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Great cities throughout the world have one thing in common—that one street which draws both locals and visitors to all the best shops and restaurants. While there are a number of attractive avenues you'll want to visit in Miami Beach, the pedestrian mall known as Lincoln Road is considered the true heart and soul of South Beach.
Ocean Drive attracts tourists looking for a quick fix of "Miami Vice" neon and retro-deco styling; it's the place locals take out of town guests to show them the sights. But, Lincoln Road provides a more authentic experience where just about everyone gathers to shop and dine under a brilliant Miami sun. With little resemblance to Small Town USA, Lincoln Road is a tropical Broadway, homey yet hip, with a sex appeal all its own.
No other avenue in the City is as popular 24 hours a day. While television shows like "Cheers" and "Friends" fictionalize cozy neighborhood places where everyone knows your name, the sunny sidewalk cafes along Lincoln Mall are frequent meeting places for friendly neighbors and social groups who gather to catch up on shared interests.
Newcomers will find it difficult to tell where one cafe ends and another begins. This open plan design is deliberate. Some venues favor boundaries, but not South Beach. The sports bar, the gay bar, the coffee shop and the deli all share tables and customers. Simply find an empty seat at a sunlit table to join the community. Folks who skateboard, rollerblade or bicycle meet on Lincoln. New parents bring overwrought toddlers to the Euclid Circle to barrel around and blow off steam. Ex-pats from cities around the globe find fellow countrymen to discuss world events, football matches and the goings-on back home. If America is indeed a melting pot, Lincoln Road is the red-hot burner in South Florida.
Let's Get Started...
In the past few years, clever New York decorators and fashion stylists have boasted to national publications about the treasures they've unearthed at the Lincoln Road Flea Market. Suffice to say, those used to getting rock-bottom prices now meet the antique dealers' trucks the moment they start to unpack. Competition is fierce! (Alternate Sundays October through May)
On holiday nights, families gather on the mall after dinner to check out the local revelers and catch up with old friends. Halloween is a particularly popular time of year. Local merchants encourage kids to trick or treat in all of their shops. Meanwhile, local drag queens parade in full regalia up and down the avenue hoping for cheers of encouragement from those lucky enough to score a table at a sidewalk cafe. Elaborate costumes created for local competitions or worn simply to provoke the crowd are everywhere you look. Everyone cheers, everyone takes photos; it's a big party.
The weekends before and after Halloween are some of the busiest of the year. October kicks off the official holiday season. Temperatures might creep into the 80s, but the holiday lights twinkle in all of the palm trees along the mall. Holiday shopping at the quirky boutiques, art galleries and chain stores is always a bit more fun than at a traditional shopping center. New Year's Eve is also intensely popular before and after the midnight fireworks at the beach. Black tie dressed couples and flip flop wearing teens compete for a place to hang out and celebrate. By accident or by design, there is always something to do on Lincoln Mall.
We've wandered from Bayside to Seaside along Lincoln Road and even explored the cross streets to help you navigate the incredible dining scene on this popular promenade. Whether you want a quick bite before the theater, a casual lunch while shopping, or a romantic dinner just for two, you'll find a dazzling array of options all along Lincoln Mall. Since no cars are permitted from Washington Avenue through Alton Road, you'll need to do a bit of walking to find the perfect spot. To make everything easier to find, we've organized our guide based upon the cross streets shown on this map so you can get where you're going just a little bit quicker. Are you ready?
Dinner and a Movie...
At Segafredo Espresso at the western edge of the Mall, it's possible to hear 4 different languages before you recognize one you understand. Serving panini sandwiches, giant cocktails and espresso to a huge crowd all day and night; this open-air cafe spreads randomly around a mosaic fountain in front of the Cameo Theater on Lenox Avenue. Perched between the dancing waters, the Pottery Barn and the newly renovated theater, this is an ideal spot to join friends before a movie at the multiplex, during a casual day of shopping or for an after-dinner cocktail. Expect to see pampered pooches and exhausted toddlers elbow-to-elbow with European Playboys and dewy young models. That guy who looks like the Mayor probably is Hizzoner having coffee and chatting up a Big Wig. While it might be possible to pull on sweat pants and run to most malls to make a quick purchase, you surely do not want to hit Lincoln Road in anything short of your best new look.
Rock and Bowl...
Finnegan's posts pub specials on a chalkboard by the door including happy hour drink prices and the name of the band performing that night. Just a few steps south on Michigan, The Frieze Ice Cream Factory dreams up exotic flavors for some of the top restaurants in town and also serves cups and cones at the counter.
The Ice Box Cafe is a popular local bakery for modern brides seeking one-of-a-kind cakes. When Oprah Winfrey lived in the area, she discovered this tiny storefront and declared it the home of one of the Best Cakes in America. As you might guess, a nod from Oprah put Ice Box on the map! The sidewalk tables are often full and the restaurant's kitchen works tirelessly 7 days a week.
On rainy afternoons, Lucky Strike Lanes is a favorite hangout for visiting families looking for a quick lunch and a little friendly competition. Bowling lanes are opened to everyone until 9pm when the place turns to an over 21 nightspot. Music, videos and cocktails rev up the sports bar atmosphere as the party starts to roll.
On a Budget? Ask a Local...
Zeke's Roadhouse is a special favorite for locals and bargain savvy tourists. While the menu offers little more than hot dogs, there is no other spot on Lincoln Mall offering ample sidewalk seating and over 100 draft and bottled beers for just $3. This immensely popular cafe attracts spring breakers, young families and a friendly happy hour crowd who like to see-and-be-seen without breaking the bank.
For home-style cooking away from a hot stove, South Beach natives flock to Rosinella Cafe where you'll feel like "a regular" as soon as you arrive. What drives this tiny Italian kitchen is surely "Mama" Rosinella Doino who oversees the preparation of light pasta entrees and delicious nightly specials.
An ideal spot for a casual date, a family dinner or an impromptu snack, Rosinella makes a great pairing with the New World Symphony just next door.
At Jefferson Avenue, you'll find one of the most popular dining spots - Van Dyke Cafe. Opened early for those hoping to score a table at a very busy sidewalk cafe, the second level of the restaurant also features live jazz every night of the week. If you find the wait at Van Dyke daunting, nip across the street and sample the fresh Mediterranean treats at Pasha's. Vegetarians will delight in the wide variety of street foods from the airy open kitchen. Gyros, falafel and crispy pide pizzas will win you over. Looking for something more robust? One of the newest additions to the eclectic dining scene, Hofbräu München has just started serving hearty German fare and giant steins of imported beer on the sidewalks just across the way. If you notice happy drinkers feasting on soft pretzels, you'll know you've found our newest beer hall.
Dining by Design...
Competition for a spot at the tables lining the atrium is fierce since the dinner menu was introduced. The reason? The bookstore, BASE boutique, Design Within Reach and the dazzling new BASE Annex attract the who's-who of the Miami design community.
From Pizza to Pasta to Panini...
For a more casual evening out, head north of the mall on Meridian to sample classic Cuban dishes at David's Cafe II. What sets this friendly eatery apart is their 24/7 service, incredibly low prices, and the great people watching at the busy walk-up coffee window. Whether you need a quick pick me up or a full course dinner, David's is ready to serve you day and night.
From Asia with Love...
Now HEAR This!
Dining and Dancing...
While the Lincoln Road sidewalks just off Washington Avenue are strictly Starbucks by day, nighttime is the right time to hit this red-hot nightspot.
For a night that moves to a Miami beat, Yuca Restaurant has long attracted diners seeking a modern approach to Cuban cuisine. While the downstairs dining room twinkles with candlelight and crystal, the second floor lounge is a Friday night favorite for new and improving salsa dancers. The friendly hosts at salsamia.com teach traditional Cuban dance moves and then open the floor for a high energy Salsa Party Fridays and Sundays. After hours, dancers flock to nearby D'Vine Hookah Lounge to enjoy Mediterranean tapas and sample the fragrant water pipes circulated by the capable wait staff.
See you there...
photographs: Joseph Brown