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Written by Shane M. Graber, BT Contributor   
August 2015

The district goes from skid row to restaurant row

WPix_ShaneGraber_8-15hat a difference 15 years make.

When I moved to the Upper Eastside in 1999, friends said I was a pioneer. After all, at that time, prostitutes, dodgy motels, and nefarious characters defined Biscayne Boulevard.

Truth be told, the true pioneers came long before me -- the urban pioneers who moved into these established neighborhoods during the 1980s and 1990s. Or who were already there, and stayed. They renovated properties, organized, created homeowner associations, fought crime -- and ultimately, they set the stage for the Upper Eastside to become a desirable area to live, work, and play.

Indeed, the fact that the area is now widely known as the MiMo District demonstrates that it has established a new identity. People and businesses are flocking to the area.

When I tell people that I live in the MiMo District -- because most people think New York if you say Upper Eastside -- the first thing they want to talk about are our restaurants.

Imagine that!

When I arrived, there were only a handful of eateries, and residents were relegated to driving outside the area for options.

Rewind to 1999: Soyka had just opened, and Jimmy’s East Side Diner was our only breakfast and lunch spot. Lemon City Café occupied today’s DeVita’s Restaurant; Rita’s Italian Restaurant occupied today’s Moshi; and KFC was at 75th and Biscayne.

Today the MiMo District is a burgeoning gastro village: a two-mile stretch along the Boulevard with a diverse dining menu.

Our restaurant concentration is so high that Yelp has given the MiMo District its own neighborhood designation. Yelp lists 35 MiMo restaurants between 50th and 77th streets; and that number grows to nearly 50 with MiMo-adjacent areas like NE 79th Street, NE 4th Court, and Shorecrest.

Looking for Italian? We have Big Fish Miami, Ni.Do.Caffé, Via Verdi, and De Vita’s. A new Italian bistro from a well-known restaurateur is expected to open at 58th and the Boulevard in a few months.

Health food or vegetarian? Look no further than the Honey Tree, Choices, Organic Bites, Hard Core Nutrition, Guarapo Organic Juice Bar, and Mi Vida Café. Gourmet Station also offers healthy prepared meals.

Jugo Fresh, the local purveyor of fresh-pressed juice, was to open in the old KFC property, but the lot is now for sale, so this may not happen.

Fancy some pizza? Andiamo and Ironside Pizza are top-rated, as is Eastside Pizza on 79th. Brooklyn-based Paulie Gee’s Pizza opens this year in the old Chinese restaurant at NE 80th Street.

Craving casual comfort food and craft beer? Check out Ms. Cheezious, Dogma Grill, or Tap 79. Your taste buds will thank you.

Feel like cocktails and a bite to eat? Hit the News Lounge or Balans. Prefer some vino with your meal? Then the new Winewood Tapas and Wine Bar may be your place at NE 72nd.

Quieres Latin? Get your Argentine on at Lo De Lea, or experience Latin/Southern fusion at Loba. Did someone say Brazilian? Put on your samba shoes and head to Boteco on NE 79th Street.

The Vagabond Restaurant features Asian/American fusion food, while the Vagabond Motel pool bar features kitschy hand-crafted cocktails.

Asian? We have Sushi Siam at 55th Street, Cake Thai, and Siam Rice Thai & Sushi in Shorecrest, and Moshi Moshi -- a celebrity hot spot!

Being part Greek, I can’t leave out our Mediterranean eateries -- Mina’s Mediterraneo and Bar Meli Tapas Wine Bar, both on 79th Street.

Did I mention I’m also part German? Royal Bavarian Schnitzel Haus is a great German bier haus, and owner Alex Richter is a blast with his tales from the old country.

I’m also un petit peu français, so must mention Le Tour Eiffel. The brunch crêpes are excellent, and chef/owner Jerome always aims to please.

Star power? Celebrity chef and Belle Meade resident Michelle Bernstein recently opened Cena by Michy, which is already local favorite, and former Chef Allen’s sous-chef Danny Serfer is jam-packed at his Blue Collar restaurant.

New American local craft cuisine? Go no further than The Federal.

Magnum Lounge piano bar is like vaudeville-meets-speakeasy. You may see a neighbor or two singing show tunes -- if they’re no good, sneak out back to the Shack Bar for a late-night drink.

Most of our eateries are locally owned. Yes, we have Burger King, Subway, and Taco Bell, yet these are exceptions. I must admit, I’ve hit the Bell a few times when the late-night hunger gods ring the bell and siren me to Live Mas!

Jimmy’s East Side Diner is the MiMo breakfast destination, with its consistent staff and neighborhood feel. Plus they have my favorite -- corned beef hash -- if you grew up in Boston, you understand. Biscayne Diner is up and running in Shorecrest -- a traditional New York diner with a decidedly Miami twist.

Coffee aficionados can choose from Ironside Coffee on NE 4th Court or the new Starbucks at 64th and the Boulevard, located across from the soon-to-open Panther Coffee. And Dunkin Donuts/Baskin Robbins is just down the street.

For local fresh-baked desserts, swing by T’Licious Cakes, which just opened at 77th and Biscayne.

We even have underground street barbecue! Saturdays only, the James BBQ trailer parks behind the 48th Street Publix. This BBQ baron has a cult following.

Then there’s the restaurant that, in my opinion, started it all: Soyka.

News Café founder and Morningside resident Mark Soyka opened his eponymous 55th Street restaurant in 1999; in doing so, he legitimized the area and paved the path for others to follow.

It’s not just our quantity of dining options that excites me -- it’s that these are for the most part locally owned businesses serving locals.

The Upper Eastside is different from most of Miami. In a metropolis better known for its transients, tourists, and otherwise anonymous populace, we have a small-town feel, and with a growing number of restaurants, we’re able to better connect as a community.

If you live here, you’re likely to see people you know in our restaurants -- neighbors, friends, and local business owners. Friends of mine who grew up in Miami are always shocked when we dine out here and I always know someone in the restaurant.

Most of us can actually walk to our restaurants, which is typically only possible in a large city center or downtown. This is an amazing amenity, and also helps to alleviate a growing parking challenge.

It’s often said that it takes a village. In the Upper Eastside, residents have done their part to improve our neighborhoods. And now businesses, and especially restaurants, are establishing themselves in the greater MiMo Village.

What a difference 15 years make.

 

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