Review of Secret Food Tour

Friday, September 21, 2018

Queso vegan dish Miami Food Tour
Tortillas and Queso dish on Secret Food Tour in South Beach

There's a new food tour in town.  The Secret Food Tours.  Recently I had the pleasure of taking this new culinary experience which launched a couple of months ago.  Instead of the usual haunts like Ocean Drive or Wynwood, it was refreshing to learn this tour was in the SoFi area--south of 5th Street in South Beach.

SoFi is the latest hot spot for trendy and high end restaurants and without the madness of the party crowd typical of Ocean Drive. On this Secret Food Tour we visited the newest restaurant, the oldest restaurant and also restaurants representing cultural influences in Miami.  The ticket price was $69 and included the typical five tastings of a food tour.  I opted to include the cocktail package for an additional $35 for three cocktails.

So what was my overall impression? Well, as my readers and friends know, I offer an honest opinion and review. No one from the tour company asked me to write this blog post. So you'll just have to read through this post to find out!

Before I continue, a note:  I purposefully will not reveal the restaurants as that takes away from the element of surprise.

Our group included a couple from Chicago and another from north east coast both in their mid 50's. I nice small group, just perfect as I really dislike large group tours. We met our tour guide Natalia at 5:30pm at South Pointe Park and after a brief introduction, we walked to our first restaurant, the newest one.  Shortly after we were seated our first cocktail arrived.  It was black, or dark gray. But Natalia had already told us the name --something with Bourbon and charcoal.  Yes charcoal!  While the color was not aesthetically appealing it was absolutely delicious. And my favorite cocktail of the tour. The flower we learned, was called the clitoria. It certainly was the perfect color and shape to adorn our dull looking drink. Sipping our cocktails, our group immediately bonded.  We were thoroughly enjoying ourselves and the tour had only begun. Great first impression.

Miami Food tour cocktails
A bourbon charcoal cocktail

Then the first dish was served, called Queso, which means "cheese" in Spanish. Natalia cleverly waited for us to sample it before revealing the ingredients.  It was a shocker.

vegan dish tastes like real cheese
Queso dish with tortilla chips

We then walked to the second stop, the oldest restaurant in South Beach. Here we were not served the signature food item but surprisingly another award-winner.

Second restaurant stop -oldest restaurant

Fried Chicken!  I never knew this restaurant offered fried chicken and learned it was invented by the Scottish. Who knew! The recipe uses buttermilk but no seasoning which was later introduced by the African culture. The skin is thin but crispy.  Very curious, I did a little research. Famous Miami chef  Michelle Bernstein is quoted,

"This is the crunchiest fried chicken in Miami most people don't know about it and costs next to nothing. It's the perfect appetizer to my dinner."

Then there is chef Michael Schwartz,

"There's something about the way they fry it. The skin is crispy and thin but still really fatty and flavorful at the same time. Hands down, the best fried chicken I've ever had". 

Award-winning fried chicken Joe's South Beach
Thin but crispy and juicy. It's the buttermilk.

Our next stop was several blocks away which was ideal as I was getting full early on and the walk would aid my digestion. While walking Natalia our guide shared some history of the area, the movers and shakers in the restaurant industry, and touched on the Art Deco architecture.

Then we arrived to a restaurant that is well known in Miami, a humble but cultural icon in west Miami that finally arrived on the beach side. Ketchup red and mustard yellow chairs surrounded by fresh tropical fruits cheerfully greeted us.  My taste buds were dancing, in anticipation of flavors to come.

Stop three for Cuban food

Here we drank a tropical fruit shake typical of Cuba, the largest population and influence in Miami. For the food, we were served chicharron.  Fried fatty pork chunks. It has to be exclaimed here, #foodgasm!  The best chicharron I have ever consumed!  Cuban culture is known for pork, whether it's roasted or fried, the best pork is Cuban style.  And Natalia, while not Cuban, does have Hispanic and culinary background to expertly explain this phenomenon. Oh and we also had Cuban sandwiches. A must have in Miami.

Chicharron--this is food heaven

Stop number four was a restaurant I had not visited in over ten years and was thrilled it still existed. It also speaks to another cultural influence in Miami. Every dining room still has bright hand painted walls and tables. A happy place indeed.

Stop 4 on the Secret Food Tour

This stop unveiled the "secret" food dish.  A fried meat dish. Very tasty!  I have not had this meat in a very long time.
Haitian food
Secret dish on the Secret Food Tour

 But the rum punch was equally satisfying and included passion fruit and another very rare fruit that is leading in research as a cure to killing cancer cells, soursop or guanabana in Spanish.

Rum Passion fruit soursop
Rum Punch

So by now you picked up on the fact, this tour is best enjoyed by true foodies who have no dietary or caloric restrictions. Savor every bite and flavor.

And yet the fifth stop awaited us.  Thankfully a long walk offered a reprieve for my gastronomic indulgence.  The final stop was on the water. The only downside, it is already dark at 8pm and the water view is definitely best at daytime.  But it was a beautiful evening.
View of bay at last stop on Secret Food Tour

For the final cocktail the mojito was prepared. Sadly I have to report this was the worst mojito. As a mojito connoisseur and having tasted many at bars known and obscure, I know a quality mojito.  But this is an easy fix if the restaurant would use real sugar to make it on a weeknight when it was slow. Simple syrup is often used when bars are busy. Also most guests are not as familiar with this cocktail so they will not be as disappointed.  Then came dessert, key lime pie. A native Floridian, I grew up on key lime pies. True key limes are smaller than the regular limes you find in supermarkets.  This was indeed the best key lime pie I have ever tasted and was not as tart for my preference. I quickly forgot about the mojito. The pie was a perfect ending.

Our group kept chatting that we finally ended close to 9pm. Yes 3.5 hours as Natalia had advised at the beginning. The time flew!

Natalia asked us which was our favorite food. We unanimously agreed it was the chicharron but the best surprise was the Queso. Yes I loved it so much I returned a week later and ordered the same cocktail and appetizer. I have eaten plenty of chicharron but unexpected pleasant surprises are definitely memorable.  I will be returning again for Miami Spice and brunch.

Christine Michaels at a locals favorite restaurant 

So what did I think of the Secret Food Tour? 

Overall I loved it. So far the best food tour on the beach.

First our guide Natalia is definitely a foodie expert. Not only was she raised in Miami Beach, Natalia has worked mostly in progressive and organic restaurants both in Miami and New York City. Along the way she became certified in tropical organic farming and sustainable design and also works part-time as personal chef.  Impressive!

During the tour Natalia touched on some other facts about the area. One guest did ask a lot more questions about the history. Natalia was a smart girl and knew most answers.  As a history buff a bit older than her, I was able to fill in some blanks.  But folks this is a food tour, so the guide may not be as versed on other topics. In this case, I recommend taking the Art Deco walking tour for a solid introduction to the fascinating history, development and transformation of Miami Beach.  Take the 10am tour, maybe eat a very light lunch and then take the Secret Food tour at 5:30pm and you have a well rounded experience in South Beach if you are limited in time and only have a day or two.

The Price of the Food Tour

Yes it was a fair value ($69) given some of the high end restaurants. The cocktails were another $35. It's all about location. Plus it was a lot of food! I even took home a doggy bag. There was no mention of gratuity but it really is customary and so please do not forget to tip your tour guide adequately, a range of 18-20% is good.

The Weather 

The weather. Normally it rains at 5pm during summer/ hurricane season. We were lucky a blue sky overlooked our tour.  Regardless, always be prepared for a passing thunderstorm. So do wear shoes that can get wet and carry an umbrella or rain poncho.  These tours continue rain or shine as most showers do not last more than 15-20 minutes.

South Pointe park South Beach
South Pointe Park next to Biscayne Bay

The Location 

The scenery is beautiful.  South Pointe has lovely landscaping, more palm trees and fountains.  Distinct higher end side of South Beach. Also multimillion dollar condos border the area,  mostly vacation getaways for wealthy visitors. I loved going on a Tuesday evening although the area would no doubt have more energy on weekends. As I am always busy, on the run, I appreciated the serene evening.

Would I Take this Food Tour Again?

Yes. And I will definitely be recommending it to all my visiting guests. While the mojito was a disappointment that was forgotten with the culmination of the key lime pie for this Florida girl. For the best mojito in South Beach, be sure to try the Art Deco Cocktail Tour or Little Havana tour.

I do recommend taking this food tour. It was an excellent representation of Miami from progressive, traditional, cultural influence and Florida favorite dishes. And Natalia was indeed a perfect guide to lead it.

Thank you Secret Food Tours!

Ms. 305 sipping cocktail  Planta
Returning for my new favorite cocktail

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