Now that the crowds are gone, and before it gets too ungodly hot, it’s time to hit the beach! I love nothing better than to hang out at the beach then retire to a nearby casual spot to enjoy a cooling cocktail (or two or three) and a snack, all while keeping my toes in the sand. I’m talking about places right on the beach, no crossing the street – that’s so touristy! Last week on a sojourn to Miami, I discovered a fantastic little cantina that feels like it was pulled up off a beach in Mexico and plopped right down on the edge of South Beach.
Lolo’s Surf Cantina
161 Ocean Dr., Miami Beach
The address may read Ocean Drive, but you must sneak around the side of the Marriott Stanton and walk up a little ramp or climb a few steps to the patio from the beach. Step inside and you feel like you’ve been transported back to the 1940s. Chef/partner Richard Ampudia channels his grandmother, Dolores, for whom the restaurant is named, and serves up breakfast, lunch and dinner featuring traditional Mexican fare and modern interpretations of the same.
There’s a menu identified as “shareable,” although how anyone is supposed to share one ear of corn is beyond me. I’m not that close with anyone, and while it was flavorful, the dried-out ear (for $6!) was the only disappointment of our meal. For starters you’re better off going with the guacamole; a smooth combination of avocado, roasted jalapeno, lime, pumpkin seeds and queso fresco, served with plenty of chips!
Sauteed shishito peppers are served blistered and sprinkled with sea salt, lemon and toasted sesame seeds. However, the best of the starters is the tuna poke tostadita, which tops crispy corn tortillas, with chunks of marinated raw tuna, avocado, lime, sesame and chipotle aioli. It’s $14 for a pair but stretch it out with some of the chips from the guac and you’ve got enough for four. Or be greedy and keep it all to yourself for a hearty lunch or light dinner, I won’t judge.
Tacos are all delightful, although I’d prefer that they be served with two tortillas each, one isn’t quite enough to hold the abundant fillings. Try the tender slices of rib eye topped with crispy chicharron de queso and salsa verde, or the spicy grilled shrimp bathed in an agave-based BBQ sauce and topped with pineapple, pickled onion, cilantro and chipotle mayo. The tacos are $10-$16 a pair and the servings will leave you satisfied, though not stuffed (a side of rice and beans would be nice). You’ll want to save room for dessert anyway; either the chocolate brownie cake with vanilla cream sauce or the thick corn pudding are soul satisfying, and, of course, there’s always room for churros!
Enjoy your meal on the patio just stairs up from the beach, or step inside the cool dining room (both temperature-wise and ambiance). Although it was built just recently, it really does look like the cantina was swept onto the beach by giant wave. There’s an extensive artisan cocktail menu (when isn’t there nowadays?), but for the designated driver, there is a wide variety of Mexican soft drinks and freshly made horchata!
Don’t have the time to run down to South Beach right away? Until you do, here are a few places closer to home that allow you to grab a cocktail or a bite to eat without straying too far from your beach towel. In fact, with most of them, you can keep your toes in the sand during your entire meal!
Aruba Beach Cafe
1 Commercial Blvd., Lauderdale-By-The-Sea
This is a place I always take visiting friends for their first meal. You can’t get closer to beachfront dining than this and the steel drum band just makes the mood. What, you have to pay for bread? Yes, and it’s worth every carbo-laden bite! Try the crab cake sandwiches, fish tacos or a mixed seafood grill.
6002 N. Ocean Blvd., Lauderdale-by-the-Sea
Okay, so you have to walk up to the top of a bluff over-looking the ocean. I’ll trade that view for toes in the sand any day, especially when the seafood menu is so killer and the cocktails so potent.
BackFlip @ Plunge Hotel
4660 El Mar Dr., Lauderdale By The Sea
Serving local brews and rum-fueled cocktails that would make Hemingway smile, as well as fresh juice-infused drinks that have just the right amount of kick. Sit back and listen to the waves. Hungry? Dig into street tacos, delectable sandwiches and awesome fresh salads, all while your toes dangle from your bar stool into the white sand beach.