-6309
Panya Thai 520 N.E. 167 Street, North Miami Beach 33162; 305- 945-8566
As soon as you hit the door of Christine’s Roti Shop you’re likely to see Christine at the stove putting together a curry chicken potato chickpea roti. She also offers beef, vegetarian, seafood and goat options. You can dine here, but seating is limited to one or two small tables. Christine’s food is delicious, plentiful and cheap – $8 will buy you a terrific dinner, but not much ambience. This place is a hole in the wall, but that’s why you’ll love it.
16721 N.E. 6 Avenue, North Miami Beach 33162; 305- 770-0434
Sang’s Chinese Food offers two menus. Make sure you look at the white one, which features the authentic Chinese dim sum options. Regulars bragged to us about the dim sum, which is served seven days a week from 10:30 am to 4 pm. You’ll also notice a barbecue counter, where crispy pork is prepared, and a tank, complete with net, for servers to fish out your tilapia lunch or dinner.
1925 N.E. 163 Street, North Miami Beach 33162; 305-947-7076
A stone’s throw from the 836 East is PK Oriental Mart. This grocery is one of several Asian markets along the strip. It stands out for its Chinatown style barbecue displayed at the glass counter. You’ll be able to choose meats like pork, spareribs, duck, or marinated chicken. The market is well-stocked with products from many Asian countries. Pan-Asian foodies give its produce selection a thumbs up.
255 N.E. 167 Street, North Miami Beach 33162; 305- 654-9646
Visiting Vinh An Oriental Market means crossing the street after a Korean barbecue lunch at Kyung Ju. The shelves are lined with teas, cooking utensils, noodles of every kind, fresh bok choy in regular and baby size, chopsticks, frozen and dried fish, exotic mushrooms and teapots. It’s a good place to look for unique gifts like sake sets and dessert items from afar. If you arrive early enough on weekends, the store sells homemade goodies like spring rolls, rice-flour ravioli and packets of sticky rice.
372 N.E. 167 Street, Miami 33162; 305-948-8860
Further east on 167 Street is Maggie’s Oriental Groceries. Here, we spotted unique treats like candies and teas – one labeled “horny goat weed for male fertility” – dry chrysanthemum, and a variety of appetizers.
1234 N.E. 163 Street, North Miami Beach 33162; 305-945-6070
Chung Hing Oriental Market is the closest to Biscayne Boulevard. There’s a big fish tank in the back with shellfish available for purchase. This place is piled high with boxes and a bit cluttered. It’s the only store where we spotted newspapers from Asia and large supply of medicines and treatments.
1855 N.E. 163 Street, North Miami Beach 33162; 305-947-6038
Yes, we’re switching continents, but no guide to this area would be complete without mentioning Laurenzo’s Italian Market. Black and white photos of famous Italian Americans (Yes, Sylvester Stallone is included) adorn the walls, the décor is inspired by the red, green and white of Italy’s flag, and ah yes, there is the food: trays of freshly made pastas (including asiago gnocchi), at least a dozen types of olives, freezers full of pre-made dinners, shelves of imported cheeses and wines, a library of balsamic vinegars, seasonings and a bakery. Laurenzo’s is first and foremost a market for ingredients, but if you’re hungry, they do serve meals at the tables in the center of the market. It’s the kind of place you can bring the kids.
16385 West Dixie Highway, North Miami Beach, 33160; 305-954-6381