Miami South Beach: Best Japanese sushi & seafood restaurants! Katsuya, Blue Ribbon, Ocean Grill. Balfour Hotel.

 SLS Brickell Hotel miami duck sculpture pool

I think you can tell…. I had a hell of a time hanging out around Miami Beach!

In addition to relaxing on the famous shores, travelers flock to the South Beach district for its glamorous hotels, electrifying art scene, and creative restaurants.

After a long and locked-down winter, I was ready to indulge in my favorite cuisine: local seafood and Japanese sushi, which are two of the city’s specialities. If you’re as fond as I am of fresh fish, then read on for my guide to my favorite Miami Beach restaurants! (Blue Ribbon Sushi, Ocean Grill at The Setai, and Katsuya.)

south beach miami swimming ocean waves florida

For the first portion of my recent trip, I did not leave the Miami Beach area (staying at The Balfour hotel, located in the quieter South of Fifth area). Since I came before the rowdy March spring break — see my first dispatch with tips — Miami Beach was uncrowded, and I got to enjoy the sand and waves in peace.

 south beach lifeguard stands miami retro colorful towers

The surrounding palm trees and brightly-painted lifeguard towers give Miami Beach a 1980s retro vibe. (I often felt like I was in the 80s B-movie, “Miami Connection”!)

From South Beach, all you have to do is walk a few blocks to find some of Miami’s most stylish and well-reviewed sushi restaurants.

katsuya miami restaurant design  Philippe Starck interiors architecture

For one of the city’s finest Japanese dining experiences, make your way to Katsuya Miami. Located inside the SLS South Beach Hotel, the restaurant was designed with modern cinematic flair by Philippe Starck (sleek furniture, high ceilings and oversize Japanese portraits).

 hippest sushi restaurant miami south beach katsuya chefs

Katsuya is helmed by master sushi chef Katsuya Uechi, who opened the first location of his eponymous restaurant in Los Angeles (1997). Paying close attention to his clientele’s taste preferences, Chef Katsuya created a bold new style of cuisine that mixes Japanese tradition with laid-back California flavors.

 katsuya south beach miami florida menu food sashimi seafood

Katsuya Miami showcases his signature fresh and modern Japanese menu. The chef pioneered the Crispy Rice with Spicy Tuna (far right) that is now copied by many restaurants. However, nothing comes close to Katsuya’s version, which has a buttery umami and slight crunch as the finely chopped ahi melts in your mouth.

I was also swept away by the flavors of the charred shishito peppers (with yuzu yogurt, and still-moving bonito flakes), and tangy scallop tiradito.  

KATSUYA BY STARCK, Miami Beach cocktails drink menu lucky cat

In addition to its cocktail classics, Katsuya has an ever-changing drink menu with clever presentations (mine came in a lucky maneki neko cat!). The cocktails feature unusual Japanese spirits and ingredients such as ume (plum) whiskey, mizu craft shochu, shishito melon shrub and sencha tonic.

 katsuya sashimi chef's selection miami japanese restaurants

And then, there’s the acclaimed sushi. Katsuya Miami’s knowledgeable servers are terrific at walking you through the daily selection. I recommend letting the staff know your preferences, and going with the chef’s selection of the day. You’ll end up with a personalized sushi and sashimi menu like above, which included anago (saltwater eel), thick cuts of hamachi, sweet amaebi (shrimp), giant ikura roe that bursts in your mouth… Katsuya South Beach was a meal to remember.

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If you’ve booked a Miami Beach hotel, keep in mind that parking is in short supply and expensive. For the first few days of the trip, I walked or took short Uber rides, and stayed entirely within the district. However, I never lacked things to do in SoBe, or grew tired of dipping my toes in the Atlantic Ocean.

crying miffy fountain tom sachs cute bunny sculpture w hotel miami

And I simply had to visit my idol… Miffy the X-mouthed bunny! These kawaii statues by Tom Sachs are located in front of the W Hotel South Beach. He created a giant white-cast bronze of Hello Kitty, and turned Miffy into a crying fountain (yes, those are tears spurting out of her eyes and into the water… how emo!)

Hello Kitty, My Melody fountains miami florida tom sachs kawaii art

He also made a cheeky rendition of My Melody, Japan’s Sanrio bunny character.

the setai ocean front grill outdoor open air restaurant

After my pilgrimage to the Tom Sachs Miffy Fountain, I walked to the nearby Ocean Grill at The Setai for a luxe lunch with a beachfront view. The raised and covered dining deck lets you take in views of the palm trees and ocean, while as you dine on fresh-caught seafood prepared on a wood-fired grill.  

 Ocean Grill at The Setai craft cocktails oceanfront fine dining

We started with the best pina colada I’ve ever had (I mean it!) infused with rum, coconut, pineapple, and fresh mint leaves. The “Greek Samurai” with honey liquor, yuzu sake, and fresh lime juice was a perfect balance of tangy and sweet.

The Ocean Grill setai hotel menu food burrata salad

I think the high quality of the ingredients at Ocean Grill Miami comes through in the photos. (I’m shooting with my brand new Sony a7 IV mirrorless camera.) For an appetizer, we shared the burrata di bufala cheese with local vine ripe tomatoes, balsamic, and arugula.

Lunch Ocean Grill - The Setai, Miami Beach branzino fish scallops

As a seafood lover, it was hard to choose from the many tantalizing options on the lunch menu, including fish tacos and Chilean sea bass. We went with the server’s suggestion: a boneless whole branzino fish, and combination of scallops and shrimp — charred on the signature woodfire grill, and served with grilled vegetables and sauce vierge (French salsa). Healthy and delicious.

tropical cocktail in coconut the setai bar ocean front grill drinks

To end the meal, how could I resist a Whiskey & Coco Cream cocktail served in a coconut imprinted with The Setai’s logo? I’d come back in a heartbeat for another open-air meal by the beach at Ocean Grill.

miami south beach ocean waves

If you ask me, there’s nothing like dining on seafood, sushi and sashimi after a day at South Beach. (If you come right in early March before the spring break rush, you’ll get unobstructed views like these.)

Blue Ribbon Sushi Bar & Grill - South Beach chefs

After the sun set, I enjoyed the finest ocean flavors at Blue Ribbon Sushi Bar & Grill — a Japanese restaurant with locations in several US cities. Blue Ribbon is known for its bright and inventive dishes; the teamwork at the long sushi-making bar sums up their vibrant approach to Japanese cuisine.

 sashimi japanese food blue ribbon sushi menu food review

Once again, I recommend asking for the chef’s choice, and letting the server know your favorite flavors. The dishes that arrive will delight and surprise you: marinated thinly sliced usuzukuri, blue fin tuna with ponzu and garlic chips, and sashimi with a mix of fresh fish from Japan.

blue ribbon restaurants japanese cocktail menu whisky drinks

You can also let the bartender know your cocktail preferences, and they will mix up a custom drink with Japanese spirits. This top shelf Japanese whiskey and fresh orange concoction was exactly to my liking. 

sushi restaurant south beach miami florida Blue Ribbon

I loved the presentation of the kyushu aji, or Japanese horse mackerel, served two ways (first, you eat the sashimi belly. Then, the spine is fried for a crunchy finish). Blue Ribbon also has an extensive menu of hot dishes, such as their famous fried chicken and vegetable rice.

japanese whisky cocktails miami outdoor pool bar

Blue Ribbon Sushi Miami has an enormous dining space including a glamorous lobby bar, a sushi bar that lets you watch the chefs, two indoor dining areas, and covered outdoor poolside seating (which was my choice.)

Blue Ribbon Sushi Bar & Grill sushi omakase japanese fish grilled

Scallops, salmon, amberjack, tuna, and more… the nigiri and rolls were phenomenal quality. 

yuzu key lime pie, miami plymouth hotel dining blue ribbon restaurant

For dessert, a Floridian specialty with a Japanese twist… Yuzu key lime pie (and longtime readers know that’s my favorite flavor of all time!). Taste the tangy creaminess for yourself at Blue Ribbon Sushi, located in the restored Plymouth Hotel at South Beach. 

FLYNN SKYE Carla Mini Dress in Tiny Gathers revolve black blue flowers sundress

I stayed at The Balfour Hotel, which turned out to be the ideal Miami Beach home base. The historic Art Deco hotel is fully renovated — I have fond memories of walking up the spiral staircase to the rooftop at night, and taking in views of the surrounding buildings and stars (or UFOs?) above.

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The Balfour (formerly known as Room Mate Lord Balfour Hotel) has a small and photogenic plunge pool, which lets you cool off during the hottest hours of the day. 

room mate lord balfour hotel florida lobby interior

The easygoing and friendly staff at The Balfour were always happy to help (such as when I requested to heat up my leftovers). The hotel’s location is conveniently located on the cultural Ocean Drive and across the road from the ocean. Yet it’s in the quieter South of Fifth area of Miami Beach, meaning you won’t be surrounded by crowds and nightclubs. 

south beach boutique hotels quiet private pool the balfour hotel

Designed by architect Anton Skislewicz in 1940, The Balfour is classic Miami Art Deco with its warm pastels and stucco details. The rooms are set out in a “U” shape, with a quiet inner courtyard / pool framed by palm trees.

Mehzcla restaurant the balfour hotel latin south beach menu food

The Balfour Hotel is also home to Mehzcla Restaurant, which serves Latin food with South Beach flavors. The kitchen is open late, allowing me to relax with room service after my evening check-in. I think I ordered very well: sweet plantains with smoked agave and cotija cheese, chaufa rice with vegetables, and citrus-miso glazed salmon anticuchos! The bartender also made me a custom yuzu sour cocktail.

snake print serpent tights, flynn skye carla sun dress flowers mini dress

Life is short… so I’m doing my best to spend it poolside when I can. (Wearing serpent print tights from Sock Dreams, and a Flynn Skye Carla mini dress with a flower print.)

the balfour hotel rooms bed miami

Although The Balfour is a historic hotel, the rooms are updated with new furnishings and tech amenities. Every morning, I made tea using the machine included in the room.

 lord balfour art deco hotel miami beach outside

Love the glowing facade at night. I recommend booking a stay at The Balfour boutique hotel if you want to be in Miami Beach, but away from the pumping club music and raucous crowds further up towards South Beach.

 bright colored miami life guard towers south beach 80s

I only had to walk a minute from the hotel to be at the beach. No wonder Miami is associated with synthwave; the pastel-painted lifeguard stations have an 80s vibe.

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The beach area near The Balfour (South of Fifth) is much less crowded than further up north where partygoers convene. 

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You can also walk along Ocean Drive to see the famous Art Deco architecture. (This was my second visit to the city; I was here years ago for Art Deco Weekend.)

 art basel miami art exhibits murals

Art is everywhere around Miami Beach. Every January, the city hosts Art Basel to showcase exciting talent.

 Miami Beach Botanical Garden japanese red bridge

Although this district is known for being pricy, there are many free activities as well. I swung by Miami Beach Botanical Garden, which has free entry and is located by the convention center. It includes a Japanese garden…

miami florida garden large leaves plants south beach botanical

… and the enormous palm leaves. At Miami Beach’s botanical garden, you can see an eclectic collection of native Florida plants and tropical flowers.

butterflies Miami Beach Botanical Garden lizard animals

The urban green space is a playground for lizards and butterflies.

crying miffy hello kitty fountain tom sachs bronze fountains

I leave you with a few final snaps of “Emo Miffy”! The crying bunny character was created by Dutch artist Dick Bruna, while My Melody and Hello Kitty are by Japanese company Sanrio.

my melody white sculpture sanrio tom sachs w hotel south beach

The sculptures were executed in cast bronze by Tom Sachs in 2008. He recontextualized the cute mascots into all-white works of art.

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Finally, I wanted to share my latest podcast interview with Cemetery Confessions on The Belfry Network. In the words of host Dani Ashes, “We talk about how to travel around the world as a Goth, Satanism in Japan, the Satanic Panic and more with the astute, multitalented La Carmina.” You can listen to the leading Gothic talk radio show on any podcast app, Spotify, or YouTube.

art deco historic hotel with pool miami ocean drive

I also contributed to several articles on Yahoo and Huffington Post. I give travel expert advice on how to vacation on a budget, make the most of your airport departure date, get over the post-vacation blues, and more.

And I’m waiting for Japan to open to tourists… I created a Twitter Community for “Japan Travel: Traveling Tips” to provide info about Japan tourism and visas. Anyone is welcome to join it here.

Are you planning any trips for 2022? How do you feel about traveling nowadays?


1 Comment

  1. Nikki_boagreis
    Posted May 7, 2022 at 9:53 am | Permalink

    I have to say im a huge fan of this blog, love reading these articles. The writing style is very unique and very well written. Keep up with the post, this was such a great read.

    Love the part about The Blue Ribbon Sushi bar and Grill

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